Coastal Permaculture Design

Before project

Brads Design


Description of the cause for landscape changes

Establishing a landscape in a coastal area is challenging to say the least. Soils generally are high in excess soluble salts, alkaline in pH and sandy with low nutrient content and poor water holding capacity. Excess soluble salts result from numerous causes – inundation with salt water from the beach, salt water intrusion into the aquifer.  A compounding element to this is general unsustainable landscaping practices that irrigate with saline/chlorinated water, apply poor fertilizing techniques and treat plants as in animate objects forced into growing patterns and becoming addicted to synthetic chemicals. Plants are injured in several ways. Plants may wilt even when adequately watered. Root systems may not have been properly established to support leaf life.  Plants may become slow growing and produce little if any fruit. There may be leaf tip burn, necrosis or a reduction in growth. Symptoms generally occur on the whole plant, as opposed to windward damage from salt spray. Soluble salts may also disrupt root functions, reducing water uptake. Injury from salt spray is characterized by scorched, dry, burned-like foliage. Injury is generally most severe on the ocean-facing side of the plant.  Unique to this year was the two weeks of unusually cold winter. This increases the damage seen on the plants, especially tropical species.

“The edge of the sea, wherever it is, has its peculiar difficulties. Across the great un-modifiable plain of water, winds arrive at gale force, carrying salt and abrasive sand grains. The similarities to both desert and high plateau country are obvious. Birds, plants, and other species demonstrate that to us by their common occurrence in desert and coastal regions. Waders, choughs, currajongs, crows, starlings, certain berry plants and insects for which these birds act as couriers, also show the same distribution, and some frogs share coast and high plateau or coast and desert in common. The defenses of the permaculturist can therefore be gathered from all these environments; therefore agaves, yuccas, palms and cacti will be as useful inland as on sea coasts, as will all tough, woolly, thick-leaved, waxy, shiny and needle-leaved trees.  All serve the same function-resistance to wind, drying out, and salt or sand.

The best guide is a visit to exposed gardens near the sea. Where sea coasts benefit most is in the low incidence of snow and frost, the generally more temperate climate, and a greater frequency of night dews and mists than the dry inland. The great problem is salt-burn, when sea winds blow in dry periods, and deposit salt on leaves. As Lillian Callow points out in Trees for the Sea Coast (The Tree Society, 258 Mill Point Rd., South Perth, W.A.) it is the salt death of leaves rather than wind-pruning which accounts for the streamlined shape of trees near the sea.The really valuable front-line plants are those tall and graceful windbreaks that will stand against the first onslaught.” ~ Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison.

In your new landscape on the beach, the great lack is wind shelter. Species such as citrus, avocado, and macadamia struggle to survive.  Frequently, building surfaces and narrow roads converge to make wind tunnels.  This is an uncalculated element that occurs when designing buildings and roads.  Cold winds from this past winter whipped between your home and walls and pulled down the driveway damaging plants along the way. Also, winds which carry salt can be very abbrasive and can settle on the leaves, drying them out.

It should be said that salts are a common and natural constituent of all soils.  Normally, these salts are present in low amounts in topsoil and plant growth is not affected. Accumulation of salts, through natural means or man’s activities, can cause plant growth problems and result in poor growth or death of plants. Salts can also accumulate in soil through improper care and management practices. Excessive fertilization and/or watering with salt containing waters are two of the most common ways of causing or aggravating an existing salt problem in soil. Salts are a permanent constituent of soil. Once the salts have accumulated in a soil, there is no chemical treatment that will remove or counteract their adverse effects on plant growth. Special management practices become necessary in order to successfully grow plants on soils with high salt content.

The first and most common symptom of salt injury is a reduced rate of plant growth. A plant growing on saline soil is smaller than normal, may have darker leaves than normal and will wilt from drought sooner than it would in a non-saline soil. As salinity increases plant growth will cease. Leaf burn, commencing at the tip, will occur with ultimate death of the plant in highly saline soil. To conclude: A combination of saline soil, cold and strong winter winds, poor planting conditions, poor irrigation practices and salt spray have caused most of the plant damage on your site; even with plants that usually do well. We intend to address all the main causes in order to create a productive landscape.

Sustainable Solutions for a permanent productive Costal Landscape:


Provide adequate drainage

We suggest digging shallow ditches or trenches and/or mounding up trees/plants to remove surface runoff water. The runoff water will carry away dissolved salts that would otherwise be deposited on the soil surface when the soil dries out.  This will be carried out on Flat surfaces that have been tested for high Salt build-up.  Creating a Retention Pond or Bio Swale will keep water on the property while reducing evaporation, run off and salt build up by plants.


Carry out Salt Soil Testing on various surfaces on the property

When we remove the damaged trees the new ones will be properly mounded and we will create the Bio swale on contour for proper runoff water management.    Also, watering the top of the tree leaves will help stop salt from settling on the leaves

Further information on the subject can be found here:

Keep Soil Moist:

Salts are most damaging to plants when the soil is dry. For this reason, any means of maintaining or replenishing soil moisture will considerably help avoid salt damage to plants.  Mulching, drip irrigation and ground cover at the soil surface reduces evaporative water losses, thereby limiting the upward movement of salt (from shallow, saline groundwater) into the root zone. Evaporation and thus, salt accumulation, tends to be greater in bare soils.


Investigate areas in which drought like symptoms of plants are occurring and replace with salt tolerant ground covers, pine based mulch and drip irrigation systems set up on a rain catchment system. Rain catchment calculations are based on locations needs of water through longest drought period in Florida, roof surface and inches of rain per year. Based on my calculations, 1000 gallons will be sufficient for irrigation purposes.

Other benefits include:

A reduction of city water usage which will omit chlorine, chemicals and salt buildup found in tap water.

A higher quality of water that naturally suits plant life

An independence from city water needs and a reduction in utility bills.

Rain Catchment options:

Rain Barrels are the options normally chosen here. Based on the amount required you would need:

18 – 55 gallon rain barrels or 3 – 330 gallon totes

Based on the amount of barrels needed, space it requires and general appearance we recommend going with a custom made water containment unit that could fit between the garage and south wall. This will also reduce the amount of maintenance required in comparison to maintaining 18 barrels with all the fittings and pipes.  We have calculated that an aluminum frame tank with strong enforcement measuring 10Lx3Wx4H would hold the amount of water suggested.

Soil modifications and plant amendments  for existing and new plants

Creating a foundation of quality soil may be the best resolution one can do to prevent further damage from existing plants and create a healthy home for new plants. When the aerobic biological systems that live in the soil breakdown and assimilate organic nutrients, humus is created. Humus is the organic portion of soil formed from the partial decomposition of vegetable or animal matter in or on the soil.

Healthy soil contains high populations of microbes and a substantial supply of humus. Humus formation in soils is essential because it acts as a sponge in holding moisture and bonding minerals and nutrients in the root zones of the plant. This prevents leaching of nitrates and other materials harmful to the environment. Soils rich in humus and organic matter buffer the plant from harmful salts and toxins which tend to accumulate in the soil after years of chemical applications and environmental pollutants.

When fed with nutrients (such as compost) water and a good supply of oxygen, indigenous microbial populations in the soil perform multiple functions critical to growth and survival such as nitrogen fixation, soil aggregation, oxygen and carbon dioxide release, mineral conversion for plant use, buffering of toxic conditions in the soil environment, rhizosphere protection to the root system, translocation of nutrients in plant tissue, etc.  A good healthy soil contains up to 14 billion bacteria, 560 million actionomycetes, and 28 million fungi per ounce of soil. Most soils are less than 15% of optimum microorganism levels. Some tilled soil is totally lacking in one or more of these organisms.



This will assist the new and existing trees to have minimal leaf burn and leaf lose

Proterra Solutions

This will begin the process of redeveloping the soil life to properly support the trees.


Compost Tumbling System

This will supply the organic matter that will create the beneficial humus.

Vermaculture System

Probably the most beneficial nutrient producing powerhouse you can use.

Liquid Gypsum

This will binds salt ions in the soil and create better soil structure. Gypsum has many benefits! I recommend reading up on it.  Gypsum is also a waste material (Gypsum board) and can be taken out of the waste stream. 


Soil Logic Drought Defense

This will increase the water uptake of the plants which is an major issue in saline soils.


Manna Mix and PHC BioPak

This will ensure minimal shock by tree transplants and optimal growth for new and existing trees.


I recommend using all solutions suggested to see large benefits in growth and productions of plants.

Replace removed damaged trees with salt / wind tolerant fruit trees

Below are the plants I have selected based on; functionality, tolerance to salt and wind, growth height and productivity. For fruit tree production to be optimal, the ability of the tree to uptake water, to receive pollinators and ample sunlight are the primary focus.  Soil Test will be conducted to create suggestions of lower tolerant plants.



Miracle Fruit

Prickly Pear

Pomegranate (Vietnam/Francis)

Natal Plum

Sapodilla (different varieties)


Key Lime



Kei apple


Cattley guava


Ceriman (Monstera)


Sour Orange

These are all good choices with possibly some inter-planting of necessary multi-function support species to attract pollinators (butterflies, birds and bees) fix nitrogen and dynamically accumulate nutrients back into the soil. For example: Salt bush and sea purslane can extract salts form soil while salt tolerant pines can balance ph and hold soil structure. Yucca plants do well with moderate salt levels and provide a popular root similar to potatoes.  Moringa (also known as the Miracle Tree) is a highly recommended tree by permaculturist due to its abundant abilities. Comfrey and borage serve as excellent medicinal and dynamic accumulating plants that may do well in protected areas.  There are trees and fruit producing plants not listed here that you already have on the property which due well in coastal areas.  These include: cocoplum, carrisa, blue agave and coconut & date palms. The other trees that seem to be doing ok might be deceiving and should be monitored over the course of the year to determine overall plant health.

In order to support the fruit bearing species we need to attract native species with native and dynamic accumulating plants to create a more self sustaining ecosystem. And although there are a vast array of limitations within a coastal residential setting, every little bit we apply will be a good contributor towards a sustainable landscape.  Many of these suggestions are to encourage healthy plant growth for better food production. For example: Trimming coco plum back to 3 feet inhibits the plants maturity and will inevitably create very few fruits with a lower quality taste and nutrition. This goes as well for the carissa which can reach 10 feet at its maturity. Actual salt tolerant plants that do well on the coast and are allowed to grow adequately will provide reasonable fruit production and quality in contrast to fruit trees that need much attention and adaptation.  Developing a more balanced system with support species rather then an all fruit or edible landscape will result in better food production due to less nutrient competition, spacing, growing habits, soil quality and improvement of habitat for other plants, animals, beneficial bugs, amphibians and the like.  More info:$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex4246/$file/518-6.pdf?OpenElement

Phase 2 (Redesigning the landscape with Permaculture)

Create a more functional, inviting, productive, elegant and usable design

The intention of the second phase is to enhance the esthetics, functionality and production of the landscape.  Based on discussions with owner, we have created a design of non-clutter, beauty and productivity. Islands of beautiful plant life stand out as a feature that is inviting to walk around rather then a blended mix of traditional landscaping that is created as an uninviting barrier to certain locations.  A future canopy of lush foliage will be a wonderful place to relax out of the hot sun while enjoying the fruit they provide. The trickling sounds of the majestic pond/the beautiful birds and butterflies that land on flowering and fruiting shrubs create the relaxing atmosphere sitting on a log or doing Tai Chi. To create this process there are several suggestions below:


Removing Lawn form Designated or all areas

Removing plants to create mounds, berms, pathways and other features catering to the new design

Re-amending the soil back to a quality/life giving foundation for plants covering it with proper groundcovers, gravel and/or mulching

Bringing in Large Cut or Natural Drift wood or logs, boulders and rocks for sitting and further habitat

Creating an Herb Spiral around the Florida chestnut tree will be an amazing Front door feature

Creating waste height key-hole garden will provide convenience and enough production for a single family home garden.

Planting and inter-planting new perennial plants and pioneer plants to enhance food needs, usable space and companion planting principles

Building a prominent water feature as you drive in will not only add to the beautification and value to the property but will also create a wonderful habitat for many other plants and animals which will complete the ecological balance we are looking to create on your land.

More info:,

Phase 3 (maintenance)

Maintaining the new design with a Master Gardener

The Goal and difference between the previous landscape and the one we wish to create lies within generating a beneficial environment that supports ecological systems; sustaining all life, including human beings.  Most artificial landscapes that we see (also known as green deserts) in cities are maintained by artificial methods. Having said this, there is a need for intelligent, organic growing practices by a trained gardener.  The first 3 months to a year of an immature landscape are the most critical for future livelihood of the plants. Permaculture is a process which enhances the livelihood of plants to sustain itself rather than have so much human intervention to keep it alive. Never the less, having a professional which is versed in permaculture practices and gardening would be of a great benefit when things need that little extra help to make it beyond the critical period.

Phase 4 (after pool construction)

Create Fast Short Term Multiple use windbreak / and long term wind break

As discussed under the main causes for changing the landscape, Protecting plants from the wind will allow for many other varieties of plants to survive and do well on the property. Once the wind breaks are in place, fragile vegetable gardens can grow well. This final Phase will create the final foundation to your sustainable lifestyle!


Build Aluminet Shade Cloth windbreak along side of home. This can later be constructed for shade house production for summer growing. It can also immediately act as a trellis to grow vines like railroad vine and Algerian Ivy Tucson. Ivy on brick walls suppressed the entry of about 70% of summer heat and prevented the escape of about 30% of heat from the house at night. Cooling needs for Brad’s home could benefit from this simple biological insulation.

More info:

Create long term beachfront wind break: this wind break will consist of the following levels and barriers laying an importance on diversity and natural habitats for species to thrive:

Milo (Portia tree, Mahoe)



Sea Oats

Sea Purslane

Beach cocoplum (not red tip)

Darling Plum (Red Ironwood)

And the many other Native species found along the coast line.

More info:

Create beneficial driveway on usable contour

Much can be said about the unsustainable practices of paving the earth surface. Compaction, non aerated dead soil, root suffocation, runoff, temperature increase are a few.  We intend to redevelop the focus of the driveway so it caters to multiple functions.


Remove existing asphalt. Place slight slope on 1-2% contour towards Bio swale storage area. Install Grass pavers by invisible structures.

Other Recommendations:

Here are a few vegetable plants that do ok in salty conditions:

Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Spinach, Hibiscus Cranberry, Aloe Vera and others

Whole House Water Filtration systems:

This will benefit your quality of life immensely please read about the importance’s of quality water in the home.

Home Air Purifier:

Indoor air quality can be 40 times worse then outdoor air quality. Please consider improving your homes air quality with a quality unit:

Thank you for taking the time to review this. And thank for choosing a Life of sustainability!

Permaculture Miami:

Marcus Thomson


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