Welcome back to the last installment of this fast growing plants series. These last five fast-growing plants all happen to be perennials. I’ll discuss each plant briefly, covering its benefits and uses, growing and harvesting tips, and design ideas and varieties to consider. These fast growing perennials are excellent options (depending on your climate) to jump-start your edible perennial garden or food forest. Without further preamble, let’s get to the plants!
Mulberry (Morus spp.)
- Hardiness Zones: 5-9 (varies by species)
- Form: Medium Tree
- Size: 30’-50’ (varies by species)
Mulberry trees are fast-growing and productive, making them an excellent option for an edible landscape or food forest. For a more in-depth look at mulberries, read my Plant of the Month post All About the Mulberry.
Benefits and Uses of Mulberry
Mulberry’s juicy and sweet fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Mulberries can be eaten fresh, used in jams or pies, juiced, or dried for a nutritious snack. Additionally, mulberry leaves are the sole food source for silkworms, making them an interesting addition to silk production. The trees also provide shade, attract wildlife, and create a lush green canopy in the garden.
Growing and Harvesting Mulberry
Mulberries thrive in full sun to part shade and well-drained, slightly acidic to alkaline soil. They are relatively low-maintenance trees that can tolerate a range of soil conditions. Plant mulberry trees in spacious areas as they can grow quite large. Prune the trees in late winter or early spring to shape them and remove any dead or crowded branches. Harvest the ripe fruits when they are fully colored and easily detach from the tree. Start with young mulberry trees from a nursery for quicker fruit bearing, or mulberry can be propagated by seed or stem cutting.
Mulberry Design Ideas and Varieties
Mulberry trees have a graceful and spreading form, making them a beautiful focal point in the garden or a shade tree for outdoor seating areas. Plant them in open spaces where their branches can freely extend, providing ample space for fruit production. There are numerous mulberry varieties available, each with its own flavor profile, color, and growth habit. Explore white mulberry (Morus alba) or red mulberry (Morus rubra) for cooler climates, and black mulberry (Morus nigra) in warmer regions.
Maypop (Passiflora incarnata)
- Hardiness Zones: 6-10
- Form: High Vine
- Size: 10’-30’ x Indefinite
Maypop, a hardy variety of edible passionfruit, is a stunning vine that adds a touch of exotic beauty to the temperate garden. I’ve covered Maypop in more detail as part of my Plant of the Month series. Visit Maypop: A Hardy Passionflower.
Benefits and Uses of Maypop
Maypop’s intricate and showy flowers are not only visually stunning but also attract a wide range of pollinators, including butterflies and bees. Maypop fruits, resembling small yellow or purple passionfruit, are edible and have a unique tropical flavor. The leaves of the plant are also used in herbal teas for their calming and sleep-promoting properties.
Growing and Harvesting Maypop
Maypop thrives in full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. It is a fast-growing perennial vine that requires support, such as a trellis or arbor, to climb and spread. Plant maypop in a location protected from strong winds. Regularly water the vine to keep the soil evenly moist, especially during dry spells. Harvest the fruits when they are fully ripe, slightly wrinkled, and have a fragrant aroma. Propegate maypop passionflower plants from seeds or cuttings.
Maypop Design Ideas and Varieties
Maypop’s stunning flowers make it a fantastic addition to arbors, pergolas, or fences, where it can create a beautiful display. It can also be trained along walls or used to cover unsightly structures in the garden. But do realize that in cooler climates, maypop dies to the ground in winter and emerges again in spring. Consider mixing different maypop varieties to enjoy a variety of flower colors, including purple, yellow, or white.
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)
- Hardiness Zones: 6
- Form: Medium to Large Shrub
- Size: 4’-8’ x 4’-8’
Benefits and Uses of Blackberry
Blackberries, with their delicious and juicy fruits, are a favorite among gardeners and children. Like other plants in the Rubus genus, blackberries are superfoods, making them an exceptionally healthful addition to your diet. They can be enjoyed fresh, used in desserts, jams, or added to smoothies. Blackberry plants also provide habitat and food for wildlife, attract pollinators, and create a lush and productive berry patch in the garden.
Growing and Harvesting Blackberry
Blackberries thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. They require support, such as a trellis or fence, to prevent their trailing canes from sprawling. Start blackberry plants with nursery starts, stem cuttings, or by transplanting suckers. Plant blackberries in rows or clusters, spacing them adequately for good air circulation. Regularly water the plants, especially during dry spells, and provide mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Harvest the ripe blackberries when they’re fully colored, plump, and easily detach from the plant.
Blackberry Design Ideas and Varieties
Blackberries can be grown along fences, trellises, or in dedicated berry patches. Their arching canes create an attractive and productive display. Explore different blackberry varieties, such as ‘Apache,’ ‘Triple Crown,’ or ‘Natchez,’ for variations in fruit size, flavor, and growth habit. Consider incorporating thornless varieties for ease of harvesting and maintenance.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
- Hardiness Zones: 4
- Form: Large Herb
- Size: 3’-5’ x 3’-5’
Comfrey, the quintessential permaculture plant, is a fast-growing perennial that I’ve already covered in depth in Comfrey Uses in the Garden.
Benefits and Uses of Comfrey
Comfrey is a powerhouse plant known for its medicinal properties and nutrient-rich qualities. Its deep roots mine minerals from the soil, making it an excellent addition to compost piles or as a nutrient accumulator for other plants. Although not edible, comfrey leaves can be used to make a nutrient-rich compost tea or applied as a mulch to nourish the soil. Additionally, comfrey has traditionally been used topically as a healing salve for bruises, sprains, and other skin conditions. Bees and other insects are attracted to comfrey flowers, which grow in drooping bell-shaped clusters.
Growing and Harvesting Comfrey
Comfrey prefers full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. It is a vigorous plant that can spread rapidly, so consider planting it in a designated area or using barriers to contain its growth. Comfrey can be propagated through crown divisions or root cuttings. Once established, it requires minimal maintenance. Harvest the leaves before the plant flowers for optimal nutrient content. Use gloves when handling comfrey, as its hairy leaves can cause skin irritation in some individuals.
Design Ideas and Varieties
Comfrey’s large, lance-shaped leaves and clusters of bell-shaped flowers create a lush and vibrant presence in the garden. Plant it in the back of borders or in areas where it can fill in empty spaces. While Symphytum officinale is the most common comfrey species, and there are cultivated varieties, such as ‘Bocking 14,’ that are sterile and do not spread by seeds. These varieties are often preferred by gardeners for their controlled growth.
Grape (Vitis spp.)
- Hardiness Zones: 6-9
- Form: High Vine
- Size: 12’-20’
Benefits and Uses of Grape
Grapes are versatile fruiting vines that not only provide delicious fruit but also create a beautiful and functional element in the garden. Depending on the variety, grapes can be used for eating fresh, making wine, or producing raisins. They are rich in antioxidants and offer health benefits. Grapevines also provide shade and privacy when trained along arbors, pergolas, or fences.
Growing and Harvesting Grape
Grapes prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They are relatively low-maintenance and tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. Plant grapes in rows along trellises or arbors, providing support for their trailing vines. Prune the vines in winter to maintain their shape and promote better fruiting. Harvest the grapes when they are fully ripe and have reached their desired sweetness.
Grape Design Ideas and Varieties
Grapes are ideal for covering arbors or pergolas that provide both shade and delicious fruit. Their lush foliage can be used to create private outdoor spaces. Explore various grape varieties, such as ‘Concord’ for its classic flavor, ‘Thompson Seedless’ for table grapes, or one of the many grape varieties for wine production.
Incorporating fast-growing plants into your perennial garden or food forest will accelerate the growth and development of your landscape, providing a lush and abundant environment in a relatively short period. Today, we discussed the fast-growing perennials mulberry, maypop, blackberry, comfrey, and grape. In part one and part two, we covered more perennials and a few annuals, so be sure to check out those posts if you haven’t already.
These fast-growing perennials provide not just quick growth, but edible fruits, medicinal properties, aesthetic appeal, and ecosystem services such as supporting pollinators to make your garden a healthy and thriving environment. By selecting and incorporating these plants, you can kick-start the transformation of your outdoor space, creating a thriving ecosystem filled with color, fragrance, and abundant harvests in just a year or two.
So go get planting one or two or five of these fast-growers and watch your landscape flourish. Happy growing!