Planting after Earthworks in Permaculture

Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 9.3 –

Planting after Earthworks in Permaculture

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Every time we move soil, we should be ready to follow straight on with planting or seeding.

That is, we need to have planned the planting and stabilization of the area, and to have the plant materials on standby to implement our plan as soon as after disturbance as possible.


There are two reasons for this:

1. To prevent erosion, which can be severe on bare slopes at only 2% slope, especially in rains; and

2. To prevent invasion by unwanted volunteer plants, which may become difficult to displace later.


If a full set of ground covers, pioneers and long-term plants can be set out in new earth, a great deal of time and work is saved. A broad scale scatter of mixed seed, raked in, will prepare the way for permanent placements.

We are most fortunate if we can immediately mulch bare soil sites with hay, hessian (burlap) or woodchips, to break the force of rain and to suppress unwanted weeds.

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If you have prepared for bulldozing, you have seed, divisions, cuttings and potted plants ready to go before the machine pulls out. Seed can be garden collected or purchased; just scatter and if possible rake in.


Some mixes that work in most soils:

Sunflower or mixed parrot seed with sunflower, millets, pulses, chard, parsley, lupin and clovers;

Parsnip (fresh seed), salsify, daikon radish, radish, turnip; all of these will “spike” the soil;

Bulbs of lilies, grape hyacinth;

Roots of sun root, comfrey, chicory, horseradish, ginger, sweet potato, turmeric;

Divisions of bamboo, banana grass, pampas grass, aloes, agave, New Zealand hemp;

Seedlings or sets of elephant garlic, asparagus, globe artichoke;

Cuttings of small fruits: elderberry, willow, poplar, mulberry, Pride of Madeira (Echium Fastousum);

Tube seedlings of Acacia, Prosopis, tagasaste, New Zealand mirror plant (Coprosmo), pines, eucalypts, shrubs.


All compete very well with sell-sown weeds and with very little help, or none at all, establish a varied and useful early and perennial crop system; a few annuals self-sow and seed down another year.

Many species can be further divided or cuttings set out, and stakes can be set at the perennials so they are easily located. Excess grass is cut back in the following years.

Clover can be late-sown to allow vegetable seed to get away. Grasses are not sown, but will invade if spaces appear and can be grazed by geese in a few years. Failed plants can be replaced with successful plants late in the cycle.

It is always an advantage to smooth-finish banks and surrounds so that a mower or scythe can be used until the selected plants take over.

Trees are a danger on dam walls; if they fall (and they often do in those conditions) they take part of the wall with them, but bamboos, ginger, sweet potato, pepino and dump grasses assist bank stabilization. Trees at the base of walls are advantageous in shading. removing water and reducing weeds.

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The “net and pan” planting pattern of Figure 11.84 is an effective control in overgrazed, eroded, mined or bulldozed sites. If tires are available, the “pans” can be made from these, filled with mulch and the diversion drains led in above the tread level.

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For people with access to logs, these can be staked cross-slope, on a slight downhill grade so that water is made to zigzag across the erosion face, and hence absorb into the ground.

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Even small logs and branches, pegged across erosion channels, build up a layer-cake of silt and leaves, beside which can be planted willow, Acacia, or any other fibrous-rooted and hardy species, which then act as a permanent silt trap.

Mulch behind logs and barriers quickly stabilizes the seed bed for planting. Fallen leaves and dung, accumulate in these mini-deltas which provide nutrients to plants. Small wire netting fences, with stone-weighted hay uphill, will trap silt and spread water, as will cross-swales of lemongrass or Vetiver grass.

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On very steep slopes, there is often no recourse other than to plant pampas, bamboo, lemongrass and root mat pioneers and to make upslope plantings of chestnut, Acacia, carob, olive or other large species which will cascade seed down slope over time.

Where implements such as chisel ploughs can be used, these are effective in erosion control.

Planned chiseling and planting makes a permanent and stable change on hillside. Details on gully control in dry lands and in tropical humid areas is given in subsequent modules.

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