10 Perfect Plants for Permaculture Gardens

blue comfrey flower blossoms against a bright sky

Permaculture plants are typically native or naturalized to your growing region, symbiotic to each other, and will produce edible crops, and/or help return organic material into the land.

These features allow for a natural cycle of yield and biomass in your garden without reliance on pesticides or monoculture farming.

A vast number of plants will thrive in North American soils, so this list will focus on a variety of species to give you some ideas. Here are ten perfect plants to check out for your permaculture garden.

1. Comfrey

fuzzy purple comfrey flowers

This small, but prolific plant boasts pretty purple flowers that attract pollinators, and is one of the most popular permaculture plants around.

Considered a “dynamic accumulator,” comfrey grows extremely fast and can be used as green manure at any time in the garden to give plants a small NPK boost, though best to add in the fall or early spring.

Grow comfrey under taller perennials like fruit trees so mature plants can be “chopped and dropped” and used as a mulch to help retain soil moisture and give shelter to beneficial insects. These cuttings will also activate compost piles

Comfrey's deep taproots are believed to draw nutrients to the surface while breaking up tough soils.

2. Red Clover

red clover blossoms in a healthy garden

Red clover is a great nitrogen-fixing groundcover and is often planted in permaculture gardens as a cover crop. Groundcovers help retain moisture in soil and prevent erosion. Both the leaves and flowers are edible, but the flowers are most commonly eaten fresh or made into herbal tea.

Red clover is highly nutritious for humans and can be used as animal fodder. It also attracts wildlife and pollinators, and while not native to the US, has been naturalized into American gardens.

3. Beans (Vining)

vining curly beans

Beans are a part of the indigenous “three sisters” method, grown by native tribes around North America, which predates any ideas of modern permaculture. They provide a plentiful yield and can be dried, canned, or eaten fresh, making them very versatile.

There are a multitude of varieties to suit your climate, but something that vines and climbs is usually more efficient within the system. Any variety will be an excellent “nitrogen-fixer”, which is a key nutrient lost with over-farming and monocultures, and therefore used in permaculture practices.

4. Corn

bright yellow corn growing in a patch

The second vegetable in the indigenous farming method, corn is another versatile crop that provides a lot of food, and also acts as an organic “pole” for beans to climb. They require fertile, nitrogen-heavy soils, which is why they should be planted with a nitrogen-fixer such as beans.

Best to plant them every other year, especially when there the ground has been tilled well, and there is enough mulch and ground-cover available.

5. Squash

healthy squash plant in garden

The third of the three sisters method, squash balances out the nutritional requirements with the beans and corn, and doubles as an excellent ground cover that prevents pests and weeds.

Like beans, there are many varieties of squash: from acorn to zucchini, and varying functions like long storage times, or fast, bountiful harvests.

6. Mulberry

red and black mulberries on a plant

These trees are fast growers and after 2-5 years, will supply an abundance of delicious fruit, with many cultivars continuing to do so for hundreds of years. Their leaves are also edible when cooked, and can be used to wrap food and make teas, not to mention the use of both fruit and leaves as forage for livestock.

Pollinators will be drawn to them, and the broad leaves will provide a beautiful canopy, as well as a layer of mulch when they drop in the fall. Plant in an area where the stain of black and red berries won’t matter.

7. Hazelnut Trees

hazelnuts growing on a tree

This beautiful tree produces healthy nuts, malleable wood, and feeds the bees with an early source of pollen in the spring. While it isn’t native to North America, it's not invasive and grows well in agroforestry designs with currants and mulberries.

Once mature, the tree can be chopped or harvested for its wood, with new shoots sprouting the very next spring. This can be done every 10-20 years, making it a renewable wood source.

Leaves can be chopped back into the soil to add nutrients, fed as animal fodder, and used medicinally for human ailments like poor circulation and liver disorders.

8. Sunchokes

roots and flowers of sunchokes

Aka “Jerusalem artichokes” (though they are neither native to Israel, nor an artichoke), these tubular root vegetables are native to North America and grown for their high yield. They are perennial, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and attract beneficial insects. Sounds too good to be true? It is.

You’ll need to plant them in a dedicated site as they will take over a garden in no time, and shouldn’t be added to a compost pile because of this trait. If you have the space and are willing to do the chop-and-drop method with them, then they can be a great, self-sustaining staple to your edible garden.

9. Amaranth

red blossom of bright amaranth plant

This red giant is a wonderfully tall plant that produces a head full of tiny red seeds and broad, reddish-green flowers. It can grow up to ten feet high without much soil, making it a great wind-break plant that also produces a ton of biomass in one growing season to go back into the soil.

Amaranth seeds are a grain and can be cooked like quinoa, however, its leaves are also nutritious and delicious when picked fresh and added to salads, or cooked like spinach. They will regrow after plucked, giving endless amounts of food and striking beauty throughout the growing season.

10. Nasturtiums

edible nasturtium flowers

A hard-working flowering herb, nasturtiums are completely edible: some varieties from root to flower. The great thing about herbs is they can be planted in large or small spaces; in pots or as a ground cover.

Nasturtiums are particularly great pest-deterrents, giving off a scent that muddles with common brassica pests, and which can be absorbed by other plants nearby to help them fend off intruders and diseases.

Medically, they are said to have powerful healing and protective qualities, helping to fend off colds and viruses, and aid in digestion.

While these plants are great for permaculture, remember that the idea is to grow what works for you and your space.

You may not have much land, so corn or comfrey may not be suitable, however, even a small herb garden can be in line with permaculture ideals if sustainable, perennial, diverse, symbiotic planting is attempted.

These plants should help give you an idea of what is possible for a variety of different spaces, making them perfect examples to help you get your permaculture garden started, or to add to one that’s already on its way.