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25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

Each season, I aim to add more edible perennials to my desert garden. Where I live, we have very hot summers and mild winters, so the challenge is finding perennial crops that survive our hot, dry summers. Over time, I’ve curated this list of 25 edible perennials that thrive in the hot climate of the Arizona desert, transforming my garden into an edible paradise.


Why grow edible perennials?

Unlike annual plants, which complete their life cycle in one season and must be replanted, perennials can live for many years. This means more food with less effort and expense.

An added benefit is that once they are established, most perennials have little upkeep–usually only seasonal pruning and amending with compost. And finally, many edible perennials are high-value crops that can be grown for much less than they cost in the grocery store.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden
Grapes

Definition of edible perennial

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden
Lemongrass and asparagus

Perennials are often defined in different ways. For this article, these are the criteria I’m using:

  • A species that lives out its life cycle over 2 more years
  • The ability to survive winter and summer.
  • Harvest in a way that doesn’t kill the plant. (Some of these root crops are plant/replant perennials, meaning they are dug up for harvest, but then some portion is replanted in the same or another hole, keeping the plant alive to produce again the following year.) 

Although I’m growing nearly 40 different types of fruit trees, I’m not including fruit trees and most herbs in this post. I recently posted 10 Perennial Herbs for Hot Climates, and I’ll share more about creating a food forest with fruit trees in an upcoming post!


25 Edible Perennials for Desert Climates


1. Artichoke

At the end of flowering, cut plants down to just above the ground and mulch heavily to help them survive the summer. I like growing sweet potatoes over the soil during the summer to further protect the crowns. The plant will begin growing again in the fall. Artichoke plants usually live for 3-4 years. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow artichokes.


2. Asparagus

Asparagus roots produce individual stalks above ground. The roots and stalks grow larger each year. A well-kept asparagus patch can produce for 10 years or more! For more information, read my blog post on how to grow asparagus.

Six Things to Know Before You Plant Asparagus

3. Peppers

Although peppers are often grown as an annual in cooler climates, in the low desert it’s easy to keep them alive for years. Cover plants during frost events. Cut plants back in the early spring and/or fall to reinvigorate. After 3-4 years, production may decline. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow peppers.

How to Grow Peppers

4. Chiltepin

Chiltepin is a wild chili pepper native to the U.S. and Mexico, known for its intense heat and considered the ancestor of all peppers. Plants grow large. I grow my plants in native soil and take care not to overwater. Chiltepin is frost-sensitive; cover plants during frost events.

Types of Peppers - The Chiltepin pepper, "chile tepin", or "Chiltepine"

5. Eggplant

Eggplant is one of the easiest plants to grow in the low desert. Plant in early spring or with the monsoons. Protect from freezing temperatures. May live 2-3 years with ideal growing conditions. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow eggplant.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

6. Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes can live for several years if they stay healthy. Feed the soil with compost, keep lower leaves trimmed, and water tomatoes deeply to prevent disease. Protect from freezing temperatures. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow tomatoes.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

7. Strawberries

The trick is to choose the correct varieties and provide afternoon shade so strawberries can survive the summer. Plants can live for 3-4 years. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow strawberries.


25 Edible Perennials for Hot Climates (continued)


8. Grapes

Grapes can take full sun. Their roots go 2 feet (.6 meters) deep; plant in rich soil. Learn how to train and prune correctly, and grapevines will live for many years.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

9. Blackberries

Blackberries grow well with plenty of sunlight and water. Blackberry canes are biennial. The canes are fruitless the first year, and then bear fruit the second year, and die after fruiting. Next year’s fruit will grow on this year’s growth.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

10. Goji Berries

Berries form on current-year’s wood. Light pruning encourages new growth and keeps the plant open for light and air circulation. Plants begin producing at 2 years old and reach maximum production after 3-5 years.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

11. Chichiquelite

Commonly called garden huckleberry. Berries produce abundantly over a long season. Plants grow large and grow well in the ground.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

12. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite cover crops. I grow them in raised beds and in the ground. If you want to keep sweet potatoes growing as a perennial, leave a small portion in the ground after harvesting, or replant a rooted stem. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow sweet potatoes.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

13. Longevity Spinach

This tasty spinach grows well in partial shade. I usually grow it as a ground cover. Longevity spinach tolerates neglect and survives for years.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

14. Capers

Caper plants thrive in the low desert. They are happiest in the ground, with at least six feet in every direction.

25 Edible Perennials for Hot Climates

15. Elderberry

Mexican elderberry, also known as Sambucus Mexicana, thrives in Arizona’s hot climate due to its natural tolerance for drought and heat. Regular watering during the first growing season will help establish a deep root system, making the plant more resistant to drier conditions later on.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

16. Jerusalem Artichoke / Sunchoke:

Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, thrive in Arizona’s sunny and hot climate. It’s time to harvest when the plants die back. At harvest time, leave a tuber or two in the ground, and they will sprout and grow again.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

17. Sugarcane

Sugarcane is a tropical plant that grows best with plenty of water. This perennial grass forms lateral shoots that you harvest each year. New canes form as plants spread and multiply.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden


25 Edible Perennials for Hot Climates (continued)


18. Passion Fruit Vine

The vigorous vine produces fruit in the spring and fall – give it something to climb. Passion fruit vine usually lasts 3-4 years.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

19. Moringa

Moringa is ideal for hot climate desert gardens as it thrives in hot, arid conditions. The leaves are commonly consumed fresh or dried, and the pods are popular in Indian and Asian cooking.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

20. Garlic Chives

The oldest garlic chive plant in my garden is at least 10 years old. I divide it every few years, and it comes back each spring. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow garlic chives.


21. I’itoi onions

I’itoi onions are a multiplier onion well-suited to desert growing. The planted bulb multiplies and is propagated by division of bulbs. Bulbs left in the ground over the summer will go dormant and begin growing again in the fall. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow I’itoi onions.


22. Turmeric

This edible perennial needs shade when grown in Arizona. Because the ground doesn’t freeze, I usually leave mine in the ground and harvest as needed throughout the year. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow turmeric.


23. Ginger

Very similar to turmeric, you can leave ginger in the ground and harvest as needed throughout the year. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow ginger.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

24. Pigeon Peas

Pigeon pea is a perennial legume shrub that lasts four or five years. Plants can grow large and do well in native soil here in the desert.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

25. Cucamelon

Cucamelons are a tender perennial; this means they are sensitive to frost but, if cared for properly, can live for several seasons. Throughout the season, cucamelons develop an underground tuber. Once the plant dies back in mild winter areas, mulch the ground around the roots well, and it should survive over the winter and begin to regrow in the spring. For more information, read my blog post on how to grow cucamelons.

25 Thriving Edible Perennials In My Desert Garden

These are the edible perennials I’m growing right now or have grown in my hot climate desert garden. I’m sure there are lots more. Let me know in the comments which ones you’re growing!


Other ways to have vegetables come back each year

  • Let vegetables flower and drop seeds.
  • Save garlic cloves to replant the following year.
  • Save seeds each season to replant.

For more information, read my blog post on Self-Sufficient Gardening.


Looking for more information about edible perennials in the desert?


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Curiosity

Wednesday 7th of February 2024

Anredera cordifolia is an invasive ornamental vine that may be eaten. Also, it's relative, basella rubra, is sold by some online nurseries.

Lauren

Tuesday 30th of January 2024

Capers! When should they be planted, and do they tolerate full sun?

Debbie in AZ

Thursday 14th of December 2023

Would organic lemongrass from the grocery store/Asian market work as a perennial in the Phoenix area?

Angela Judd

Thursday 14th of December 2023

Absolutely. It's one of the perennial herbs I discuss in this blog post about perennial herbs: https://growinginthegarden.com/10-perennial-herbs-for-hot-summer-climates/

Emma Foulkes-Taylor

Wednesday 13th of December 2023

Great list Angela. I would add lima beans. I'm also experimenting with yuccon in my shaded garden- they're a bit like Jerusalem artichokes in that you leave some tubers to keep going.

Angela Judd

Wednesday 13th of December 2023

Nice! I'll try keeping lima beans going next time I plant them. Didn't realize they could go longer. Let me know how the yuccon goes. Thanks for sharing!