Perennial favorites
January 14, 2011 3:21 PM   Subscribe

What should I plant now to enjoy down the road?

I am about to buy 5 acres. The parcel I am thinking of is a blank slate. In the next year or so I'd like to build a small cabin, and over the years beef it up to be a retirement home. Its about an hour and a half from my job, so it will be a weekend getaway for quite some time.

But I'd like to plant some things with an eye towards the future. Having a garden that I could only tend to on weekends is probably not the best idea. But I figure I could start some apple trees, raspberry bushes, grape vines....and ?????

What can I plant now and enjoy for years? Name your favorite edible perennials that are somewhat, umm, self-reliant. This is in Zone 4 (Wisconsin)

posted by ian1977 to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Honeycrisp apple trees and a friend for them to cross-pollinate with!
posted by dayintoday at 3:26 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Blueberries. Have a bunch in my yard; all I do is prune and fertilize them each year.
posted by medeine at 3:35 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by timsteil at 3:38 PM on January 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Cherries! (or most any stonefruit).
posted by dolface at 3:43 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Raspberries take little maintenance (or at least I don't bother with much maintenance besides cutting them down once a year) and will spread out and give you a lot of fruit once or twice a year. I've also heard that rhubarb is a good long-term plant -- I'll be doing that this year! Your plan sounds fantastic -- congratulations.
posted by theredpen at 3:49 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Before you plant anything, especially perennial things that might cost more than a package of seeds, you should investigate what works best with your available sun, climate, and soil profile.

My favorites are berry plants. Currants are a great choice: relatively low-maintenance, there are disease-resistant varieties, not too expensive. The berries come in black, red, or green, with significant variation within that.

Gooseberries are also a good choice, come in a bunch of colors and varieties (some thornless). Delicious, pretty, and heavy-bearing.

There are elderberry varietals with wine-dark foliage coupled with glossy black berries.

A goumi plant might be an interesting choice. They're somewhat slow-growing, but they enrich the soil they grow in, much like legume plants.

Sea buckthorn is striking and hardy. So are rowan trees.

Finally, the common European viburnum (PDF), Viburnum opulus, is occasionally found in US nurseries as "high-bush cranberry" or some such. Viburnum and rowan fruit is edible after it's been frozen and makes good jam.
posted by Nomyte at 3:55 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes on raspberries but they do best with lots of light.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:14 PM on January 14, 2011

Pecan trees!!!
posted by JujuB at 4:59 PM on January 14, 2011

Better than a single variety of apple is a multi graft of several varieties. An early blossom and an late blossom pair of multi graphs will maximize both bloom time in the spring and apple producing period in the fall without need to maintain a dozen trees. Also apples set more and bigger fruit if they are cross pollinated with a different type; even nominally self pollinating varieties. And you get a spread of different apple types. Some are good for storing; others baking; and some are best fresh picked off the tree.

I'd also add a multi graft pear, a plum tree or two and a couple apricots. All should do ok in Zone 4.

Cherry trees are also a possibility. There are both sweet and sour cherries that are hardy to zone 4.

All fruit trees need pruning in the late winter and spraying in winter and possibly the spring. I only spray a dormant spray for fungus but many people spray for worm as well.

A nut tree might be nice; I'm planting a hazel nut next spring but I'm 5b so I don't know how they'd do in zone 4.

Grapes on a arbour (as opposed to two or three wire like you see in wineries) need just pruning in the spring and harvesting in the fall plus maybe a bit of fertilizer. They will need watering twice a week though in hot dry periods. They make an excellent shade plant when trellised in front of the sunny side of your house.

Rubbarb only takes a couple years to get established but it is essentially maintenance free; many people do nothing but harvest it every year. The only pest that attacks it are the occasional slug and even then they only eat a bit of the leaves.
posted by Mitheral at 5:10 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't forget perennial vegetables. A lot of herbs are either perennial, or self-seeding (dill, rosemary, parsley, etc.), and it might be good to find out which ones survive a Wisconsin winter; you might be surprised.

Definitely plan out light and future expansion plans when you begin your orchard. Full-sized trees take up a lot of space, and you don't want to shade everything out. If you aim for dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock, you'll also be able to do most of your pruning and harvesting with normal ladders (and risks). It is probably not worth spending any part of your retirement waiting for bones to heal because you were fighting with a 30-foot tree, and lost.

Also, while you can cut raspberry canes or grape vines back to the root if they've gone wild and unmanageable, it's pretty damn hard to reclaim a fruit tree that wasn't pruned right to begin with. It's not a lot of labor, but it's essential, and not something that you should really ignore in the early years.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:29 PM on January 14, 2011

I've never grown Jerusalem artichokes, but I've heard they are maintenance-free.
I imagine if somehow you managed to install a drip system, you could have a real vegetable garden.
Maybe you should look into permaculture, too.
posted by leigh1 at 7:01 PM on January 14, 2011


I found some wild strawberries growing on my property; I weeded out other plants around them and watered them a bit, not a lot of effort, and now I get loads of wild strawberries every summer.

Blackberries are good for this sort of thing, too.

A few tulip bulbs chucked in at random would be good if you want some maintenance-free inedible pretty.
posted by kmennie at 7:47 PM on January 14, 2011

Blueberries, raspberries, artichokes, asparagus, fruit trees
posted by saragoodman3 at 10:11 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Asparagus & rhubarb are the two perennial vegetables. Plant them & they'll come back year after year.
posted by cleverevans at 4:41 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're zone 4, make sure you buy either from a local nursery or from a mail order company in the Northern US, to make sure you get hardy plants. I like Millers Nuseries in Canandaigua, NY. And, of course, make sure you pay attention to those zone labels.

Rhubarb and horseradish are no maintenance and will ready for harvesting in a year. You can buy a single plant and divide it every year and before you know it, you'll be considering them weeds.

If you start a raspberry patch with a plant or two, it will also spread.

Asparagus is a lot of work to plant and takes 3-4 years before you can really harvest anything, but it's also low maintenance.

If you're buying fruit trees, dwarf is the way to go unless you want something larger to make a landscaping statement. But harvesting from a semi-dwarf or full-sized tree is a lot more work.

Seconding Mitheral's idea of a cherry tree - they're beautiful when they bloom. We have a sour cherry tree as a focal point in our front yard.

I've had a lot of luck with pears, sorry I don't remember the varietals. (I'm in Zone 5). Also, believe it or not, with Reliance Peaches.

Tulips and artichokes won't be hardy through the winter. Daffodils will be (if you check the zone guide) and a large bed of naturalized daffodils would be spectacular.

If you're thinking really long term, you could growblack walnut trees as an investment.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 6:06 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, Chives! reseed themselves every year, and come back bigger and stronger. Mine usually start poking through the snow around the first of March. I would essentially need a priest to get rid of them.
posted by timsteil at 10:41 AM on January 15, 2011

Check with the local Natural Resources Conservation Service and Extension Services. They often sell varieties of native shrubs that will do well in your area.
posted by stubborn at 1:03 PM on January 15, 2011

Most things that are perennials only need pruning maintenence once a year. Lots of good things listed already. I would also add horseradish. Plant it away from the rest of your vegetables and herbs though as it spreads easily and some would consider it invasive. A great guide for exactly what you are looking to do is this book by Lewis Hill, Fruits and Berries for the Home Gardener. I have it and one of his pruning books. They are excellent.
posted by Fred Wesley at 1:34 PM on January 15, 2011

sorry for the lack of HTML, Link here
posted by Fred Wesley at 1:36 PM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!! Plenty of food for thought. Horseradish! Yum!
posted by ian1977 at 1:54 PM on January 15, 2011

Second on the nut trees as a long-term investment. Fruit trees are good but do require maintenance - especially in the early years when they will need pruning and training to help them form strong support structures and minimize breakage and disease. On the other hand, nut trees (chestnut, walnut, black walnut, filbert? not sure what is appropriate for Zone 5) require fewer prunings, and provide wildlife with a great source for shelter and food.
posted by memewit at 2:34 PM on January 15, 2011

Send an email with this question to your county ag extension. It's a good bet that they have a publication on perennials that will grow for you. See also their Guide to Selecting Landscape Plants for Wisconsin and Sampling Garden Soils and Turf Areas for Testing.

That said... Seconding the Miller Nurseries recommendation, especially for hardneck garlic (I've been happy with their German Red). Garlic is an annual, but I plant it at Halloween and harvest on Fourth of July and do nothing to it in between; set aside the best heads for replanting. Horseradish. Raspberries. Asparagus. Grape vines. Hazelnut trees/bushes (I was happy with the ones I ordered from Oikos). Cherries--I just put in Nanking cherries last year and am looking forward to seeing what they'll do. Rhubarb. Walking onions. Wild parsnips? You might also consider butterfly bushes as a combination screen/bee attractor--fast-growing and low-maintenance (though certainly not as pleasing as chestnuts and walnuts, imo). And check out Oikos's page on Native Edible Fruits for more ideas.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:18 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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