For Release April 23, 2006

Planning Ahead for A Better Tomorrow

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

With the recent and pending growth in Junction City and Geary County, there are a lot of challenges facing us. One area that historically is overlooked, when any community has rapid growth, is plant material. It may seem like a simple little thing that shouldn't be an issue, but the fact of the matter is, I can take you around this country and show you development after development with plant disasters everywhere. So before we get too much further down this road we need to start looking at what we can do to proactively have plant pleasant communities.

The first step is always to protect trees that are worth protecting. Sure, if you are developing a neighborhood in a pasture or a cedar savanna, there's not a lot of plant material worth saving. But there can also be some wonderful oaks, walnuts, ash and other trees that are worthy of being careful around and protecting. It also means taking the time during the layout of the community to make sure that these plants can be protected.

Secondly, we need to protect watersheds. A watershed is any area that drains into the same draw, creek, river or stream. There are many things that need to be done to keep these areas from being silted in, over channelized or buried in culverts and drainage tubes. Watersheds have unique topography and plant ecosystems that can add value to a neighborhood if properly protected and maintained.

We also need to maintain and establish adequate green space areas. These can be areas that are overly costly to develop so we leave them in a natural landscape. These areas serve as buffers to reduce noise and visual pollution, and to provide a safe harbor for wildlife that often gets shoved out of areas being developed. A community with green space is far more preferred over one that is nothing but streets and houses.

The real challenge comes when we start landscaping the new residences as well as street sides. It becomes very easy to grab one idea that may have two or three tree species and then repeat it over and over and over. We did this in the last century with American Elm. But look what that got us when Dutch Elm Disease moved in and started killing out all the street trees block by block. We started to do it in the 1970s with Bradford Pear. Then they all grew up, grew old and started going to pieces. Diversity is the key.

There are many trees and shrubs that are well adapted to our climate that we simply don't use. We don't use them because we aren't familiar with them or because we have trouble finding them. No tree is 100% fail proof. Even if we find one that is nearly so, there could be a new insect or disease problem arrive tomorrow to create a disaster.

We all need to start working together on this challenge. Homeowners, landscape firms, developers, city government, everyone needs to start working on developing plans to protect, enhance, restore and establish landscapes and green space. Let's start a dialogue to select not two or three good tree species, but 20 or 30 good species. Then let's make sure that everyone is putting the right plants into the right location. Let's make sure that they are being planted correctly and then maintained correctly. We'll have to move away from cookie cutter plans and ideas. We'll have to have cooperation in finding some of this plant material. But if we all work together, then 30 years from now we can drive down some of these new stretts currently being planned and say "Yes, they did it right!"


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