What is a Permaculture Zone Analysis?

This is a continuation of an introductory series exploring my study and application of Permaculture.  You can find my other articles by visiting GHC’s Site Index.  All of these topics are discussed more deeply during our Workshops and Seminars.

If you’ve taken a look at my (lovely! beautiful!) little header graphic up there, you know my two second Permaculture pitch is, “Because Your Garden Should Work Harder Than You”.  I’m all about minimizing (human) effort while maximizing production.

Unfortunately, the first and biggest mistake usually made when planting a garden or fruit trees is throwing stuff willy-nilly all over the place.  It’s only through much site observation, critical thinking, insight discovery, and careful design that you can get nature working for you.

Until now we’ve talked about some Permaculture philosophy.  There’s more of that to come, but it’s time we start putting the rubber to the road and actually get something done.  Today we’ll discuss what a Permaculture Zone Analysis is and how to create one for your landscape.  The next post will walk you through a specific Zone Analysis I created for our five acre property.


Every home or site, when seen through a Permaculturist’s filter, has six potential zones.  In a perfect textbook world, they begin in the center of an area with Zone 0 (your house) and increase in number as they move further out from your home… looking like the above graphic.

How does one zone differ from another? … How do we define each? … Just remember to not get caught in the trap of thinking too much about “stuff” yet (i.e. tomatoes and chickens).  This analysis is all about “where” and “why”.

Permaculture Zones

Zone 0 – Area Inside Your House: Yes, the actual structure.  There are lots of nooks and crannies inside a home for activities to make it more productive and resilient, both big and small.  Sandwich sprouts on a windowsill, replacing chemical cleaners under the sink with natural options, passive solar design for a south facing wall, feeding a vermicompost bin in the pantry, introducing a grey water collection system, closing curtains during the hottest part of a blazing August day, etc, etc, etc.

Zone 1 – Area You Manage Aggressively: These are areas usually just outside your home that you visit practically everyday, either by design or necessity.  That makes them easy to intensively manage.  Most likely your Zone 1 areas will be filled with things you either want to harvest often, or elements that are needy and require regular care.  Kitchen herbs just outside your back door, thirsty annual vegetables you can water near your garage after you pull in from work, fruit bushes lining the walk to your mailbox, and where my propane grill lives during the summer since I use it as often as possible… are all examples of potential Zone 1 areas.

Zone 2 – Area You Manage Often: These are areas you visit often, but perhaps not every day.  Compost bin(s), annual and perennial beds that can thrive with a little independence, and a chicken coop (if you have your feeders and waterers designed correctly).  Even though I visit my chickens and ducks every day to collect eggs, feed kitchen scraps, and laugh at their waddling… the reason I consider my poultry housing as a Zone 2 area is that they are designed so we could vacation for 7-10 days and the birds would be just fine without me.

Zone 3 – Area You Manage Rarely: These are areas you visit even less often than Zone 2.  Beehives that get checked once a month, perennial shrubs and trees you prune, shape, and mulch every now and then.

Zone 4 – Area You Manage Very Rarely: Think of an established perennial food forest implementation where elements are designed so they can more or less take care of themselves.  You’ll go out once in awhile and harvest when something is ready, and a few times a year you’ll chop down nutrient-dense “weeds” and drop them around your fruit trees for mulch and fertilizer.

Zone 5 – Area You Never Manage: This is untouched, native habitat where you go to observe and learn from natural patterns, maybe hunt and harvest wild game, and forage.  More importantly, Zone 5 can also be home to many beneficial predators and other natural balancing acts that are crucial for a healthy sustainable system.

So those are the various zone we aim to discover around our property.

Of course, nothing ever looks picture perfect, does it?  (Except maybe my abs.)

Instead of the beautifully spaced textbook graphic I created in the beginning of this post, our zone analysis probably looks very different due to property lines, other structures, and any number of other considerations.  In fact, it’s not mandatory that all six zones be represented for whatever reason.

So perhaps a more realistic theoretical graphic would look something like this:


And yes, I know that looks like something my three year old scratched out.  I’m OK with it.

Stay tuned for next time where we walk through a specific, real world example of my home’s Zone Analysis. (Update: You can read that Here.)

Question of the Day: Have you ever planted or established something that you later realized was in the “wrong” spot and it became a pain to manage?  I know I have.  Let’s hear about it.

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2 comments on “What is a Permaculture Zone Analysis?
  1. Milton Dixon says:

    In permaculture zones are a way to organize elements in your design by how often they need your attention. Those that need the most attention go closest to where you are the most those that need the least are placed furthest away. In a perfect world it would be concentric circles, but in practice you may have something much more messy. For example you may have two zone 1s, home and work. The route you travel between those two places might be a zone 3. That would set you up with an awfully funny zone map!
    Milton Dixon recently posted…Expanding Zones and Sectors in Permaculture: Integrating New PerspectivesMy Profile

4 Pings/Trackbacks for "What is a Permaculture Zone Analysis?"
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