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California Homestead: Seven Lessons from a First Year Permaculture Effort

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In this post we share key lessons learned from the first year of a permaculture effort based in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9.

Key Terms

This list is the need-to-know terminology for a permaculture effort.

Annuals – Flora in this category finish their life cycle in a single growing season.

Evergreen – Flora with apparent green leaves year round. The plant may not flower during colder months but does not go fully dormant.

Permaculture – A way of seeing method to gardening that incorporates landscaping, watering, incorporation of the wildlife and the surrounding nature.

Perennial – Flora continually recurs; it does not have to be planted year-over year, unlike annuals.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones – A standard to determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a given location based on the average annual minimum winter temperatures, divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones.

Xeriscape – Low water landscaping.

Lessons Learned

Lesson #1: Planning is everything. Think through the following questions as you begin planning your garden:

  1. What kind of look and feel are you after? Tranquil and serene? A wild-child garden? A manicured English garden? Sketch out what an ideal space looks like, or use Pinterest to help focus how you want to organize the space.
  2. What level of effort and care do you want to put into your space season over season? The amount of time and energy you would like to expend on this effort will play a large role in the types of flora you purchase, as some varietals can require constant attention to grow successfully.
  3. How do you plan on watering? What types of plants align to your zone type? Are you planning on hand watering, installing a drip line or sprinkler system? Something else?
  4. Where will these plants be placed? What kind of requirements do they carry around sun or shade requirements?
  5. What types of fauna do you need to account for in your garden? Will doggies trample your beloved bushes, or gophers have a bite of your beautiful roses? Will deer decide your plants are a delicious snack? How will you mitigate for these factors as you plan your garden?

Lesson #2: Different types of plants thrive in different types of environments. The USDA describes growth zones, ranging from 1-11. Select plants that will grow and thrive in your particular climate. Your local nursery can help guide you.

Lesson #3: Create year-round visual interest. While we all love the gorgeous pops of color that spring and summer blooms provide, think about what kinds of plants will create year-round visual interest. We recommend researching plants in your hardiness zone that are:

  • Perennial
  • Evergreen
  • Disease resistant
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Attractive to birds, bees and butterflies

Lesson #4: Prepare the soil ahead of any kind of planting activity. The type of soil and its quality will play a large role in how successful your plants will be. Rent a till to remove roots, hard chunks of soil and rocks that could inhibit growth. This process is especially true in environments with clay soil that can become virtually impossible for a seedling plant to penetrate. Though soil tilling is unglamorous work, the time spent upfront to enrich the quality of the soil will pay dividends in plant growth in future years.

Lesson #5: Gardening does not just involve a one-time digging and planting effort. For a high-quality, enduring effort, you need to continuously assess the health of your flora. They may require staking, deadheading or seasonal pruning. Some could require refreshed soil every few months, especially in their nascent stages.

Lesson #6: Mulching is key to keeping plants watered and moist. Be careful with how much you apply and where — mulch should not sit on top of a plant or tree base as it will cause it to rot.

Become familiar with:

  • The function of mulch
  • Different mulch colors
  • Where and how much mulch to place by trees and plants
  • How to mulch during winter versus summer

Lesson #7: Understand how much water your plants will need before you plant them in. Is What cadence do they need to be watered at? How much water do they require? Does seasonality play a role in how much water they need? Record your findings in a document to organize your gardening efforts.


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Pingback: USA Culture: Early Spring in California – A 2021 Permaculture Update – Engaged Abroad on March 11, 2021

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