Overland Park will start allowing native plants in home lawns and gardens. Here's why that matters
Overland Park is updating city codes to make space for planned native landscapes, which have long been banned as "weeds." That could mean front yard gardens featuring milkweed, blue sage, native flowers and other species that once dominated the northeastern Kansas landscape.
Overland Park residents may soon be able to plant more native plants in their yards and gardens.
The city is in the process of updating its codes to make space for planned native landscapes for their ecological and stormwater benefits. That could mean front yard gardens featuring milkweed, blue sage, native flowers and other species that once dominated the northeastern Kansas landscape.
Native plants, according to Johnson County Extension, are “well-adapted to a local ecosystem” and tend to evolve in an area “without the influence of man.”
They also have deeper root systems that infiltrate the soil better than non-native plant species, like grass. Those deeper roots help water absorb better in the ground, preventing runoff and offsetting flooding risks.
Many of these plants have become less prevalent across suburbanized areas of Kansas and other Midwestern states despite their importance to local wildlife, replaced primarily by large grass lawns and development.
Milkweed, for instance, is a key part of the Monarch butterfly’s life cycle because their caterpillars will only eat the leaves, according to the National Wildlife Federation. But, because of the risk it has posed to grazing livestock, communities have pretty much banned it.
These plants don’t require fertilizers to grow and need less maintenance than trimmed lawns do, Lara Isch, Overland Park’s sustainability manager, said recently.
Overland Park and other communities have banned some native plants
Historically, a lot of these plants that would qualify as native plants have been viewed only as weeds in city codes, which residents are required to remove from their properties or face fines and other penalties.
Earlier this year, Overland Park code enforcement officers told Ginger Werp and her son Oliver to remove milkweed they had in a larger pollinator garden full of other plants that have historically thrived in the Midwest.
But, Johnson County Stormwater Management encourages residents to plant these species and others in their yards as part of its cost-share program. That effort, called Contain The Rain, asks residents to plant controlled native plant and tree gardens on their properties and offers reimbursement for some of the expense.
Isch said that inconsistency is one of the main reasons why city staff have pursued an update to the codes that still defined milkweed as a noxious weed.
“Milkweed is one of those plants that we actually encourage residents to plant through the stormwater cost share program to help with stormwater, so we had a little bit of an issue there,” Isch said at a recent Overland Park Neighborhood Executive Committee meeting.
Isch and Codes Compliance Supervisor Mona Gilnera walked the committee — made up of representatives from some of the city’s neighborhoods and homeowners associations — an overview this week of what these proposed changes might look like and why they’ll benefit their communities.
The idea isn’t to allow out of control oak-hickory forests and tallgrass prairies to explode in front yards but to make room for more planned native landscapes that include some of the plants that would have thrived in those ecosystems.
“We’re still not going to let people just throw things in their yard and call it good. We still have to maintain our properties to some degree,” Isch said. “There are beautiful ways to do this.”
That can include a collection of flowers, greenery, trees and other plant species, arranged in a contained space or flower bed.
What’s actually changing in Overland Park?
The city plans to remove some sections from the code, including lists about what species of plants are considered weeds. The new code will simply refer to the lists the state and county maintain.
The code could also feature a new section that defines native plants and details their value.
City staff plans to add a new section that standardizes the rules for a planned native or sustainable landscape as well, requiring residents to keep them tidy and contained, remove noxious weeds and keep them away from property lines.
Overland Park will still require residents to mow grass lawns to cap them at 8 inches tall, though there will be exemptions for planned sustainable landscapes and vegetable gardens.
Additionally, residents will now have 10 days to deal with this type of code violation. Previously, five days was the written standard.
The Overland Park City Council will weigh in on this issue too. The body is expected to take it up sometime later this year though it’s unclear exactly when that will happen.
This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.
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