When Plants “Take Over”

It’s a common complaint: “That plant just takes over my yard.” “I wouldn’t plant that plant … It takes over.”

To which I respond, “Great! Free organic matter, stormwater absorption, and temperature buffer!” (And depending on the vegetation, could also be noise buffer, visual privacy screen, wildlife habitat and more.)

Usually the person making this lament isn’t referring to an invasive per se; just a plant that grows prolifically.

My favorite method for dealing with prolific vegetation — a method I learned in permaculture design courses — is to “chop and drop”: Leave the plant alive, but cut it back and use the trimmings as mulch. We want little to no bare ground, anywhere. And having living plants — living roots in the soil — is preferable to just having mulch. The living plants feed sugars to beneficial fungi living in the soil, and those fungi in turn channel essential minerals to plants.

Even when unwanted plants sprout up in my pots of veggies and herbs, oftentimes I will “chop and drop” rather than pulling up the unwanted grass or other so-called “weed.”

As for invasives — While I don’t advocate deliberately cultivating invasives, if you already happen to have invasive plants growing, it may not be a big problem. “Chop and drop” goes a long way. (And if you are a science-geek, experimental type, why not look into making biofuel from that invasive plant matter! I think it’s an overlooked local industry which could work just about anywhere.)

Plants are almost like a perpetual-motion machine, capable of turning sunlight and carbon dioxide into an endless supply of green matter.

Recently I took an online course about the importance of soil in mitigating carbon. I always knew trees were important, and I donate to reforestation and conservation projects. But, while trees are important and we should plant as many as possible, it turns out the power to mitigate carbon ultimately lies in the soil itself.

The course is called “Soil Is the Climate Solution.” I missed the free promotional period, but the course was well worth the $50 I paid for it. Not only does it teach about the power of soil; it also teaches how you can (if you desire) become a more credible advocate for soil, speaking to others about the simple, often-overlooked solutions to desertification, extreme drought-flood cycles, and other largely human-caused ills that will if left unchecked lead to widespread famine and displacement in the near future.

If this interests you even a little bit, check out the course here: Soil is the Climate Solution – taught by Kiss the Ground’s Finian Makepeace; offered via Commune. With the course, you get to download a slideshow which you are free to personalize so you can go right out into your community and be an advocate.

Mr. Makepeace’s organization, Kiss the Ground, is a nonprofit dedicated to “inspiring participation in global regeneration, starting with the soil.”

The other day at the climate march, I met a woman who said she was exhausted by having to cut the prolific vegetation in her backyard. I suggested (since she doesn’t actually use her backyard) that she just let the vegetation be, and only cut back enough to avoid obstructing the walking path or whatever.

“But I might have to sell the house,” she said, “So I have to keep it cut back.”

I suggested she cross that bridge when she comes to it, and in the meantime, save herself a whole bunch of labor and stress. Anyway, whoever buys the house might actually want to have that vegetation, and have the option of cutting it back according to their needs, rather than inheriting a baked scalped yard where they have to build up the plant life and cool microclimate from scratch.

A final thought: When you see plants “take over” an empty lot, some corner of your yard, a riverbank, or other space, thank them for providing ecosystem services.