Growing Perennial Brassicas - An Easy First Perennial Vegetable

Perennial Brassicas – An Easy First Perennial Vegetable

Kale, broccoli, collards, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc. These common vegetables are all brassicas—plants in the mustard family. Most vegetable gardens in temperate climates will have at least 1 of these great vegetables. But what if you could plant them once and have them come back year after year? Perennial brassicas do this, and they’re a great option for your property.

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Getting started with perennial vegetables can seem daunting, but perennial brassicas are a great place to start, since you’re likely very familiar with the annual and biannual versions already.

If you want to learn more about other perennial vegetables, make sure to check out my series all about perennial vegetables.

Perennial Vegetables Series

Check out these great posts all about perennial vegetables and how to use them in your garden!

The specific brassicas that are descendent from an original wild cabbage have been called the “dogs” of the plant world, because there are just so many different varieties available today. This means that the few varieties that you have growing in your vegetable garden are just the tip of the iceberg.

Out of all the varieties of brassicas found worldwide, some are either still perennial, or have regained their perennial nature. There are also other plants in the brassica family that are not direct descendants of that original wild cabbage but are still edible.

One is Turkish rocket, which is covered later.

These perennial brassicas are a great option for your first perennial vegetables. But there are lots more perennial vegetables out there that you should also consider. Make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet all about perennial vegetables to help you get started with these amazing vegetables.

A Simple Perennial Brassica – Kosmic Kale

Kosmic kale is a great perennial brassica

I have several Kosmic kale plants growing in my kitchen garden. These great perennial brassicas are easy to grow and eat. They also look really beautiful and fit nicely in the vegetable garden. A really great perennial kale!

Kosmic kale has quickly become one of my favorite perennial vegetables. It’s just so easy to add to the garden!

With its nice variegated leaves, it’s also a very beautiful addition to the garden and could be grown in a front flower garden without raising any eyebrows. There are decorative kale and cabbage plants, after all!

But this one is edible and tastes just like regular kale.

As a perennial kale, growing Kosmic kale is really no different than growing regular kale, (though I would let it grow for the first year and only lightly harvest it to give it time to get fully established.) After that, I would make sure to have a few plants and rotate your harvests between them so each one has time to recover.

If you take care of perennial brassicas like Kosmic kale, they can provide you harvests for years to come with little regular maintenance beyond harvesting.

If you live somewhere too cold for Kosmic kale to overwinter outside, you could try growing it in pots and bringing it inside.

Info on Kosmic Kale

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone:
  • Sunlight Requirement: full-sun 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 2 ft high and 4 ft wide
  • Purchase: transplant 
  • Note: As a green this plant can be harvested during the first year, but leave enough leaves to keep the plant growing. Don't harvest all the leaves at once.

Tree Collards – A Rare Perennial Vegetable

Tree collards are another great perennial brassica that are easy to add to your garden. They can easily substitute for kale or collard greens, though they do taste best after a frost.

These perennial collards can also get very large and should be tied up to keep them growing straight. Mine started to lean a bit too much for my liking during their first year.

While they can take a frost, they’re not that cold hardy—they’re hardy down to zone 8 or 9. I have mine growing against the south side of my house to help make sure they can handle the winters. Since they’re not that common, I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose the ones I have.

Luckily, there is now a nursery that sells them online, which is making it easier to get them than in the past, when they were very hard to find.

You can grow these outdoors in colder climates by taking cuttings that you can then root inside. These rooted cuttings can then be transplanted back outside in the spring. I know of some people growing them this way in Chicago.

Info on Purple Tree Collard

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 8-9 
  • Sunlight Requirement: full to partial-sun 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 8 ft high and 2-2.5 ft wide
  • Purchase: Rooted Cuttings 
  • Note: Propagated by rooting cuttings of existing plants. The link for purchasing is the best source I was able to find. This is a rare but amazing plant. Learn more.

Turkish Rocket – A Different Type of Perennial Brassica

Turkish rocket - a great perennial brassica!

We have several Turkish rockets growing in one of our hugelkultur hedgerows. They’re beautiful when flowering and the bees love them! But they do get large, so I would be careful where you grow them.

Turkish rocket is not directly related to broccoli or the other more common brassicas. But it’s still in the broader family of brassicas.

Turkish rocket has a flavor all its own, but it has hints of mustard greens. Some people like them and some don’t. The young leaves are best. The young flower clusters, (like broccoli,) are another great option for harvest.

I like the young flower clusters steamed or stir-fried, but you want to be sure to harvest them before they open, just like you do with broccoli.

But since Turkish rocket is so low maintenance, I think it’s a great perennial brassica to add to your property. You can enjoy the harvests and then enjoy the lovely, fragrant flowers.

Info on Turkish Rocket - Bunias orientalis - L.

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-9 (potentially up to 11)
  • Sunlight Requirement: full to partial-sun 
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 4 ft high and 3 ft wide
  • Purchase: seeds - root cuttings / transplants (may not always be available)
  • Note: In some climates may become weedy due to large seed production. May be considered an invasive plant in some areas - check with your local conservation/soil district. Learn more.

Other Perennial Brassicas – There are a Lot!

A possible perennial brassica - a perennial kale!

This is a kale that I have growing on my property. It has gotten huge! Grown from seed, it has now entered its 2nd fall (2019) after flowering this summer. But instead of dying like a biannual would, it just kept growing! I don’t know if it will prove to be a perennial brassica, but I hope so!

These 3 perennial brassicas are just the start—there are many other varieties that you could try. Some, like sea kale, are even hardy over most of the United States.

If you want to learn more about perennial brassicas then I highly recommend getting Perennial Vegetables, by Eric Toensmeier, which covers 11 different types of perennial brassicas and many more perennial vegetables. It’s a great reference book to figure out which perennial vegetables you want to grow!

But you should also watch your kale, broccoli and other regular brassicas. Sometimes you may find one that behaves a bit like a perennial brassica. As mentioned above, I’m watching a large kale plant that I have growing on one of my hedgerows. It’s behaving a lot like a perennial vegetable, but time will tell.

I did make sure to save some seeds from it, and from another kale that is also behaving a bit like a perennial. While most likely these aren’t going to be new perennial brassicas, saving seeds from plants that show these sorts of characteristics is a way to develop new perennial brassicas.

Who knows, you may just develop the next perennial brassica!

Which perennial brassica are you going to try on your property? Leave a comment to let us know!


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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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