One topic that’s come up a few times this spring is meadows. Like many municipalities, meadows are not allowed under the current Nether Providence code (although there’s some vaguery about what’s cultivated flowers and gardens). Nether Providence adopted the 1996 BOCA property maintenance code, which states,

PM-303.4 Weeds: All premises and exterior property shall be maintained free from weeds or plant growth in excess of 10 inches (254 mm). All noxious weeds shall be prohibited. Weeds shall be defined as all grasses, annual plants and vegetation, other than trees or shrubs provided; however, this term shall not include cultivated flowers and gardens.

I can’t link to this code because the current holders of the copyright, the International Code Council, apparently enforces their copyright. Which is absurd. How can public rules be copyrighted? But it seems common practice by municipalities here.

In the 90s the ICC renamed itself from BOCA. Ironically it doesn’t seem to be at all international, it’s entirely American. But they’ve continued to release new code updates every few years. Other municipalities around us have adopted more recent codes, but it’s not clear to me how many changes there have been. The sections I looked at haven’t changed substantially. Media uses the 2009 version, Swarthmore uses 2018. Upper Providence 2021.

Back to meadows. The above codes are outdated when it comes to best property maintenance practices. There are a number of advantages to meadows over grass lawns. The state DCNR lists clean water, home for pollinators and birds, increased biodiversity and less maintenance. Penn state extension has a more complete list of answers to FAQs about meadows. Some of these are answers to common complaints such as meadows attract vermin:

The most feared “vermin” are rats and snakes. The vegetation in a natural landscape does not provide the type or quantity of food required to sustain a population of black or Norway rats. These nonnative rats do not eat the seeds of our native grasses and flowers. Rats are more likely attracted to human-produced food (corn, grain, pet foods, food scraps) provided in and near structures like barns or garbage dumps. A neglected lot with human-deposited food litter among the untended growth is indeed a rat magnet, but the managed natural landscape is not.

It goes on to talk about snakes, which eat vermin we don’t want around, which seems like a positive. It discusses allergies and mosquitoes as well.

It also discusses some of the features of ordinances to allow meadows in residential communities. These have:

A setback or buffer strip on the periphery that is maintained at a maximum height may be required. Vegetation behind the setback is unregulated except for the control of noxious weeds.
Broadly worded exceptions may be given for beneficial landscapes. Exceptions may include native plantings; plantings to aid and attract wildlife; erosion control; soil fertility improvement; educational programs; cultivation for consumption, business, or pleasure; and wooded areas.
Natural landscaping may be actively promoted. Some townships require that developers include scenic easements, planted with native wildflowers and grasses. Others employ naturalists and biologists to aid homeowners and communities in planning and maintaining natural landscapes.

It also states the advantages such as lower maintenance and water savings, but I think maybe the biggest one is “reduced stormwater runoff”.

Native plant landscapes outperform turfgrass in absorbing runoff and replenishing groundwater supplies.

Parts of the township have excessive stormwater runoff and large grass lawns. That is not a coincidence. Converting parts of those lawns to coverings that would absorb stormwater would help resolve that problem.

York County in PA has a model ordinance that includes a section on meadows that follows the extension service’s guidelines, starting on page 23. These are their requirements:

A. All plants installed in a Meadow shall be Native Plants. No plants on the DCNR
“Invasive Species List” including Watch List species, or the PA Department of
Agriculture “Noxious Weeds List”, shall be allowed to grow in the Meadow.
B. Meadows shall consist of a minimum of three (3) grass species and four (4) flowering
perennial species. Meadows may be installed using seed or plants.
C. A Meadow planting shall have a minimum four foot (4’) wide mown turf border along
any road or property line. A minimum four foot (4’) height visual barrier may be used in
place of the turf border between the Meadow and a property line.
D. The mature height of a Meadow must meet all requirements for plant material in a clear sight triangle.
E. Meadows may not be mown more than twice per year; once in March or April to cut
stems that were left standing through the winter, and once more if needed to control
invasive species.

So the meadow requires diverse native plants, a 4′ border or 4′ fence, can’t block sight lines and cannot be mown, which seems reasonable. According to the extension service post above, the plant species on the control list are:

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)
multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)
Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense)
marijuana (Cannabis sativa)
mile-a-minute vine (Polygonum perfoliatum)
kudzu vine (Pueraria lobata)
bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
musk thistle (Carduus nutans)
shattercane (Sorghum bicolor ssp. drummondii)
jimsonweed (Datura stramonium)
purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

So no marijuana meadows. Alas. Apparently that’s been on the noxious plant list since the 19th century. But moving in the direction of allowing meadows in line with York County’s model ordinance seems like it’d be a positive for our township.

Categories: NPTownship