Overland Park residents may soon be able to grow more native plants in their yards and gardens.

The city is updating its ordinances to make room for planned local landscaping for its environmental and stormwater benefits. That might mean front yard gardens featuring milkweed, blue sage, native flowers and other species that once dominated the Northeast Kansas landscape.

Native plants, according to Johnson County Extension, are “well adapted to the local ecosystem” and tend to develop in an area “without human influence.”

They also have deeper root systems that infiltrate the soil better than non-native plant species, such as grass. These deeper roots help water absorb better into the ground, preventing runoff and offsetting flood risks.

Many of these plants have become less common in suburban areas of Kansas and other Midwestern states despite their importance to local wildlife, and have been replaced primarily by large grass lawns and development.

For example, milkweed is an essential part of the monarch butterfly’s life cycle because its larvae will only eat leaves, according to the National Wildlife Federation. But because of the danger it poses to grazing livestock, communities have largely banned it.

These plants don’t need fertilizer to grow and require less maintenance than manicured lawns, Lara Esch, Overland Park’s director of sustainability, said recently.

Overland Park and other communities have banned some native plants

Kylie McLaughlin


Shawnee Mission Post

Native landscapes are important for local wildlife and pollinators such as butterflies.

Historically, many of these plants that would be considered native plants were viewed only as weeds in city ordinances, which residents were required to remove from their property or face fines and other penalties.

Earlier this year, Overland Park law enforcement officers asked Ginger Werb and her son Oliver to remove their existing milkweed in a larger pollinator garden filled with other plants that have historically flourished in the Midwest.

But the Johnson County Stormwater Department is encouraging residents to grow these and other species in their yards as part of a cost-sharing program. The effort, called “Contain the Rain,” asks residents to plant controlled native plants and tree gardens on their property and offers reimbursement for some expenses.

Esch said the lack of consistency is one of the main reasons city staff pursued updating rules that still define 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 ran into a little problem there,” Esch said at a recent Overland Park Neighborhood Executive Committee meeting.

Isch and Codes Compliance Supervisor Mona Gilnera gave the committee — made up of representatives from some of the city’s neighborhoods and homeowner associations — an overview this week of what these proposed changes might look like and why they would benefit their communities.

The idea is not to let out-of-control oak forests and grassy meadows explode into front yards, but to make room for more planned native landscaping that includes some of the plants that would otherwise thrive in those ecosystems.

“We still won’t let people throw things in their yard and call it good. We still have to maintain our property to some extent,” Esch said. “There are nice ways to do that.”

This can include a collection of flowers, greenery, trees and other plant types, arranged in a specific space or flower bed.

What’s really changing in Overland Park?

Overland Park plans to remove some sections of the city code, including lists about what types of plants are considered weeds.

Kylie McLaughlin


Shawnee Mission Post

Overland Park plans to remove some sections of the city code, including lists about what types of plants are considered weeds.

The city plans to remove some sections of the ordinance, including lists about what types of plants are considered weeds. The new symbol will simply indicate lists maintained by the state and county.

The code could also contain a new section that identifies native plants and details their value.

City staff plan to add a new section that standardizes rules for planned native or sustainable landscaping as well, requiring residents to keep it tidy and contained, weeded and kept away from property lines.

Overland Park will still require residents to mow their grass to 8 inches, although there will be exceptions for planned sustainable landscaping and vegetable gardens.

Additionally, residents will now have 10 days to deal with this type of law violation. Previously, the written standard was five days.

The Overland Park City Council will weigh in on the issue as well. It is expected to be taken up by the body later this year, although it is unclear when exactly that will happen.

This story was originally published in the Shawnee Mission Post.

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