Diagram showing stages of succession in an forested ecosystem.
New growth following a forest fire.
The constant disturbance of mowing can keep the lawn from entering the succession process.
Natural Plant Succession
Plant communities grow and change over time through a natural process called succession. These patterns occur gradually over long periods of time. When a landscape is disturbed in some way, a general process of plant recolonization occurs.
The first plants to grow tend to be fast growing plants that establish quickly on disturbed soils. Many plants that humans consider weedy fall into this category.Given enough time, more complex plants such as trees and shrubs will become established.
Application to the Home Landscape
Most gardens are kept in a more or less relative state of ecological stability. The lawn is a great example of 'arrested succession'. Repeated cutting and fertilizer and herbicide applications keep other plants from becoming established. Maintained ecological stability reduces both plant and animal biodiversity in the landscape.
Creating an area in the landscape where succession is allowed to occur can be a great learning experience and can help connect the property to the greater landscape increasing wildlife habitat and reducing maintenance.
Ways to Allow Succession to Occur in the Landscape
- Naturalize an area of the property and observe succession over time.
- Let areas of grass grow and see what happens.
- Allow plants to reseed. Take care to watch for particularly invasive plants. Remove them as soon as they appear.
- Educate the neighbors. Beginning stages of succession may appear weedy at first.