Grow a lot in a little space: edible container gardening

Has your desire to grow your own food been stymied by a lack of space or sun? You’re not alone – it’s a common scenario in our heavily wooded community. But don’t despair, containers might be your answer. With a bit of planning and minimal investment, you’ll amaze yourself with the bevy of edibles you can grow in just one pot, bucket, crate or barrel. And you’ll add beauty and interest to any landscape, balcony or patio. 

Where to start

Begin your plan with a list of vegetables you most enjoy. Then consider the season and planting time. The Montgomery County Master Gardeners’ Vegetable Planting Chart makes an excellent guide.  

Creating a beautiful edible container is as simple as following a recipe. When planting multiple varieties into one container, make the most of the space by including a: 

  • Thriller—a tall, showy  plant (perhaps your favorite variety of pepper) 
  • Spiller—a trailing/vining  plant (try your favorite squash—the flowers are also edible) 
  • Filler—smaller edibles to add color and texture (purple ruffle basil, bunching onions, oregano) 

Vegetables and herbs make fantastic companions. Basil and tomatoes, for example, complement each other just as well in a container as they do in a sauce. Learn more about growing herbs in Texas here.

Look for the largest possible plants to give your edible container a great start. Check with plant retailers, nurseries, and home improvement stores. Many groceries stock potted vegetables and herbs, as well. 

Gather supplies

As for containers, almost any type of material will do: terra cotta, fiberglass, wood, plastic or metal. Err on the side of a larger container to give your plants room to grow. In our hot climate, larger containers also do a better job of keeping roots moist. And make certain it has a drainage hole.

Spring for high quality potting soil. You’ll thank yourself – good soil is key to growing successful edibles. And spend a few extra dollars on quality fertilizer. Whether your gardening preference is organic or conventional, be sure to look for one labelled ‘slow release’ .

Vegetables need 6-8 hours of full sun. Walk around your yard at different times during the day to find the location that receives enough light. Once you’ve found the right space and gathered your supplies, it’s time to start planting. 

Plant and enjoy

Place your new edible container garden in the sunny location you selected and add soil. Gently transplant the plants from the nursery pots to the prepared large pot. Place the “thriller” plant in the center of the container. Add the “spiller plant(s) near the edge of the pot. Fill in with the “filler” plants. Fertilize using the label directions. Water thoroughly. Your edible garden is complete! Container gardens require early morning or late evening watering daily in the southeast Texas climate, unless rain occurs.

Enjoy these additional resources: 

Questions or comments? Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Start saving batteries for the Village Recycling Challenge!

Power to the world’s most convenient, portable energy source: the battery. They come in all shapes and sizes and we couldn’t live without them. Although their convenience mobilizes our lives, their disposal comes at a cost to the environment.  

Batteries make up almost 20% of all household hazardous materials sent to landfills. This presents a problem as the elements used to create power inside a battery- mercury, lead, cadmium, or nickel – leach out when the battery breaks down in the landfill, potentially contaminating the surrounding water table. Batteries incorrectly placed in trash or recycling carts can also cause fires in trucks and machinery when compacted.  

To prevent damage to the environment and potential fire hazards, Texas State law prohibits the landfilling of lead-acid batteries and requires residents to dispose of them with an authorized recycling facility. State law also requires businesses that sell lead acid batteries to accept them for recycling. Dry-cell batteries, or single-use batteries can legally be disposed of in the trash, however it is better to recycle them at a collection site.

Batteries – like many other products – are recyclable, however, they are not accepted at the same sorting facility as residential recycling. To empower residents to recycle beyond our curbside carts, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department has selected alkaline AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V Batteries for the annual Village Recycling Challenge. This event will be held at the 3R Bazaar on Saturday, November 14, 2020 from 8 a.m. to noon at The Woodlands Farmer’s Market

If you don’t already have a stash of used batteries start saving them now! The village that collects the most will receive a donation to its scholarship fund from The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. Encourage neighbors, friends and family to save their batteries too.  

Can’t wait for 3R Bazaar? That’s ok! The Precinct 3 Recycling Center (1122 Pruitt Road in Spring) and Batteries Plus accept alkaline and rechargeable batteries throughout the year. For a comprehensive list of where to take other recycling oddities such as Styrofoam™, electronics, lightbulbs, paints, pharmaceuticals, and more, check out the Recycle More Guide.  

Reduce by buying rechargeable! Rechargeable batteries cost more up front, but save money in the long run, substituting hundreds of single-use batteries. Rechargeables can also be recycled when they’ve outlived their usefulness, preventing unnecessary landfill usage and toxicity to the environment.  

Questions or comments? Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

New Village Challenge

Residents are encouraged to support pollinators by registering their garden or yard in the newest Village Challenge. The Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge aims to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and how habitat creation can support pollinator populations. Many pollinators, including monarch butterflies, have seen a significant decline in the last few decades due to overuse of pesticides and herbicides and loss of habitat. Take action today to protect bees, butterflies, moths and many more pollinators.  

Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo Credit: Andy
Native plants provide food and shelter in a small backyard garden
Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer
The pollinator perimeter at the Veggie Village garden, located at the Alden Bridge Sports Complex, provides a variety of native and adapted plants for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to enjoy
Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer
This well designed front yard blooms year round, inviting many pollinators to visit

Registered gardens provide the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical free zone. The garden registration form highlights the many ways you can help pollinators, like offering nectar-producing plants for every season, leaving bare ground for burrowing insects and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. The form is a great guide for those looking to start a pollinator garden offering many options including native plant lists, shelter ideas and water sources. 

Registrations received from June 1, 2020 through December 1, 2020 will count towards the 2020 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your Village Association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. and Project PolliNation, will contribute scholarship money to the three Village Associations with the most points. When you register your garden, you will receive a Plant for Pollinators window cling in appreciation. Find the garden registration form at www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/plantforpollinators.

Check out these past articles to learn more about local pollinators:

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Creature Feature: Venomous Snakes

“Snakes. Why does there have to be snakes?” Perhaps you’re one of the many who empathizes with Indiana Jones. In fact, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) tops the list of phobias, right along with public speaking. Fear of wild animals is valid, but what Indie probably didn’t consider is that snakes don’t seek out humans to attack. A bite is most always a defensive reaction. Indiana Jones movies introduce venomous snakes from around the world. In The Woodlands, we have only three. The Southern Copperhead, Western Cottonmouth and Texas Coral Snake.

Southern Copperhead: Tan to light orange body, 2 to 3 feet long when mature. Darker markings that resemble a Hershey kiss. Copperheads are very well camouflaged on forest floors.
Western Cottonmouth: Stout, thick-body that ranges from dark, grayish-brown to black, 2 to 3 feet long when mature. Also known as water moccasins.
Texas Coralsnake: Brightly colored pattern of red, yellow and black rings. Small head and slender body. Usually 30 inches or shorter

Let’s get acquainted

Like most snakes, these three species are shy and generally keep out of sight. They travel alone and prefer brush, rocks and woodpiles. Multiple snakes will share a den for winter hibernation, emerging in late February through early March. They are active during the day in spring and fall and at night during the summer to avoid the intense heat.

All snakes are strictly carnivorous. The type of prey varies by the species and may include mice, rats, frogs, birds, squirrels, rabbits, lizards, insects, eggs, snails, scorpions and smaller snakes. Aquatic species, like the cottonmouth, also eat fish, crustaceans and amphibians.

Snakes play an integral role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem by helping keep prey populations in check. For example, controlling the rodent population results in the reduction of common diseases like hantavirus, lymphocytic chorio-meningitis and salmonellosis.

Living with nature

14 of the 17 species of snakes commonly found in The Woodlands are nonvenomous. While a bite from any wild animal is possible and can cause injury, most wildlife is harmless when left alone. If you unexpectedly encounter a cold blooded neighbor, follow these best safety practices.

Preventing snake bites

Most snakes live on or near the ground. Most bites happen around the ankle and about 99% of all bites occur below the knee.

Safety tips:

  • Wear protective clothing; fangs are sharp but break easily and almost never penetrate leather shoes or boots. Long-sleeved shirts and pants will help further reduce your risk.
  • Watch where you step, sit down and put your hands (never blindly into a hole).
  • Avoid stepping over a log without first seeing what is on the other side. If you must move a log, use a long stick or garden tool first, to ensure snakes are not near.
  • Use a flashlight when moving about at night.

Around the home

  • Keep the grass short, shrubs trimmed, and flowerbeds free from debris.
  • Limit wood and brush piles and keep them away from the residence.
  • Keep storage sheds and garages as neat as possible.
  • Treat overturned boats, plant pots, tarps and similar objects as potential shelter for snake

Snake encounters and recommended responses

Removal – who to contact

When removing wildlife from your private property, it is best to call a professional.

  • Montgomery County: Woodlands Snake Removal, Nathan Wells: 346-218-0279
  • Harris County: Texas Snakes & More, Clint Pustejovsky: 713-934-7668

Keep in mind that living in a densely forested area means that you may encounter snakes at local parks, ponds and along trails. Follow the recommended responses above during an encounter and avoid handling any wildlife. Snakes are a valuable asset to the health of our forests and we don’t want to remove them from their natural home.

Want more information?

Now that you’ve read a little more about snakes, hopefully you appreciate the importance of having them around. We’re not suggesting you’re cured of your fears but maybe you’ve found a new respect for snakes and you will let them be when you see them. And on the rare occasion that you encounter a pit of asps on your world-wide adventures, go ahead and channel your inner professor of archaeology.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

It’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week

What’s growing in your backyard?

Just what are invasive species? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an “invasive species” is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration; and, whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm, or harm to human health. A number of federal and state agencies are concerned with invasive species including The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which battles non-native plants and animal species every day to maintain the health of our natural areas and waterways. 

Closer to home, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department is addressing the many invasive plant species that have infiltrated our pathways and open spaces, impacting native plants and trees. Since May 2019, nearly one hundred Township residents have attended classes on invasive plants, learning to identify them, monitor their spread and report data. This “Invasives Task Force” has also gone to work on our on pathways, removing hundreds of pounds of air potato vine, Japanese climbing fern, nandina, elephant ear, Chinese privet and other non-natives.

Invasive Tasks Force participants proudly sharing the bags of invasives removed during a morning of volunteering

What can you do?

Learn more

May 16-23, 2020 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. What better time to join your neighbors in learning about invasives and how to stop them?

Texasinvasives.org offers a wealth of helpful information on invasive species in our state and region. Learn how to identify key invasives in our area and how to take action. Whether you are a boater, aquarium owner, gardener, hiker, pet owner or all the above, you’ll find specific tips to help stem the tide of invasive species.

Stop the spread

Once you’re familiar with our most common invaders, check your yard to see if you have any. If so, take a simple but important action for the health of our local environment by replacing them with natives. Then, consider increasing your impact even more by joining the Township’s Invasive Task Force!   

You might also be interested in exploring the “Citizen Science” section of texasinvasives.org for advanced learning opportunities such as area workshops and online trainings. Citizen Scientists are volunteers who receive expert training to identify and track key invasives in our area. The information they gather is delivered into a statewide database and to those who can do something about it. The premise is simple. The more trained eyes watching for invasive species, the better our chances of lessening or avoiding damage to our native landscape. 

Let us know if you’re interested, or have questions, by sending an email to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov. Learn more and help Stop the Spread!