Smarter About Sustainability Seminar

What a turnout for our two-part seminar on Saturday! Our presenters provided some great resources for residents to save water, support pollinators and be better environmental stewards. You can find these below.  

Please don’t hesitate to contact Bob or Lauren with questions or let them know if you enjoyed their presentation by taking this 3-minute survey.  

Your New Smart Water Meter 

Bob Dailey guided residents through using the WaterSmart Customer Portal. This website allows customers of the Woodlands Water Agency to view their water usage and bill, identify potential leaks, set notifications for excess use and get alerts about freezes or other weather events that may impact your water use. An app is in development and until it’s ready, the WaterSmart Customer Portal can be easily viewed on your phone, desktop or tablet.  

Quick links for Woodlands Water Agency water-saving resources: 

Missed the presentation? View the recorded seminar on our YouTube channel.


Creating a Pollinator Paradise Your Neighbors Will Love 

Lauren has spent her spare time transforming her Houston home gardens into a pollinator-friendly habitat that is beautiful, beneficial to local wildlife AND blends well with her suburban neighborhood. In this presentation, Lauren shared easy steps for creating a pollinator paradise at home that your family can enjoy and will please your neighbors too! 

 

Lauren highlighted the following invasive plants commonly found in our landscapes and  encouraged all of us to remove and replace with natives when creating your pollinator paradise.   

  • Chinese Tallow 
  • Elephant Ears 
  • Nandina (heavenly bamboo) 
  • Bradford Pear 
  • Ligustrum 
  • Pampas Grass 
  • Japanese Honeysuckle 
  • Chinese Privet 

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 take action today. 

Missed the presentation? View the recorded seminar on our YouTube channel.


After you’ve created your pollinator paradise, be sure to register your garden. The annual Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge kicks off June 1, 2021.  Register your garden before December 1, 2021 and support your Village Association Scholarship Fund. For more details and to register, visit the Plant for Pollinators webpage. 

Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Spice up your pollinator garden

Who doesn’t love festooning a homemade pizza with just-picked basil? Or muddling fresh mint into a glass of tea? If you’re like me, you cherish your herb garden. What’s more, these culinary caches, big or small, can serve more than the chef. They can double as a dinner table for visiting pollinators, too! Many herbs provide nectar or serve as host plants for caterpillars. Support your local bees, butterflies and moths by adding these six herbs to your garden or patio

  1. Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

A fast-growing plant that adds a touch of delicacy and height to flowerbeds. This perennial herb produces yellow flowers and grows up to 5 feet tall. Avoid planting fennel next to dill, caraway, or coriander (included on this list below) as it can cross-pollinate, likely reducing its seed production. Plant in full sunlight.

Attracts : Black and Anise Swallowtails for both nectar and as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Use it in the kitchen: Fennel’s anise flavor works well in both savory and sweet recipes. A popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, add the feathery fronds to salads and soups for a delicate flavor.

2. Caraway  Carum carvi 

This biennial herb can grow up to two feet tall. Enjoy its carrot-like foliage during the first growing season. Clusters of tiny white and pinkish flowers resembling Queen Anne’s lace appear in its second year which will attract a number of pollinators. All parts of the caraway herb are edible, and seeds can be harvested once flowers fade in the fall. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Yellow sulphurs and metalmark butterflies enjoy the nectar. Black swallowtails use caraway as a host plant.  

Use it in the kitchen: Add caraway seed to soups and stews for an earthy flavor with a hint of citrus and pepper.  

3. Cumin  Cuminum cyminum 

Dainty white flowers attract small butterflies from this low growing plant. Reaching a height around 15 inches, cumin’s slender branches resemble many of the other herbs listed below. A member of the parsley family, cumin requires the same growing requirements as carrots, cilantro and parsley. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Blues, hairstreaks, sulphurs and many other small to medium-sized butterflies. 

Use it in the kitchen: A key ingredient in Mexican, Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines. An intensely warm, earthy, and also sweet flavor perfect for both savory and dessert dishes. 

4. Anise  Pimpinella anisum 

Anise is a low spreading, bright green bush herb that grows about two feet tall and wide. These feathery plants add an airy presence in the garden and are blanketed in snowy white clusters. Both seeds and leaves are edible. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Swallowtails, including the two-tailed and pipevine. Black and anise swallowtails use as a host plant. 

Use it in the kitchen: Reminiscent of licorice, add anise seeds to breads, cookies, and candy. Leaves make a garnish or crush the leaves and add to any number of recipes. 

5. Dill  Anethum graveolens 

Add contrast and color to your flowerbed with dill. Although delicate looking, dill is a fairly hardy annual that grows quickly and produces showy yellow flowers. This annual herb can grow as tall as five feet and as wide as three feet. Plant in full sun or a location that receives just a bit of afternoon shade during our intense summer days.  

Attracts: Anglewings, tortoiseshells and sulphurs. Host plant to black swallowtails.  

Use it in the kitchen: Dill’s flavor is a cross between celery and fennel. Commonly used in the pickling process, it can also be used to season a variety of dishes like potatoes, bread, fish, and lamb. You can harvest both the seeds and leaves for cooking. 

6. Coriander  Coriandrum sativum 

Get two herbs for the price of one! Coriander are the seeds from a cilantro plant. Allow your cilantro plant to flower and you’ll soon have clusters of delicate white, pinkish or pale lavender flowers. This annual herb can reach a height of two feet. Plant in part shade as it’s delicate leaves can be scorched by direct sunlight.  

Attracts: Small to medium-sized butterflies like sulphurs, metalmarks, blues and hairstreaks. 

Use it in the kitchen: Fresh cilantro is often present in Mexican dishes, but pairs well with many recipes. Remove leaves and add to casseroles, sandwiches, and sauces. Coriander seeds are a great addition to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. Collect seeds for cooking or to plant more cilantro. 

These plants will make an irresistible herb garden, for you and the pollinators. Just be sure to plant enough; three or more of each plant is recommended. Be careful not to over harvest and don’t be alarmed when you find some midnight snacking has occurred. After all, that’s one of the reasons you planted these beauties. Your herbs will grow back (they’ve evolved to deal with bug predation) and you’ll soon be rewarded with wonderful butterflies and a healthier environment.  

Last, but certainly not least, for the health of pollinators and your family, avoid applying chemicals to your herbs. In fact, forgo pesticides and herbicides throughout your landscape; it’s one of the most important steps you can take to protect all those good bugs out there. Want to learn more about natural pest control? Check out this recent Environmental Services blog.  

If you’re looking for more ways to attract pollinators to your garden, check out the Plant for Pollinators website or contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department – email below. 


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Pest Prevention By Design

Come on a design journey with us to craft your landscape into an inviting sanctuary – one that fits your goals and doesn’t take all weekend to maintain. This is Part Two of a series to make your space your favorite place in The Woodlands. 

Are pests part of your garden design?  

No? Make sure you aren’t rolling out the welcome mat by following these 4 tenants to prevent problems right at the source. Good design sets the stage to sit back and let nature do most of the work!  

1] Birds the word 

Pest management CAN be beautiful, melodious, even therapeutic! Get these insect-eaters on board and they will reward you with natural pest control at every level: robins rooting through ground cover, wrens in the underbrush, and woodpeckers up in the canopy. Bluebirds especially are insect-eating powerhouses worth welcoming with pocket prairies to forage in close to the safety of denser canopy, which can also be a source of their favored berries.  

Designing to draw in these avian allies starts with providing a many-layered structure: roots at the foundation, followed by groundcover, perennials, shrubs, vines, understory trees, and canopy trees. In The Woodlands you likely have tall native trees. What other layers are missing or need beefing up? What plants can you add that provide multiple functions – filling a missing level while also providing seeds, fruits, or shade?  

Birds thrive in these multi-faceted environments. By bringing in more layers you not only diversity habitat for wildlife, you increase the beneficial interactions between plants and animals, luring in natural insect predators, large and small. 

2Mix it up! 

Flowers vary in shape, composition, and seasonality of bloom. Take advantage of their diversity. Have a mix of blooms and ensure they overlap so that something is always blooming. This will help you invite the diversity of insects that you DO want. We call these the three P’s: pollinators, predators, and parasitoids. All benefit from layered perennial beds that have a variety of textures, sizes, and colors so there is always “room at the buffet.” 

Let’s focus on predators. In many cases the juveniles are the pest-eating machines, while the adults feed on nectar. So, encouraging a momma ladybeetle to stop for a sip of yarrow nectar and lay eggs is like inviting in a commander for a small army of aphid destroyers. Their small mouthparts need small flowers with short nectaries. Think dill, parsley, cilantro, coreopsis and alyssum to name a few. If you’re concerned about which bug is which, stay tuned. We’ll delve into how to tell good bugs from bad in three more installments. Just know that if you plant it, they will come. 

3Make plants feel at home 

It might seem obvious, but plants thrive in the same conditions they originated from. Are you planting something native to a hot, dry area, or a hot, wet area? Fortunately, you don’t have to check passports; it doesn’t take much digging to get at the light and moisture needs of your chosen plants. Check out the list of resources at the end for some reputable sources. 

To be successful, group your plants based on water needs as well as sun. If not, you’re likely to overwater some while underwatering others, causing stress for all. Consider trees in this equation, too. Planting water-needy perennials at the base of a drought-tolerant tree is a recipe for problems later on. Do yourself a favor and get thirsty plants conveniently close to the hose, or better yet a downspout, depression, or perpetually wet area. If your planting area sits outside the reaches of your irrigation system and hefting watering cans all summer doesn’t sound fun, go with drought-tolerant varieties.  

Now, let’s be honest about sun. We’ve all done it – tried to force fit a sun-lover into part shade. Avoid this temptation and save yourself the disappointment. Just as with water, mismatched sun conditions will cause the plant to stress, making it a prime target for a secondary disease and pest invasions. 

And sometimes you just need to throw in the “trowel”. If you’re faced with a recurring pest or disease, don’t fight it, make a change. As famed “Lazy Gardener” Brenda Beust Smith puts it, “if a plant has an insect or disease problem, don’t treat! Replace that plant with one that doesn’t have insect or disease problems in your area!”

4] Build natural antibiotics 

Now that your plants are in their preferred spot, feed them! Where does a plant take up most nutrients? The soil. Specifically, through the interdependent relationship between roots, soil microbes, and fungi that pull nutrients in from a much wider area than plant roots can reach on their own. So, loading the soil with a diverse and abundant mix of organisms directly promotes plant health. What’s rocket fuel for these organisms? Organic matter! And the best way to add that? Compost, more compost, living mulches, and natural mulches. Conversely, avoid any “-cides” (herbicides, fungicides, etc.) that by their definition kill life. Did you know that antibiotics used today come from soil-dwelling fungi and bacteria? Good soil life and the practices that promote it inoculates plants from soil-borne diseases through the natural ecology of the earth beneath our feet.  

Whether you start at the treetops and work down or build on the soil and work up, these four design elements are essential to a healthy structure, one where natural predators thrive and pests are managed by nature and not you! 

Next, we’ll meet some of the beneficial insects we encourage to patrol our gardens, how to tell them apart from the pests they are stalking, and what small changes we can make to roll out the red carpet for these garden superstars.  

Until then, hear the story of momma hoverfly from Paul Zimmerman for a sneak peak of where we’re headed…

If you missed Part One checkout these 5 Design Elements Your Yard Might be Missing 

Resources to find plant sun and water needs: 

Native Plants

Cultivars and some natives

Or search for the plant on the wholesaler’s database, such as Monrovia.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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6 Ground Covers To Replace Turf Grass

Lawns! We love them and we hate them. Turf grass remains the largest irrigated crop in the U.S., covering approximately 49,000 square miles – that’s larger than the state of Pennsylvania! Some view a green lawn as essential to being a good neighbor or even an indication of financial success. Many of us, well, we just like the way they look.

Yet, the popularity of lawns has been trending downward across the nation for years, understandably. An attractive lawn requires work – lots of it. Mowing, edging, maintaining equipment, fighting brown spots and weeds, adding fertilizers, regular watering, and on and on. These are the constant trials of the grass farmer.

Lawns need a lot of water. Outdoor water use accounts for

up to 30% of total household use.

If you’re part of the crowd that wants to get off the hamster wheel of time and money BUT you still love coming home to an attractive green space, consider replacing your turf grass with native groundcover.  

Just what is a groundcover? They’re low-lying plants that creep and spread. They cover small to large sections of ground with minimal maintenance and come in a spectrum of shapes and sizes. Whatever your taste, neat and trim or something more “natural,” tall or short, busy or manicured, green or colorful, you can find a native groundcover to meet your needs.

Going with groundcover will save you a ton of maintenance time, water, chemicals, and money. The added bonus: while lawns offer almost zero environmental value, native groundcovers provide a host of benefits for pollinators and other wildlife. Who wouldn’t like to see more butterflies out their window?! 

If you’re ready to say good-bye to turf grass, check out these native, perennial groundcovers and find the best fit for your yard.  


Sun Loving Groundcover

Frogfruit Phyla incisa 

  • Height: 3-6 inches 
  • Bloom Time: May through October 
  • Color: White flowers. Semi-evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Tolerates most soils and drainage; Low water use 
  • Attracts: Butterflies and is the larval host plant for Phaon Crescentspot, Buckeye and White Peacock butterflies 
  • Tolerates drought and flooding. Avoid mowing until after flowering season 
Photo by Thomas L. Muller

Silver Ponyfoot Dichondra argentea 

  • Height: 3-4 inches 
  • Bloom Time: May through August 
  • Color: Silver-gray semi-evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Well-drained soil; Low water use 
  • Attracts: Butterflies and bees use for food and shelter 
  • Can spread rapidly under constant irrigation.  
Photo by Joseph A. Marcus

Prairie Verbena  Glandularia bipinnatifida 

  • Height: 6-12 inches 
  • Bloom Time: March through December 
  • Color: Pink and purple flowers; Semi-evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Well-drained soil; Low water use 
  • Attracts: Butterflies  
  • Cut back to encourage re-bloom and denser growth. 
Photo by Norman G. Flaigg

Shade Tolerant Groundcover

Horseherb Calyptocarpus vialis 

  • Height: 6-12 inches 
  • Bloom Time: March through November 
  • Color: Yellow flowers; Semi-evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade, Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Well-drained sand, loam or clay soil; Low to medium water use 
  • Attracts: Small butterflies 
  • Tolerates mowing 
Photo by Melody Lytle

Partridgeberry  Mitchella repens 

  • Height: 1-2 inches 
  • Bloom Time: May through October 
  • Color: White, pink and purple flowers; Red berries; Evergreen leaves 
  • Light Requirement: Part Shade, Shade 
  • Soil Condition: Dry to moist soil; Low to medium water use 
  • Attracts: Birds and small mammals enjoy the small red berries 
  • Best for low traffic/undisturbed locations. Avoid mowing. 
Photo by Alan Cressler

Wild Petunia Ruellia nudiflora 

  • Height: 1-2 feet 
  • Bloom Time: April through October 
  • Color: Purple flowers; Leaves will fall off at the end of growing season 
  • Light Requirement: Shade, Part Shade, Sun 
  • Soil Condition: Sandy soil; Low to medium water use 
  • Attracts: Butterflies and is a larval host plant for Common Buckeye, Cuban Crescentspot, Malachite and White Peacock butterflies 
  • Tolerates mowing 
Photo by Sally and Andy Wasowski

Concerned about keeping native plants looking tidy? Keep edges maintained and occasionally trim or mow depending on the groundcover selected and you will have an aesthetically pleasing lawn with little effort. 

Still unsure? The Woodlands Residential Development Standards encourages the use of native plants. As stated: 

D. Front Yard Landscaping  

Forty percent of the front yard (excluding the portion covered by driveway and walkways) must be trees, shrubbery, flowers, mulch or plants other than turf or grass. No trees, shrubbery, plants or vegetation may be removed that would result in the grassed area exceeding 60 percent of the front yard. 

F. Native Plants 

The use of native plant materials with an understanding of the functional and aesthetic properties of each plant category is essential in the achievement of a sense of continuity and consistency in The Woodlands landscape concept. Whenever possible, new plantings should make use of ground covers in lieu of grass. 

Even if you aren’t ready to replace your entire lawn, consider the benefits of replacing part of your lawn. Be rewarded with a yard that attracts pollinators and birds, saves you water, time and money. 


Many native plants qualify for a native plant rebate from Woodlands Water Agency. If you are a Woodlands resident and live in Montgomery County, be sure to check out the complete list of rebates available here. 


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


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5 Design Elements Your Yard Might Be Missing

Welcome! Come on a design journey with us to turn your landscape into an inviting sanctuary that fits your goals and doesn’t take all weekend to maintain. This is Part One of a series to make your space your favorite place in The Woodlands. Let’s get started. 

Great design pairs what you want to do in your yard within the constraints of the space you are dealing with, without it feeling forced or out of place. Here are 5 design elements that help everything flow and really deliver the wow-factor.

Purposeful Paths

Are you looking to infuse some character or intriguing elements into your landscape? Would you like it to seem larger? How about improving flow and tying separate spaces together? Consider installing a path.  

Purposeful paths can provide an important foundation for your landscape design. As you consider their potential role, ask yourself: What areas get the most use? Could underused areas be transformed into a destination, boosting their appeal? And note where you have to maintain access to easements, that big green box in the back corner or other rights of way for utilities – these routes could be incorporated into pathways. Think about how people could wander through the space. Meandering paths that reveal new views help make use of the full depth and width of your lot – making it seem larger.

Installing paths is fun, but they can also be disruptive. Make life easier by tackling them before you start building and planting your beds. Bonus points for paths that allow water to percolate through. This helps to manage rainfall and provides tree roots with better access to moisture. Think decomposed granite, pavers, woodchips, or an artful mosaic.  

Rooms with a View 

Which window do you look out from the most? Is it an inspiring sight? For many, it’s the kitchen sink or a favorite reading chair. How could you enhance the experience by bringing the outside in? Note any sightlines that need screening, and opportunities to borrow a view from farther vistas. A beautiful glazed pot, stunning statue, or dramatic pop of color could make doing the dishes that much more pleasant.

Places to Plant the Rain 

Rainwater is a mineral-rich drench for the landscape. Harness this abundant, free resource by directing downspouts to plantings that rely on a good soaking to set deep roots and lush growth.  Our area is gifted with 50 inches of rain a year, but often we are too eager to direct it off our properties, allowing soils to quickly dry out. During the next cloudburst, get out in the yard with muckboots and an umbrella for a practical education about stormwater on your site. Do you have an area that stays wet for more than 3 days? This could become a rain garden. Where is water eroding the soil? This is an opportunity to slow down the flow with some well-placed rocks or a slight change in slope. Don’t let this valuable resource run away; encourage it to spread out and sink into the ground.  

Better yet, save some water for the sunny days ahead with a rain barrel.  Easy to install, Ivy rain barrels qualify for a rebate from Woodlands Water and proceeds support The Woodlands GREEN scholarship program. Order online and pick up at Environmental Services. Stay tuned for an entire post devoted to harvesting and managing rainwater; until then get inspired by Brad Lancaster.  

Grow Up! 

There are so many creative ways to use vertical space in the garden – vines on trellises immediately come to mind. But a quick search will reveal all kinds of possibilities: wall planters, obelisks, re-purposed pallets, yard art, plant towers, plant pockets, nested gutters, the list goes on. Growing up and even over has the benefit of creating a sense of enclosure around outdoor spaces that leads to a big “reveal” on the other side. This interplay of intimacy and openness adds a little drama to a space instead of seeing everything at once.

Solar Reality Check 

Finally, it’s time to take an honest look at the sun in your yard. We’ve all been there – brought home a beautiful, sun-loving plant at the nursery and watched it struggle in the place we want to put it. Or lamented ferns frying in some unexpected late-afternoon sun.  

Note the way the light moves over the landscape throughout the season as trees leaf out and the sun’s angle changes. Pictures or video can be great references for when the shadows are long but the memory is short. The plants you have may already give some indication of sun and shade. Having problems growing grass under the trees? Our St. Augustine struggles if given less than 6 hours of direct sun, leading to bare patches which invite weeds. Save yourself the heartache and use a shade-loving ground cover for lush, low-maintenance alternative. 

Other sun-lovers are vegetable gardens and most fruit trees. If one of these is a priority, then you may find yourself planting a lemon in the front yard, or putting veggies in pots on the deck to get these plants the light they need. Being realistic about the amount of sun each area gets will help steer you towards a successful plant pallet for that space. 

You still have plenty of options for shadier spots. Veggie gardeners will want to focus on crops grown for their roots and shoots over fruits, which take much more time in the sun to develop and ripen. If flowers and shrubs are more to your liking, there are plenty o great options that thrive under the tall canopy of the Pineywoods. Check out the table below for some surefire options.

Perhaps you’d like to bring more shade into your landscape. Trees and umbrellas are standard go-to’s for creating a hot summer oasis. But have you considered some well-placed vines and trellises (grow up!), pergolas with slatted roofs or sling canopies? Shade sails can also be hung as the heat ramps up and are easily adjusted as sun angles change throughout the season. Retractable awnings are a larger investment but they’ll shelter you from the rain, too.  

Check out Alexandra from The Middle-Sized Garden as she tackles a difficult shady corner of her yard. Even though she gardens in the UK, the way she comes to her decision is a wonderful exercise in assessing design options.  

Design is an iterative, incremental process. Start with what you want, what you have, and identify your major constraints. Often it is through design challenges that we find our most creative successes. 

Up next… 

Stay tuned for Part Two where we get into some of the “right ways” to garden in the context of where we live – the humid south – to help you make the best choices for a successful, easy oasis.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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