If you’re looking for permaculture garden plants to include in your garden design, you’re in the right place!
It can be overwhelming to figure out which plants to include in your homestead design, but it’s helpful to see what other permaculturists recommend or enjoy growing.
Find out below how I choose plants for my plant guilds plus some of my favorites to try.
What Should Be in a Permaculture Garden?
What makes permaculture so amazing is that it is a holistic way of growing food and managing land that can (and should) be adapted to your specific site.
But this also makes it a bit overwhelming, because there isn’t an easy list of plants that should be in a permaculture garden, or how they should be included.
It sure would be easier if we could just follow a formula for creating permaculture gardens and homesteads. But, At the same time, creating a unique plan for your site is also really fun and you can learn a lot.
So, the answer is: Grow plants that contribute to your site’s overall health as well as plants that produce a yield for you (that is, after all, the point of growing food!). Find out below how I do this.
How to Choose the Right Permaculture Plant
So, how exactly do you choose which plants to include in your permaculture garden design?
Here are the basic things you need to consider:
What’s that Function?
Every plant has a function, whether in your garden or growing naturally in the wilderness.
In permaculture, we want to be aware of the plants’ functions and choose them based on the function our space needs.
For example, if I have a space with poor soil, I may want to plant additional nitrogen-fixing plants.
Here are the main functions that I focus on, but there could be more based on your site and its needs.
- Edibles – This includes edible flowers, vegetables, fruit, etc.
- Herbs & Medicinal Plants – Plants in this category include culinary and medicinal herbs as well as other medicinal plants.
- Fiber Plants – Plants such as hemp, cotton, flax, etc.
- Nitrogen Fixers – Includes plants that add nitrogen to the soil such as peas, beans, clover, etc.
- Detoxifiers – Plants in this category include any plant that can accumulate toxins in the environment. Examples include alfalfa, sunflower, and poplar trees.
- Mulch – These plants include any plant that creates mulch, deciduous trees are one example (leaves fall each autumn to create mulch). Comfrey is another example because it can be chopped and dropped as a nutrient-rich mulch.
- Habitat – Plants that can be habitats for wildlife such as birds, toads, salamanders, etc.
- Insectary – These plants attract beneficial insects and repel pests.
- Animal Fodder – These plants are only intended to be edible for animals (though some will overlap with the above edible category). Some examples include comfrey, sunflowers, and zucchini.
Ideally, you will cover all of these functions, though you may not need one or two, such as fiber plants.
Layers for the Win
Another thing to consider when choosing your permaculture plants is the layer your plant will occupy. Each plant takes up a different kind of vertical space.
Knowing what space each plant uses helps you to design a garden that uses the space as wisely as possible. So, your space can grow as much as possible while keeping the ecosystem in balance.
- Root – potatoes, carrots, etc.
- Ground Cover – mint, clover, etc.
- Herbaceous – lettuce, sage, etc.
- Shrub – blueberry bushes, elderberry bushes, etc.
- Small Tree – dwarf fruit trees, smaller fruit trees, etc.
- Tall Tree – taller fruit trees, nut trees, etc.
- Vine – kiwi, pumpkin, etc.
- Water Plants – water lilies, duckweed, etc.
If you have a small backyard garden, you may skip trees and start with your tallest layer being permaculture shrubs.
It’s always wonderful to include trees, but if you can’t, you can still create a wonderful permaculture garden design.
Bring on the Natives!
In permaculture, we are trying to replicate nature as much as possible. One way we can do this is to use native plants whenever possible.
Native plants are designed to thrive in the place where they are native, which means they can survive without much input from you!
Native plants are naturally disease and pest-resistant. They have co-evolved with the wildlife of the area, so they naturally fit into the ecosystem and help biodiversity.
How do you know if a plant is native? One way is to look up your favorite plants and find out where they are natively from.
Another idea is to use my permaculture plant guide spreadsheet. In it, I include a growing number of common permaculture plants with a host of information on each, including where they are natively from.
Your garden does not need to be exclusively native plants, but if you can incorporate native plants into your design you’re headed in the right direction!
Perennials Over Annuals
Perennial plants are also important to include in your permaculture garden.
Often, native plants will be perennials, but you can also include perennial plants in your design that are not native but do well in your area.
Dandelion is a good example of this. While dandelion is native to Eurasia, it grows wonderfully in many parts of the US without causing problems.
Perennials, whether native or not, are beneficial because they help establish permanent ecosystems and habitats.
Their roots typically reach deeper in the ground, doing more to prevent erosion than annual plants. They also bring nutrients up from deeper parts of the soil for all plants to enjoy.
Permaculture Plant List
You likely already know many plants that fit into each of these permaculture plant categories, such as garden staples like tomatoes (vine), lettuce (herbaceous), and beets (root).
But there are so many more plants that provide food and other benefits beyond what we typically grow and eat.
Some estimates put the number of plant species that humans typically eat at just 200 while there are likely 200,000 that are edible.
Below are some of my favorite permaculture plants to consider growing. Some are ones you’ve heard of, while others may be new. I highly recommend giving a few unusual plants a spot in your garden.
- American Groundnut
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Black Salsify
- Sweet Violets
- Sweet Woodruff
- Eastern Prickly Pear
- Stinging Nettle
- Swiss chard
- Buffalo berries
- Beach Plum
- Black Walnut
- Black Locust
- White Willow
- White Oak
- Slippery Elm
- Hardy Kiwi
- Eastern Prickly Pear
- Wapato Duck Potato
- Swamp Rose
- Swamp Azalea
Permaculture Companion Plants
So now that you know all of the things to consider when choosing plants for your permaculture garden, you are probably wondering how to combine those plant choices in the most beneficial way.
The simple explanation is this: Choose plants that have complimentary functions as well as complimentary layering.
One way to look at it is to choose a plant for each function and layer. Some will overlap (and that’s great!).
But you should aim to cover all layers if possible (it’s ok to skip trees if your space doesn’t work for trees) and cover all functions if possible.
When you find a grouping of plants that work well together, this is called a plant guild. Once you have a few plant guilds you love, you can start planting them together to create a food forest.
Building plant guilds is a combination of trying plants that are well known to work together and being creative with your own knowledge and observation of your site.
Easier Permaculture Plant Guilds
If this all sounds overwhelming to you, don’t worry! I’ve got you covered. When I first started using permaculture companion plants and building plant guilds, it felt like a lot of information to digest. I felt as if I would never get the hang of it.
But then I started approaching building plant guilds with intention. I discovered that there are a few steps you need to go through to build a guild, and these steps can be used for any location.
Using this framework that I created I can easily build plant guilds that work for my space, and you can too.
The Perfect Plant Guild Framework gives you guidelines to follow for creating plant guilds that work for you and your site.
It comes with a spreadsheet of permaculture plants that you can browse if you get stuck when trying to find a plant that fits a function and layer in your garden.
It includes information for each plant so you can easily add the right plant to your guild.
Companion planting and plant guilds don’t have to be scary! If you use my framework you will be off to a great start with plant guilds that work for your space.
And remember that guilds will change and grow over time, so you don’t have to be perfect about it the first time. Just get started and see where this way of gardening can take you!
Have you tried plant guilds? What was your experience?
what happened to the spread sheet I glimpsed?
Can you be more specific?