Native Plant Spotlight: American Beautyberry

Fall is here and you know what that means… beautyberry bushes burgeoning with deep purple berries. You’ll find the gorgeous natives growing wild throughout The Woodlands but have you considered adding this perennial shrub to your garden? 

Read on to find out how wonderful this native plant really is. 

Food for Everyone 

Beautyberry is a veritable feast for native wildlife. Butterflies feed off its nectar from April to July. The magenta berries, which begin to show in early fall and can last through the winter, help sustain more than 40 species of songbirds. Armadillo, foxes, opossum, raccoon, squirrels and deer also enjoy the berries. You may even see deer nibbling on the leaves. Good thing this plant is so resilient and can handle being a year-round buffet. 

It’s not just wildlife that enjoys the non-toxic berries and leaves. Raw berries are edible, but don’t have much sweetness to them. In fact, it’s flavor can be described as mildly medicinal when eaten off the stalk. However, they make a fantastic jelly – its arguably the best way to enjoy them. If you’re feeling adventurous, recipes for wine, tea and sauces are available online. Just remember to leave some berries behind for hungry birds and mammals this winter. 

Warning: Limit your consumption of beautyberry when first trying as some people have reported upset stomach afterwards. 

Growing Success 

This fast-growing perennial does well in either part shade or full sun. They spread naturally along forest edges where the amount of sunlight varies. More sunlight will boost berry production but also increases the shrub’s need for water.  

While tolerant of somewhat dry conditions, beautyberry prefers a moist soil. If you’re growing at home in a sunny location, make sure it receives around 1” of water a week.  A layer of mulch around the base of the shrub will help retain soil moisture, especially through the summer months. Skip the fertilizer unless you have very nutrient-poor soil. If so, a shovelful or two of compost in the spring will do just fine. Be careful not to over-fertilize or you’re likely to decrease berry production. 

In the right conditions, American beautyberry can reach a height of 6 to 8 feet and be just as wide. It earns its beauty moniker multiple times a year, festooned with delicate lavender and pink flowers in early summer and show stopping berries throughout the fall and winter.  

2 compounds in the leaves: callicarpenal and intermedeol – have been shown to repel mosquitoes and biting bugs when the leaves are crushed. 

Remember to register your pollinator garden 

A registered garden provides the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical-free zone. Don’t worry if you think your garden might not qualify. The garden registration form helps you put the necessary components in place, whether you’re starting from scratch or making a few additions to an established garden. You’ll find easy-to-follow guidelines, such as offering nectar-producing (flowering) plants for each season, leaving some patches of bare ground for burrowing insects, supplying a water source (bird baths work great) and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. Native plant lists are included to help with any shopping.  

Registrations received from June 1, 2021 through December 1, 2021 count towards the 2021 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your village association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands GREEN and Project PolliNation, will donate funds to the three village associations with the most points for their scholarship program. 

Bad guys are stealing water from our forests, right before our eyes!

Water thieves are afoot. They sneak in from foreign lands while our heads are turned, multiply their numbers to create trouble-making gangs, and refuse to leave. Who are these villains? Invasive plants – out of place, out of control, and gobbling up resources, including our most precious one, water.

By definition, an invasive species is “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” (U.S. Department of the Interior, Federal Invasive Species Advisory Committee) Invasives lack the natural controls that exist in their own native habitat. As a result, they’re usually fast-growing and rapid reproducers. These bad guys alter the forest in a variety of ways including sucking up A LOT of water.

Because of their heavy water consumption and their prevalence, many are concerned that might actually dry out our forests. Is the problem really that bad? According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report, “invasive species are altering large portions of the earth’s terrestrial surface and are considered one of the ‘most important drivers of change in ecosystems.'” Although billions of dollars are being spent to battle invasives in the U.S., the report also predicted rapidly increasing negative effects in the future such as loss of soil health as these water thieves drain up to 250% more moisture than our native vegetation.

Before and after photos showing the invasive vine removal efforts of volunteers.

That battle against invasives is fought locally as The Woodlands Township crews and contractors spend about 200 days a year on vine and invasives removal and control. And for the past three years, volunteer invasives removal task force has joined the fray, with much success. During 2020 alone, nearly 100 volunteers spent 1020 hours removing three dump-truck loads of invasive vines, shrubs, and trees from along our pathways. Their participation freed up the Township’s contractors to work on larger areas of infestation.

Some of the worst crimes of bad guy invasives?

  • Disrupting ecosystem interactions and functions

  • Displacing native species and destroying habitat

  • Using 50% to more than 250% more water than natives

Let’s turn the tables and gang up on these water thieves invading our forest! To start, each of us can examine our own landscapes and kick out the bad guys, replacing them with natives that better serve us. Then help restore the health of forest soils by volunteering to remove invasives from our pathways and green spaces. If you’re ready to join the Task Force, sign up HERE.

For more information, contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-2058.


Learn more about invasives from these past articles:

Our forest needs our help. 3 ways you can lend a hand.

Thanks to the environmentally minded planners, natural areas are seemingly ubiquitous in The Woodlands with nearly 8,000 of The Woodlands’ 28,000 acres preserved as open space. Take pride – this fact sets us apart from most common communities in North America. However, our forest areas represent just a portion of the native forest expanse (what existed here pre-development). This presents a challenge as our forests do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to cleaning the air and water, capturing and storing carbon, and providing wildlife habitat.

Cue our residential landscapes to the rescue! They offer tremendous potential for supplementing those critical forest services, provided we’re mindful in how we tend them. Some basic considerations regarding what we put into our landscape and what we allow to flow off it carry a lot of weight.

Read on to find out how easy it is to turn your landscape into a resource for the environment and all of us who depend on it.

Encourage soil health

In healthy soil fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates work constantly at breaking down nutrients, making them available for uptake by trees, grasses, and shrubs. There are many critical functions of healthy soil and this is one of the biggest.

When we apply chemicals to our landscape we sever these microscopic relationships, stemming the production of soil nutrients. Organic lawn care methods, as opposed to chemical methods, support these relationships, promoting healthier soil which is the foundation of all healthy ecosystems.

Composted organic material – leaves, grass clippings, etc. – is chock-full of beneficial soil microbes. When you leave cut grass and leaves on your lawn or apply a layer of compost to it, you’re automatically introducing soil microbes which get right to work producing nutrients and building healthy soil! Composting is an easy yet powerful way to ramp up your landscape’s ecosystem value AND it’s a lot cheaper than chemical applications.

Give your lawn what it really wants

Warm season native grasses such as St. Augustine, which comprises most lawns in The Woodlands, depends on fungal soil networks to supply their nutrients. Compost, not chemicals, helps build those networks. The more roots interact with their fungal friends, the stronger they get, which then allows more energy to funnel to the leaves resulting in, you guessed it, that lush, green look we all love.

A healthy lawn needs, and wants, far less water. If you “set and forget” your sprinkler system you’re apt to overwater and harm the microbes. Use a moisture meter to avoid overwatering (they’re available at any home and garden store for a few bucks). Or make things even easier for yourself and subscribe to the weekly water recommendation email from Woodlands Water Agency – let the experts tell you when and when not to water. Installing a rain sensor on your irrigation system is another easy way to avoid overwatering by automatically shutting off your system during a rain event. Did you know you can install a rain sensor yourself in about 15 minutes?

Healthy lawns to the rescue! They add oxygen to our air, capture carbon in the soil and nourish plants and trees. You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood, to boot.

The most important thing of all

Multiply your impact – spread the word! When you make smarter choices in your landscape you become a model for environmental sustainability. Share your knowledge with others and encourage them to do the same.

If you’d like to learn more and take your impact to the next level, attend the online Smarter Choices Seminar on October 2, 2021 from 9 a.m. to noon. We’ll look at simple, practical steps for developing your landscape’s ecosystem value plus you’ll get an update on the new “smart” water meters Woodlands Water Agency installed across the community this past year. Learn how to track your water use and reduce waste right from your phone – remarkable!

This is a free presentation, sponsored by Woodlands Water Agency, The Woodlands GREEN, Chevron Phillips, HEB, and Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware.

Registration is required to receive the link to the Zoom presentation. Register using the button below.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Electronics Recycling This Saturday

Join The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department and Harris County Precinct 4 for a 1-day drive-through electronics recycling and document shredding event. This event is for residents of The Woodlands only, no businesses. Proof of residence is required (Driver’s license, water bill, or other documentation with Woodlands address).

  • Appointments are required for electronics recycling (Walk-ups will not be accepted). Registration link below.  
  • Document shredding does not require an appointment, capacity is limited.  

 

Electronics Recycling 

Electronics recycling is offered by appointment only. Prices vary by item (see pricing above). Cash or check only. Capacity is limited to 250 appointments. Walk-ups will not be accepted. 

Did you know? Electronics can be recycled in our community year-round at local stores such as Best Buy, Staples or Office Depot, many at no cost. Residents of Montgomery County can also take electronics to the Precinct 3 Recycling Facility every Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) for the same fees as this event. There is no limit on number of items you may take to this facility.  

Secure Document Shredding 

Secure, on site document shredding is available while capacity lasts for $5 per file box full (or equivalent quantity). No appointment is required.  

Can’t to make this event? Another drive-thru document shredding event will be held on November 13, 2021 at the 3R Recycling Drive thru. For a year-round option, UPS and FedEx stores offer secure document shredding service for$1 and $1.49 per pound of paper respectively.

Simple changes are enough to avoid West Nile virus

We’re all doing our best to social distance these days. If only mosquitoes self-quarantined, too. Fortunately, out of the 44 species of mosquitoes in The Woodlands, only one one threatens to pack more than an itch with its bite – West Nile virus. Here’s what you need to know about preventing annoying bites and potentially much worse.

AVOID PEAK TIMES 

You might feel like the main course at times, but the southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus) – the primary vector for West Nile virus – would rather feast on birds than people. That’s why they’re most active at dawn and dusk, when birds are roosting. However, if you’re active then, too, you’ve put yourself on the menu.   

Consider changing your routine to avoid harm’s way. Could you: 

  • Walk the dog before dinner instead of after dark? 
  • Go for a run after the sun has risen? 
  • Take a tee time between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.? 

Putting it in action: Marissa likes walking her dog in the morning when the air is as cooler. With the increase in WNV activity though, she’s started answering emails until 9 a.m. and then hits the trail. Sure, it’s a little sweatier but the peace of mind is worth it. 


FIGHT BACK  

If you do find yourself watering plants at dusk or enjoying a sunrise coffee on the patio, here are some tools to fight the bite. 

A Big Oscillating Fan 

A fan that blows air horizontally creates an air current too stiff for mosquitoes to handle – their flight speed maxes out at 2 miles per hour (a gentle breeze is about 10 mph). The wider the fan oscillates, the greater the area you can keep mosquito-free. Overhead fans are nice, but not as effective. Pro tip: add a second fan for more complete coverage and refreshment. 

Best application: when you’re outdoors in one spot. Think grilling, reading, or lounging, on a blanket with the kids. 

Putting it into action: neighbors Neil and Susan read how to Mosquito-Proof the Patio and liked the simple solution of an oscillating fan for their grilling competition. Susan had a fan in the garage that would fit the bill, just needed an extension cord. Neil decided to augment his overhead fan with a floor fan. Now let the competition begin!   


Cloaking Spray 

It can’t be said enough – wear repellent! Now is the time to make it a regular part of your outdoor routine. Think they all stink, are full of chemicals, or just plain don’t work? We explore these three common reasons and offer some myth-busters to help you find the repellent that works for you. For those with wee ones see this Parents Guide to Repellent.   

Best application: anytime you’re out and moving – especially during peak times. Think watering the veggies in the evening, walking the dog before a 7 a.m. Zoom meeting or picnicking in the park for dinner. 

Bonus points: wear a light-colored, long-sleeve shirt or long pants (or both!) to cut down on your exposure to bites – and reduce the amount of repellent you need. 

Putting it into action: Sebastian likes to work off the day’s stress at the park before dinner – but he’s noticed this is a peak time for mosquitoes. After some trial and error, he found that IR3535 works best for him. It isn’t greasy and has no odor. Now he makes sure to keep a bottle in his car so its right there when he needs it.  


The options are endless – what three things can you do today to reduce your chance of being bitten? Here are some ideas: 

  • Leave a can of repellent by my front door to use before walks 
  • Try a new repellent, one with a different active ingredient that might work better for me: try oil of lemon eucalyptus which has a citrusy scent or IR3535 that doesn’t small at all 
  • Wear a long-sleeve shirt when I garden 
  • Wear long pants when I go for a walk 
  • Move the floor fan from the spare room to the patio 
  • Water the garden with a sprinkler on a timer instead of standing there with the hose  
  • Change up the timing of my dog walk 

The best protection against West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites. To make sure you aren’t breeding your own mosquitoes, find a handy checklist and other good resources at www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/MosquitoInfo

To report a mosquito concern, contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800