Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Permaculture Zones


One of the foundational patterns of Permaculture is the concept of Zones.

There are five Permaculture Zones in the landscape.  These zones are areas of land (large or small) that are organized based on how much time is spent in them.  In its simplest form, the Permaculture Zones are concentric cirlces like this:

Permaculture Zones

Permaculture Zone 0
This is your home.  This is where you reside, obviously.  There is a lot I will have to say about home design, energy (traditional, alternative), water use, etc.  Zone 0 can include attached greenhouses, indoor plants, window plants, window boxes, bird feeders, companion animals (i.e. dogs).  In my opinion, the optimal house design has large windows that let you observe your yard/land as frequently as possible.  It should also connect to the outdoors in a way that makes you have a hard time deciding if you are inside or outside... e.g. covered back porch/patio that transitions to an overhead grapevine/wisteria trellis with an outdoor kitchen that transitions to a garden path.  Your home should be a place of refuge and relaxation.  This is not meant in some new age kind of way.  I really mean it.  If you work away from home, you should be able to walk in and find places that calm you.  This is vital for you and your family.
Frequency: Very frequent daily visits

Permaculture Zone 1
This is the area of your yard/land that requires the most time and energy to maintain.  It is typically located within 15-20 feet of your home.  It makes sense to start designing Zone 1 in areas that you typically walk past multiple times per day: right outside your front and back door.  In Zone 1, we place our annual vegetables, salad mixes, herbs, small fruit plants, dwarf fruit trees, espalier trees, external (non-attached) greenhouses, cold frames, rain barrels, nursery for new plants, small composting areas (including worm composting bins), a small pond, and small, quiet domestic animals like rabbits or pigeons.  This area is often fenced in to protect from predation.  This is the first place to be developed in your Permaculture plan. 

Bill Mollison once said that if you need some fresh herbs for your morning omelette, and if you go to collect them from your Zone 1 garden and your slippers get wet from the dew, then they were placed too far from the home.
Frequency: Frequent daily visits

Permaculture Zone 2
This area is getting a bit further from the home.  The components of Zone 2 include the larger, less frequently attended annual and perenial vegetables, larger shrubs and fruit bushes, some smaller fruit trees, maybe a pond or a small plot of wildflowers, larger home composting areas, louder or larger domestic animals like chickens and bees.  Zone 2 areas can extend along frequently used paths that lead to other Zones or to areas that are more frequently visited like a barn, a large pond, or path to a neighboors back yard.
Frequency: Visit every few days

Permaculture Zone 3
Fairly minimal components of your Permaculture Plan are placed in Zone 3.  This is a great place for a forest garden, nut trees, large ponds, dams, mushroom logs/hay bales, commercial crops (if you are considering this), barns, large trees used as windbreaks, and any other components that are used/harvested only a few times per year.
Frequency: Visit once a week to once a month

Permaculture Zone 4
Not everyone will have a Zone 4.  This is an area mainly used for pasture to graze larger domestic animals (sheep, goats, cows, pigs), firewood, timber, coppicing, and wild harvesting.  It is considered semi-wild.
Frequency: Visit a few times a month to a few times per year

Permaculture Zone 5
This is a permanant wild area.  This is a place to go and observe and learn from the designs in nature.  It is a place to enjoy the wild places of God's creation.  We do not intervene here.
Frequency: Visit frequently

Additional Comments on Permaculture Zones
In reality, Zones are NOT concentric circles.  Zones are designed based on the land you have and the functions you are trying to create.  You cannot create your individual pattern of Zones until you are actually on the land walking around.  Zones also are not always distinct.  They can be when divided by a fence, but more often to not they merge into each other.

Illustration of Zones from Toby Hemenway

Permaculture Zones are a great way to start thinking about practically applying Permaculture to where you live.  When designed properly, Zones will save you time, energy, and money. 


  1. Just found your site. Love it! I'm building my little permaculture "burb-stead" on less than an acre in a zone 7 climate. Our average yearly temps here are 0-100 with short bursts over each edge. Challenging to say the least! Just heard the term permaculture this year but been practising components of it most of my life. So glad to have your site to reference! ~ Gina - The Wild Garden Burbstead

  2. Very simple topic about temperature layesr around world that my daughter, who is ten btw, found it easy to understand the concept. Thank you!!


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