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What’s with all the weeds?Throughout the gardens, there are a lot of what most people call weeds. By definition, a weed is a plant unwanted by a human at a given place and time. So yes, some are weeds. Many are native annuals and perennials. If it’s a native species, the garden mantra applies. “If it’s not in the way let it stay. “ If you stop, adjust your glasses and open your mind, you’ll see many wildflowers where there once were just “weeds”.


But besides aesthetics, the reasons to leave at least some of these plants are truly compelling.The garden doesn’t use insecticides, or even organic products like dormant oil. Instead we rely on bio-control, native insect predators and pathogens which keep the population of other insects in check. The garden is an ecosystem which relies on biodiversity to function.That biodiversity includes and depends on native plant biodiversity. Almost all herbivorous insects are specialist feeders, eating only a very select palette of plants. Many of our tiny wasps, which are insect parasites, also need pollen and nectar. Their miniature mouth parts need the buffet provided by natives like False Solomon’s Seal, Enchanter's Nightshade and Pokeweed.


These weeds also provide the very important service of shading the soil. People often think these plants are depriving the desired species of water, during dry periods. The reverse is true. By shading the soil surface, they diminish water loss, and create a cooler micro-climate for plant roots.


At the gardens, these plants also provide forage for deer, rabbits and other species. In early March, as soon as grass and native plants begin to grow, the azaleas and rhododendrons are no longer of interest to the foraging mammals.


In naturalized gardening, the word “weeding” is reserved for exotic plants. Natives are “edited”. Removing some as necessary, tying or even cutting back others.


It’s globally acknowledged that our world is in the midst of a massive extinction of species. Clean, mulched landscapes and tidy lawns aren’t the main cause. But a little more “mess” and a few more “weeds”, is an easy way to do your part!

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