The collard conundrum

Photo Credit: mlinksva via Compfight

Photo Credit: mlinksva via Compfight

When is a perennial not a perennial? One of our readers pointed out that collard greens are not perennial, although we included them in a list of vegetables that will regrow from year to year. That raised a rather vexing issue, which we thought was worth further exploration.

Although scientifically a plant may be classified as annual, biennial or perennial, in practice there is a lot of grey area. And, to answer conclusively whether collard greens are considered perennial or not, can be a frustrating exercise indeed.

Technically speaking, our reader is right: collards are not perennial but rather biennial. However, in certain areas, they act like perennials.

“It has to do with where they’re being grown,” says Heidi Carmichael, trial horticulturalist with Vesey’s Seeds in York, Prince Edward Island. “In areas where winters are milder there is a higher chance of them acting as a perennial.”

So, under good growing conditions if you leave the plants, Carmichael says they will self-seed and come back the following year. On the other hand, in years with a colder winter (such as the one we’re having in Atlantic Canada), the plants may not come back at all.

“Certain varieties will probably be more viable than others,” says Carmichael, who plans to field test a variety of collards called Flash at Vesey’s for the first time this year. She promises to keep Rustik readers posted on how they do in the Maritime climate.

Horticulture supervisor at the Halifax Public Gardens, Bev MacPhail, expects Flash to do well. That’s because, broadly speaking, collards will take cold weather and can be harvested during the winter. “Especially if they are given some protection,” she says. In fact, MacPhail says their flavour is actually enhanced by frost.

Many gardeners choose to grow collards as an annual, which ensures quality of taste and vigourous growth. But technically, “they are a biennial, so will go to seed in the second year,” she confirms.

[If you’ve had a ‘perennial’ experience with collards, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment — Ed.]

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. jonathanloftin says:

    Collards are typically grown as an annual, and it’s true that their seed cycle is biennial like the rest of the cabbages. But it is also true that they are short-lived perennials in most climates, if allowed. I’m not talking about reseeding. I’m talking about the same mature plant living for several years. I have a collard plant that I planted in 2011 that is still vigorous and producing leaves. Our winters are generally mild, but this plant survived temperatures down to about zero F in December of 2013. I let it go to seed this year (2015), thinking that it would die after that, but after I cut the seed heads in July it produced a new flush of leaves and looks good to overwinter again. It’s not pretty… a thick gnarly head on a somewhat saggy, sprawly stalk, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  2. Lynne says:

    I grew one plant, Collard “Morris Heading”, for the first time in 2019. It was sown from seed in autumn (March) and, during our winter (June-Aug), it was slow to get started and didn’t do much at all for several months. In Spring, it finally started growing more leaves. We had a hot, dry summer (Nov 2019-Jan 2020) with temperatures in excess of 40°C on many occasions, followed by torrential rain in Feb with the resultant high humidity. The Morris Heading Collard plant started to bolt at the beginning of summer, I collected seed, and expected that to be the end – then it settled and started growing again! Just as well, because the chickens love the leaves and it’s the only brassica that can be relied upon! I’ll be keeping this plant for as long as it will keep growing and sowing more for sure! (western Sydney, NSW, warm, temperate climate; lowest minimum about -3°C; highest maximum 48°C; average rainfall 700mm; no snow)

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