Permaculture Climates

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The definition of a climate per Merriam-Webster’s American English Dictionary is as follows:

  1. A region of the Earth having specified climatic conditions.
  2. The average course or condition of the weather at a given place, usually over a period of years, as exhibited by temperature, wind velocity, and precipitation.

What Is the Number of Permaculture Zones?

As defined in the original permaculture manual, there are six major permaculture climates. They are: Tropical, Subtropical, Temperate, Polar, Arid, & Desert.

  1. Tropical: No monthly temperature under 64*F / 18*C
  2. Subtropical: No monthly temperature below 32*F / 0*C
  3. Temperate: Variable, with the warmest months over 50*F / 10*C and the coldest months under 32*F / 0*C
  4. Polar: No monthly temperature above 50*F, areas which are in nearly perpetual frost
  5. Arid: Defined by precipitation rather than temperature, the rainfall in arid zones is less than 20in / 50cm annually
  6. Desert: Also defined by precipitation, annual rainfall in deserts is less than 10in / 25cm


Now we delve into the diverse world of microclimates. Each of the aforementioned zones can be subdivided into a seemingly infinite number of microclimate zones. While still falling under the broader categories of the major climate zones, these microclimates vary more subtly in their specific atmospheric conditions.

As any permaculture design artist will be happy to tell you, even the smallest permaculture plot can have a wide variety of microclimates housed within its borders.

There are many practical tools available for the measurement of precipitation, heat, humidity, wind velocity, and just about any basic attribute of climate you’d like to measure. There are also many informational tools available for education such as the USDA’s plant zone maps. This particular map delineates the zones based on the lowest expected temperature an area could experience.

However, climate zones on maps such as the USDA’s are usually described in the broadest possible terms. In order to discover your own specific climate zone and especially any microclimates particular to your own land, it will be essential to use the first key of permaculture: Observation!

For a detailed site analysis, you must observe, record, and correlate a substantial amount of local data. So, while knowing which of the six major permaculture climates you live in is certainly a good start, nothing beats the personal touch of directly observing the land to identify your own unique microclimate.