How To Build Permaculture Swales The Best Way

  • Time to read: 5 min.

Permaculture swales are a type of earthworks used in permaculture design. They are designed to slow and capture water runoff from hillsides and can be used to direct the flow of water to plantings or other features in the landscape. In the article, we will provide more info on “how to build permaculture swales?”.

Building permaculture swales is a great way to store water on your property and to create more growing space for plants. Swales are basically shallow ditches that are dug along the contour of a slope. They are filled with organic matter, such as compost, and then planted with grasses or other plants.

It increases the amount of water your property can retain, reduce erosion, and create a habitat for beneficial insects and animals. ff.

They can be used to store water during rainfall and to release it slowly over time, which reduces runoff and erosion. They also help to build up the soil by adding organic matter and increasing its ability to hold water. In addition, swales create microclimates that are cooler and moister than the surrounding area, which is ideal for many plants.

Building permaculture swales is not difficult, but it does require some planning and preparation.

how to build permaculture swales - image from pixabay by Dlee
How to build permaculture swales – image from pixabay by Dlee

How To Build Permaculture Swales

There are a few key things to remember when building permaculture swales:

  • the width of the swale should be around 1.5 times the height of your tallest plant
  • the length of the swale should be at least 10 times the width
  • ensure that you have a good drainage system in place, as water will collect in the swale

Basic Requirements

To build a permaculture swale, you will need:

  • a shovel or spade
  • a hoe or mattock
  • soil amendments, such as compost, mulch, and manure
  • a wheelbarrow
  • stakes and string

Steps You Need To Take

  1. Measure the length and width of the swale you want to build.
  2. Decide how deep you want to dig the swale. The depth should be at least six inches, but 12 inches is better.
  3. Mark out the shape of the swale with stakes or flags.
  4. Dig a trench along the marked-out area, making sure to keep the depth consistent.
  5. Add organic matter, such as compost, to the trench and mix it in with the soil.
  6. Plant grasses or other plants in the trench and water them well.
  7. Cover the trench with mulch to help hold in moisture.

Congratulations, you have now built a swale. Keep in mind that the more soil you can move during the construction process, the better. If you have access to a tractor or other heavy equipment, by all means, use it. But if not, don’t worry – even manual labor can produce great results with a bit of elbow grease.

By following these steps, you can easily create one on your own property.

Factors To Consider Before Building Permaculture Swales

When planning a permaculture swale it is important to consider several factors including the soil type, the slope of the land, landform and drainage, vegetation and rooting patterns, climate, and water availability.

Each of these factors will influence how the swale is constructed and how it will function once in place.

Soil Type

The first consideration is the type of soil where the swale will be built. Swales are not effective in soils that are waterlogged or overly sandy. They work best in soils that have good infiltration rates and can hold some water without becoming waterlogged. If you are unsure about the soil type on your property, get a professional soil analysis done before proceeding with swale construction.

The slope of the Land

Another important factor to consider is the slope of the land where the swale will be built. Swales are most effective when placed on slopes of 5% or less. This allows for adequate infiltration of rainwater and reduces the risk of erosion. If the slope is too steep, the water will run off too quickly and will not be able to seep into the soil, defeating the purpose of the swale.

Landform and Drainage

The landform and drainage pattern of the property should also be taken into consideration when planning a permaculture swale. Swales should be constructed on level ground whenever possible to minimize erosion. If the land is not flat, it is important to design the swale so that it follows the natural contours of the land and drains water away from buildings and other sensitive areas.

how to build permaculture swales - image from pixabay by fietzfotos
How to build permaculture swales – image from pixabay by fietzfotos

Vegetation and Rooting Patterns

The type of vegetation present on the property will also have an impact on how the swale is designed. Trees and other large plants have deep root systems which can penetrate through the soil and act as a natural filter for rainwater. Small plants do not have as deep of a root system and are not as effective at filtering water. When designing a swale, it is important to take into account the existing vegetation and rooting patterns to ensure that the swale will be effective at filtering rainwater.


The climate of the area where the swale will be built should also be taken into consideration. In areas with high rainfall, the swale will need to be designed to handle larger volumes of water. In arid climates, the swale will need to be designed to maximize infiltration and minimize evaporation.

Water Availability

The final factor to consider is the availability of water. In order for a permaculture swale to be effective, there must be a source of water available for it to collect. This can come from rainfall or from an irrigation system. If there is not a reliable source of water available, the swale will not be effective and may even cause problems such as drought or waterlogging.

When planning a permaculture swale, it is important to consider all of these factors in order to create an effective design. Swales can be an extremely effective tool for managing rainwater on your property, but only if they are designed and constructed properly. With a bit of planning, you can create a swale that will work with your specific soil type, climate, and water availability to provide optimal benefits for your landscape.


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