Plant A Piece Of The Universe In Your Garden

Sounds impossible? How can you plant something so infinite and so vast? Can you pluck a star out of the sky to fertilize, water and gaze upon?  Well, no. But what about a flower with a celestial name that’s as radiant as the sun: the yellow cosmos. An annual herb native to Mexico and northern regions of South America, this sunny yellow flower was favored by Spanish priests to adorn their mission gardens.

Cosmos sulphureous
The plant’s genus name (cosmos) derives from the Greek word ‘kosmos’ meaning beauty, while the species name (sulphureous) refers to the luminous yellow to orange flower.

Care and adaptability

Yellow cosmos prefer hot, dry weather and poor soil conditions. It is a perfectly adapted plant for southeast Texas gardens. Plant cosmos seeds when the soil is warm or around 65 degrees. For our region that can be as early as March and as late as September and October. Choose a location which receives 8-10 hours of full sun; too much shade reduces flower production. Cover seeds lightly with soil so they receive enough sunlight for germination. Keep the soil moist for 5-10 days after seeding. Look for sprouts in the next 7 to 21 days and soon after you will have a garden full of rays of sunshine beaming from your yellow cosmos.

Cosmos thrives on neglect!  If watered too frequently and fertilized too heavily, the plant will grow too tall, flop over and produce fewer flowers. Easy to care for cosmos can grow from 1.5 to 6 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide, forming a long taproot to reach water deep within the soil.  When other plants are struggling in 100-degree temperatures, cosmos thrive.  

Prolong the late summer to fall bloom time by removing dying flowers (deadhead) frequently. When seeds form, the plant may be cut back to encourage re-blooming. In late fall, stop deadheading to allow the plants to form seeds which attract small birds, particularly gold finches. Resistant to most pests and diseases, yellow cosmos is a valuable wildlife plant in the garden. 

The single yellow flowers are extremely attractive to butterflies, bees and beneficial insects such as lacewings and parasitic wasps which help control garden pests. Hummingbirds are attracted to the cosmos nectar while many small backyard birds love the seeds. Cosmos is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the flowering annuals most attractive to butterflies.

Beyond the garden

It is also easy to grow cosmos from seed in containers. Just remember to avoid over-fertilization and over-watering. If your garden is pesticide free, cosmos is edible and can be used as an attractive addition to salads.

Add a pop of color to your flower arrangement with some cut cosmos. When correctly harvested, cosmos arrangements can last 7-10 days. Select flowers that have just opened, cutting them early in the morning when the highest water content is contained in the stems. Immediately place the cut flowers in a container of lukewarm water and strip foliage from the stems to prevent decay. Bouquets of cosmos provide a light, airy, cheerful appearance. 

When the cosmos plant was introduced in Japan, it became very popular due to its light, airy appearance. Highly revered in Japan as the cultural meaning of the plant refers to cleanliness and beauty, many festivals celebrating the flower are held each fall.

Growing cosmos in southeast Texas is one of the easiest possible gardening projects. Fall planting time is now. Cosmos seeds are available at local home stores and from online retailers. Grow it and enjoy the other worldly results!


For more information on gardening, or to learn about the upcoming Pollinator Gardening class on October 26, 2019 visit http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Under Dark of Night

Bats! Superhero crime fighters, blood-sucking vampires, quirky animated characters, and quintessential fixtures of Halloween décor. These creatures of the night are thoroughly intertwined in American pop culture. Yet, these cultural characterizations often lead to misunderstanding, fear and certainly under appreciation.   Read on for 5 fascinating facts about how bats really are heroes of the night.

1. They Live Among Us

There are more than 1,300 species of bats worldwide, inhabiting nearly every part of the world except the most extreme deserts and polar regions. Ten species of bats call the Greater Houston Area home. They range from the more common Mexican Free-Tailed Bat, the official bat of Texas, which emerges on warm nights in masse from under bridges, to less common species like the Silver-haired bat, one of the slowest flying bats and a solitary forest dweller.

Learn about the various bats that can be found around Houston here.

2. Bats Have Very Few Natural Predators

Owls, hawks, and snakes will eat bats. However, the biggest threat to colonies is White-Nose Syndrome. Millions of bats have died from this disease since it was first identified in 2006. Named for the white fungus that grows on the muzzle and wing of hibernating bats, this disease causes bats to become overly active, including flying during the day. This extra activity burns up their fat reserves which are needed to survive the winter.  There is no cure for white-nose syndrome, but scientists are working to control the spread of the disease. White-nose syndrome can persist on clothing, shoes and hiking gear so, if you’re going to enter a cave, be sure to decontaminate first to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.  Decontamination procedures recommended by the National Parks Service can be viewed here.

3. Bats Are Pollinators

More than 300 species of fruit, including guavas, mangoes, bananas, peaches and avocados, and over 500 species of tropical flowers depend on nectar bats for pollination. The Mexican Long Tongued Bat, found in western Texas and throughout the Southwest and Mexico, is responsible for pollinating the iconic Saguaro cactus and the raw material for tequila, Agave plants.

Learn more about bats that pollinate here.

4. A Bat Can Eat Their Body Weight In Insects Every Night

Bats help control the insect population, and in our part of the world, that includes mosquitoes!  Feeding on moths, beetles and other flying insects, bats contribute an estimated $1.4 billion annually in insect control in the state of Texas.  Mexican-free tailed bats have been recorded flying up to 100 miles round trip in a night, reaching speeds up to 60 miles an hour and reaching heights of 10,000 feet when hunting for food. There aren’t many insects that can outmaneuver those flying skills.

Read the Texas Senate Resolution recognizing the Mexican free-tailed bat as
the Official Flying Mammal.

5. Bats Aren’t Blind

In fact, bats have excellent eyesight.  Their sensitive vision helps them see in the darkest of nights.  The common misconception that bats have poor vision likely comes from their renowned echolocation ability which allows them to hunt more efficiently at night and has no connection to blindness. So the old adage of being ‘blind as a bat’ doesn’t seem that bad, does it?


To learn more about habitats, behaviors and threats to bats living in urban areas, attend Our Neighborhood Bats, led by Urban Wildlife Biologist, Diana Foss from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Registration is required for this FREE lecture. For more information or to register, visit the Walk in the Woods website here.

For more information on programs offered by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment

Know Better. Grow Better.

The 22nd Annual Woodlands Landscaping Solutions is a featured community event hosted by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. This year’s event boasts a new location, guest speakers, live music and a variety of exhibitors.

Join us and connect with experts in current landscaping and gardening methods, proven for this region. Topics covered include:

  • Lawn and garden care
  • Native plants
  • Vegetable gardening
  • Backyard composting
  • Drip irrigation
  • Identifying common garden insects
  • Attracting bees and butterflies to your yard
  • Collecting and storing rainwater
  • Growing plants from seeds or cuttings

Meet representatives from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, North American Butterfly Association, The Heartwood Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists and other organizations.

What’s more, at Woodlands Landscaping Solutions attendees will find these great services:

  • Presentations on Home Pollinator Gardening with Lauren Simpson and Lawn Care with Tom Leroy
  • Montgomery County Master Gardeners available to answer your questions and diagnose specific problems in your garden
  • Free perennials, annuals and vouchers for native milkweed
  • For sale – native plants, rain barrels, compost and compost bins

And much more!

Enjoy live music by Andy McCarthy.  Bring the family and enjoy the garden friendly kid’s activity, grab a bite to eat from local food vendors, and shop the marketplace for plants, backyard birding supplies, gardening tools and garden-themed gifts.

Planning fall landscaping projects and spring gardens is easier with help from great resources–and you can find them at Woodlands Landscaping Solutions. When you know better, you can grow better!

Don’t miss it! Everyone is welcome to attend this FREE event!

Map of location.

For information, call The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800 or visit here for more event details

Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part II

Benjamin Franklin famously noted, “Nothing is certain, except death and taxes.”.  Well, in Southeast Texas, you can add mosquitoes to that list.  What Ben may not have known is that you have more control over mosquitoes, at least the ones in your yard, than you think. Read on for the second installment of “Mosquito-Proof Your Patio” for three new and easy tips to help you enjoy the outdoors and be mosquito-free… and if you haven’t already tossed your saucers, put donuts in the birdbath, or started using a big fan, then check out part one here.  

Get your mind in the gutter

It’s easy to forget about your gutters – out of sight, out of mind. But, just a few leaves and needles can clog it up, creating a nice, wet environment for mosquitoes to thrive. After a rain, it only takes a week to hatch a whole new crop of biters above your front door. Regular gutter maintenance won’t be the most exciting thing to do with your weekend, but you can delight in all the mosquitoes that you are evicting from your eaves.

Do you have a French drain?

Called by many different names – blind drains, rock drains, perimeter drains – these are underground trenches with perforated pipe that are meant to redirect water. However, they tend to perform far better at breeding mosquitoes than helping out your drainage situation.

If you do have a French drain, keep it mosquito-free with a Mosquito Dunk ®, a safe, cheap, easy solution that is harmless to fish, people and pets. Tip:  keep the dunk from washing away by tying it to the drain cover. Ensure the string is long enough so the donut can rest on the bottom of the catch basin. The naturally occurring bacteria in the dunk can survive multiple wet and dry cycles, so if you can see it in there, it’s working. Expect to tie on a new dunk about every 30 days.

If you’re considering installing a French drain to manage storm water, there are other options that work better with our local drainage system. Check out the upcoming Rainwater Harvesting Class on Nov 2 for hands-on training and an explanation of various techniques.

A rain garden, which can take advantage of a natural low spot in your yard, offers one alternative. Rain gardens are not ponds; they are designed to fill with water when it rains and be dry when it doesn’t. Featuring easy-care plants that can handle this wet and dry cycle, rain gardens help hold runoff, allowing it to soak into the ground over time.  

In addition to storing water in the soil, rain gardens:

  • Add beauty to the yard with native and climate-adapted plants
  • Create habitat for birds, butterflies, and dragonflies
  • Can be sized and shaped to fit your landscape
  • Reduce flooding by keeping water out of storm sewers
  • Don’t breed mosquitoes!

Guard with garlic

Garlic barrier, commonly sold as Mosquito barrier, has been used for years in agriculture to repel insects from crops and even keep birds from eating tree fruits. Dilute this liquid garlic concentrate with water and apply with a pump sprayer to plants and structures around the perimeter of your yard. One application lasts about a month but needs to be reapplied after rain. This can be a great tool to use ahead of a pool party or family barbeque –after you’ve tossed anything holding water first.

Did you miss Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part I?

Check out three more easy things you can do to enjoy the outdoors and be mosquito-free.

For more information on keeping mosquitoes out of your backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.

The countdown to fall is on

School is back in session. Everything pumpkin spice flavored will be here soon. Falling leaves, sweater weather and romanesco are just around the corner. Caught off guard by that last one? If you’re not counting down the days to having fresh romanesco on your plate, then you are missing out on one impressive fall vegetable.

With a vivid chartreuse color and an unusual shape made of multiple cones arranged in a hypnotic spiral pattern, romanesco is one of the most underrated vegetables you will find this fall.

What’s in a name?

A member of the brassica family, romanesco is related to both broccoli and cauliflower.  Sometimes  labeled “romanesco cauliflower” or “romanesco broccoli”, it’s neither cauliflower nor broccoli. Romanesco is its own unique and individual vegetable. Just the visual details alone allude to how uncommon it is.

The stunning appearance of romanesco is created by a fractal,  or “a never-ending pattern.” Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.” (Fractal Foundation). You might be having déjà vu from your high school math class, but if you didn’t memorize the details of the Fibonacci sequence, just take a look at the intricate spiny spiraled protrusions that make up the edible flowering head of the plant and admire its complicated beauty, without sweating a pop quiz in geometry.

With the support of high resolution photography, romanesco’s fractal pattern is mesmerizing.

Eat your greens

While romanesco is more commonly found in Italian cuisine, there are many ways to serve this crunchy crudité as part of dinner this week. Chock full of vitamins C and K and high in fiber, this cousin to cabbage, kale and radishes is very versatile in the kitchen.   

With a nutty and slightly spicy flavor and a texture similar to cauliflower, romanesco adds a nice kick of flavor to a simple salad or is a great addition on your next fruit and veggie tray.  When lightly steamed or roasted, enhance the flavor with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Cooked romanesco goes great in a bowl of pasta or as a nice addition to a sandwich. Try it on your next Italian sub!

The season for romanesco comes and goes quickly.  If you find it available at the farmer’s market or in a grocery store, grab it before it’s gone. Look for it late in the summer or during a second harvest in early winter if planning to purchase this exotic vegetable.  Don’t want to rely on retail for this tasty treat?  Add romanesco to your fall garden and create an endless supply to enjoy during the cooler months.

Try this delicious salad recipe, using grilled romanesco.

Get your hands dirty

Ready to add some romanesco to your fall garden?  Join The Woodlands Township’s Environmental Services Department on Saturday, August 24, 2019, for a  free organic fall vegetable gardening class.  Learn how simple planting and caring for fall vegetables is from our distinguished presenters, Bill Adams and Tom LeRoy. Bill and Tom will share their many years of experience as Texas A&M horticulture agents and their personal expert gardening skills and knowledge.

This FREE organic fall vegetable gardening class will be held at The Woodlands Emergency Training Center from 9 a.m. to noon. Space is limited, so register today.

Romanesco’s dark blue-green leaves appear very similar to broccoli and cauliflower plants. A cool season plant, romanesco is perfect for fall gardening in southeast Texas.

For more information on upcoming events, visit thewoodlandstownship-tx/environment or contact the Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800.

Is your water running?

A: Is your water running?

B: Yes.

A: Then you better go catch it!

Just like this bad joke, wasting water is nothing to laugh at. It’s a precious commodity we rely on every day in every way.

So, how do you avoid wasting water in and around your home? Do you regularly check for leaks and repair them? Or maybe you use a timer on your  garden sprinkler. Do you use a soak and cycle method when you water your lawn, avoiding runoff into the street? Like most of your neighbors, are you turning off your automated sprinkler system during the winter to help your grass get stronger and healthier?

The average American uses about 100 gallons of water per person every day.  In The Woodlands, residents currently use about 88 gallons per person each day. That’s great news, however we can do more.

Consider the following:

  • Up to 11,000 gallons a year per household is wasted due to leaks.
  • Running your faucet for five minutes uses the same amount of energy required to light a 60-watt bulb for 14 hours.
  • Shaving with the water running is like pouring a 24-oz bottle of water down the drain – 32 times! And a running toilet wastes A LOT more – almost 800 bottles every day!

So ask yourself: where is your water running?  Maybe it’s time to look more closely at  your household water use. Start by calculating your water usage  here. Enter your family’s water use information then view the report to help you identify where you can save some water and even lower your water bill.

Water conservation is a universal concern and many cities have introduced specific actions to ensure we all do our part. Residents of The Woodlands follow a “Defined Irrigation Schedule” which outlines the two days per week each of us may use our automated sprinkler system. However, you can do more by turning your system off completely from mid-October through mid-April. Not only will you save water and money, your yard will be much healthier for it! St. Augustine, the most common turf grass in this area, is a warm weather grass that needs a few months of dormancy each winter to let the green blades go brown while the roots grow deeper and stronger. The result: each spring your lawn will have new growth that is better able to resist insects and disease.

Each year The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department asks families to pledge turning off their irrigation systems as part of the annual Water Wise Village Challenge. Your pledge will help your Village earn cash for its scholarship fund.  The competition renews each year, so be sure to renew your pledge as well. Watch for an Environmental Services booth at upcoming community events to sign your family’s pledge, or go online.

Take the pledge for your household

For more resources on water conservation, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment or call the Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800.

Mark your calendars!

The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department has a packed schedule this fall with something for everyone. Always wanted to grow your own vegetables or interested in what it takes to compost in your own backyard? Curious about the fascinating world of bugs, bats and birds? If you have been looking to learn more about reducing your water usage, adding native plants to your yard, or you’re ready to recycle the odds and ends around the house, then read on.

Invasive Species Task Force Volunteer Training
Saturday, August 10, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) 8801 Gosling Road

Learn how non-native plants are impacting our local ecosystem and what actions you can take to keep them at bay. Dr. Hans Landel from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will provide training on the identification and removal of invasive plants and the critical functions of native vegetation. Trained volunteers will be able to join the ongoing effort to tackle invasives in our area.

Free workshop. Registration required. Register here.


Fall Organic Vegetable Gardening Class
Saturday, August 24, 2019 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Beginning and veteran gardeners alike will gain valuable information at this free, three-hour seminar. Learn about the latest gardening trends, soil preparation, planting techniques and the best plant varieties for the area. Join Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents Emeritus (retired) Tom LeRoy and Bill Adams as they share their many years of vegetable gardening experience and expertise. Books authored by both Tom and Bill will be available. Montgomery County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your gardening questions.

Free class. Registration required. Register here.


Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series: Our Neighborhood Bats
Thursday, September 12, 2019 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) 8801 Gosling Road

Join this FREE lecture series, led by Diana Foss from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Diana will discuss habitats, behaviors and threats to bats living in urban areas. Come learn the benefits bats provide to The Woodlands and where you can observe bats year-round in the Houston area.

Free lecture. Registration required. Register here.


22nd Annual Woodlands Landscaping Solutions
Saturday, September 28, 2019 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park

This event is FREE!

Don’t miss this year’s event at its new location—the Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park. Learn from area gardening and landscaping experts at over 30 booths. Shop the marketplace. Pick up FREE plants at the Montgomery County Master Gardener’s pass-along plant booth.  Take a composting class. Guest speaker Lauren Simpson will present, “Gardening for Pollinators” and Tom LeRoy will present on “Lawn Care”. Enjoy live music by Andy McCarthy, kids’ activities and food vendors. See you there!

Visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment for more information.


Smarter Choices Seminar: Healthy Landscapes = Healthy Waterways
Saturday, October 5, 2019 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Learn how simple steps can result in greener lawns and healthier waterways. Practical methods for maintaining your lawn and landscape, as well as alternatives to chemical use will be offered. 

Free workshop. Registration required. Register here


Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series: Vampires, Zombies and Body Snatchers
Thursday, October 10, 2019 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) 8801 Gosling Road

Join this FREE lecture series led by Megan McNairn from The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. Megan will dive into the creepy crawly world of bugs where monsters come to life and ghoulish creatures go bump in the night.  

Free lecture. Registration required. Register here.


Pollinator Gardening
Saturday, October 26, 2019 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Lauren Simpson, area pollinator gardening expert, will share her experience of creating her own suburban pollinator garden. Lauren will offer practical gardening tips, pollinator information and simple home garden design strategies. Pollinator gardening resources and research-based gardening information will be available. Montgomery County Master Gardeners will answer your gardening questions.

Class is free. Registration required. To register, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment


Backyard Composting Class
Saturday, November 2, 2019 from 10 to 11 a.m.
8203 Millennium Forest Drive

Learn how simple and easy it is to turn kitchen waste, yard trimmings and leaves into rich, handmade compost. Try out the variety of composting tools and equipment. Find out how compost benefits plants, gardens and lawns.
Our outdoor composting class is taught by certified, experienced Montgomery County Master Gardeners. Composting resources, problem-solving, trouble-shooting and tips are provided at each class. High-quality collapsible compost bins are available for purchase at a reduced price.

Free class. No registration required.


Drip Irrigation and Rainwater Harvesting Workshop
Saturday, November 2, 2019 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Save water, time and money.  Hands-on training teaches you everything you need to know to set up a rainwater harvesting barrel in your yard and to convert automated sprinkler systems to water-efficient drip systems. Additional rainwater harvesting options, such as rain gardens, will be discussed.  Sign up for this water-saving workshop today!

Free workshop. Registration required. Register here.


3R Bazaar at The Woodlands Farmers Market
Saturday, November 9, 2019 from 8 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Farmers Market at Grogan’s Mill (7 Switchbud Place)

Celebrate America Recycles Day and explore the 3R Bazaar at The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill Explore the 3R Bazaar and discover opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle.  Shop from local artists featuring repurposed materials or create your own upcycled masterpiece.  Enjoy live music, kids’ activities and bring the following items to be recycled:

  • Batteries: Alkaline, AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V
  • Textiles: Overly worn clothing, shoes, linens and other unusable textiles
  • Oral care products: Toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and floss containers
  • Eyeglasses: Plastic and metal frames and cases
  • Document Shredding: $5 or 5 canned food donations to benefit Interfaith of The Woodlands Food Pantry

Free event. No registration required.


Walk in the Woods Nature Lectures Series: An Introduction to Birds of The Woodlands
Thursday, November 14, 2019 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) 8801 Gosling Road

Join this FREE lectures series led by Alisa Kline from Buffalo Bayou Park. Explore the vital role that birds play in our community’s ecosystem. Alisa offers tools and techniques for observing birds and behaviors and the benefits of documenting observations through iNaturalist.

Free lecture. Registration required. Register here.


Backyard Composting Class
Saturday, December 7, 2019 from 10 to 11 a.m.
8203 Millennium Forest Drive

Learn how simple and easy it is to turn kitchen waste, yard trimmings and leaves into rich, handmade compost. Try out the variety of composting tools and equipment. Find out how compost benefits plants, gardens and lawns.
Our outdoor composting class is taught by certified, experienced Montgomery County Master Gardeners. Composting resources, problem-solving, trouble-shooting and tips are provided at each class. High-quality collapsible compost bins are available for purchase at a reduced price.

Free class.  No registration required.


For more information on these events, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment or call 281-210-3800.

Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part I

Picture your backyard oasis: a shady spot to read, birds serenading you from the branches, and butterflies flitting amongst the flowers. And then… your peaceful reverie quickly unravels by the whining of a mosquito in your ear.

Have you stopped to think where that mosquito came from on its way to ruining your zen? Chances are it emerged somewhere much closer than you suspect.

Toss The Saucers

That beautiful potted plant might actually be a culprit if it’s sitting in a saucer full of water. Saucers provide the perfect dark, wet environment for Asian tiger mosquitoes to lay their small eggs that are barely visible to the naked eye.

Once laid, the eggs simply lie in wait for a good watering. A day later they hatch and within a week 50 hungry mosquitoes emerge, ready to pester you.

Consider switching out your traditional saucers for plant stands, pot trivets, or pot feet. These alternatives…

• Allow water to drain away from plant roots, preventing soggy feet that leads to root rot
• Are less likely to stain your deck because they don’t stay wet and have a reduced footprint
• Discourage fire ants from nesting underneath or in pots due to increased air circulation
• Come in a variety of materials, sizes and colors
Don’t breed mosquitoes!

A Donut In Every Bird Bath

After a mosquito lays a bunch of eggs in your plant saucer, she’ll lay a bunch more in your bird bath, kids’ toys, and forgotten buckets. While the rest can be picked up and put away, the bird bath is one place where we actually want water to sit for a few days.

Our feathered friends appreciate a clean place to splash around, so take a moment to spruce it up, give it a good scrub and dislodge any dirt (that might also be mosquito eggs).

After you’ve cleaned it, keep it mosquito-free with a Mosquito Dunk ®, a safe, cheap, easy solution that is harmless to birds, pets, people and fish. One donut can treat a 10-foot by 10-foot area – and you probably don’t have a 100-square foot birdbath – so read the back of the package for directions and use only the amount needed.

If you have a rain barrel or other means of capturing rain water, go ahead a put a dunk in there, too. The active ingredient, Bti, is certified by OMRI for use in organic gardening.

A Big Fan

Literally! Get an oscillating fan that is as big as you can manage. Overhead fans are nice, but they don’t combat mosquitoes. 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, so the larger the fan, the greater the area you can keep mosquito-free.

Stay Tuned To Mosquito-Proof Your Patio Part II

We’ll highlight three more easy things you can do to enjoy the outdoors and be mosquito-free.

For more information on keeping mosquitoes out of your backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.

Air BeeNBee

Are you looking to purchase new property with a small footprint but a big return on investment? Nervous that you might not find the right renters or worried about the upkeep on another home?

What if you could build the house for pennies, be guaranteed several long-term renters and get your return on investment almost immediately?

Then it’s time to build a bee house!

Meet The Renters

Native Solitary Bees, also known as pollen bees, account for approximately 90% of bee species native to Texas. Because these bees are not honey producers and don’t have the ‘job’ of protecting and providing for a hive, they are not aggressive and are fine around children and pets. Most solitary bees will only sting when provoked (i.e. smashed or squished) and are safe to observe in the garden.

The most common bees to take up residency are mason bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees. A couple hundred of these friendly neighbors can pollinate as many flowers as a thousand honeybees!

In Spring and Summer, females will select a cavity or ‘room’ in your bee house and fill it with food, lay eggs, seal the room shut and then move on to her next nest. She won’t revisit or defend the nest. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the stored food, winter inside the nest and then emerge in the spring to start the cycle all over again, providing you an endless stream of renters and pollinators!

Hard Hats Required: Construction Zone

Bee houses can be any shape or size, though the size of a birdhouse, roughly 8” x 12” is common for most urban landscapes.  Make sure the depth of the bee house is at least 6 to 8 inches to allow plenty of room for bees to nest.

When building a frame, make sure that the back is closed and the front is open.  A roof will help keep rain out and should extend 2 inches over the front of the house. 

When choosing wood, be sure to avoid pressure-treated wood as the chemicals used will deter bees.  If you want to up the curb appeal of your bee house and add a coat of paint, be aware that the paint and sealant will deter bees for a few weeks until the smell wears away.

For the “rooms” of the house, provide a variety of sizes for bees to choose from.  There are many materials that can provide dark tunnels perfect for nesting:  bamboo, hollow reeds, cardboard tubes, small logs or tree branches.  Whatever material you choose, make sure they are all cut to fit the depth of your bee house.  If drilling holes, be sure to provide a range of sizes from 1/8” to ½” in diameter and use sandpaper to smooth any rough edges caused by the drill.

Several companies now offer premanufactured nesting tubes or blocks to insert into your frame.  These tubes allow for pieces to be removed if any damage, rot or disease occurs.  If interested in harvesting and storing bee cocoons, these removable options are great.  To learn more about harvesting solitary bees, check out this video by Bee Built below.

After collecting your materials, fill the frame with the various sized rooms and add in some bits of nature (pine cones, branches, foliage) to make the bees feel at home.  If concerned about birds or other predators, cover the front of the house with chicken wire

Room With A View

Find an area in your yard that is near where the bees will forage for food. A radius of 300 feet is ideal. Place the house on the South side of a building, fence post or tree that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.   The higher the better: place the house a minimum of 3 feet from the ground. 

Avoid hanging your house from a pole or hook; it will swing too much to be considered a safe home by bees.  Best to have the back of the house flush with a sturdy object. Once your house has residents, DO NOT MOVE!   If you must relocate, wait until November when most of the tubes will be filled with eggs waiting to hatch and emerge in the spring.

Upkeep

Bee houses require  little maintenance; however check periodically that the house remains dry and no mold or mildew is occurring.   Look for signs of pollen mites, chalkbrood, and parasitic wasps.  All are threats to your bee house. 

Harvesting cocoons each winter will decrease the chance for larvae to become a victim to pests or disease.  If not harvesting, consider replacing tubes every few years to reduce potential disease or infestations that are harmful to your bees.

To provide a long term housing option, remember to NOT spray insecticides on or around the bee house.

The best way to keep up with your bee house is to become familiar with who your neighbors are.  Identifying the types of bees and addressing their needs and common concerns will be very helpful in providing the best home for these pollinators.  Check out the free iNaturalist app for help in identifying and documenting the activity in your yard.

Once your bee house is buzzing with renters, sit back and enjoy your new neighbors!

Take the Plastic Free Pledge: Choose to Refuse!

Summer vacation means more parties, picnics, and eating on-the-go! It’s time to reflect on our disposable habits. Plastic Free July highlights how our short-term convenient choices can have long-term impacts on our environment.

Did You Know?

“Eight out of ten items found on beaches in international coastal cleanups are related to eating and drinking,” according to One World One Ocean. This is one problem with an easy solution: choose to refuse!

Top five ways to reduce plastic in your daily life:

  1. Bring your own bag. The average time each plastic bag is used is less than 15 minutes
  2. Bring your own bottle. The amount of water used to produce a plastic bottle is 6 to 7 times the amount of water in the bottle.
  3. Bring your own mug. Many coffee shops give a discount if you bring your own container!
  4. Choose cardboard and paper packaging over plastic containers and bags. Less than 14 percent of plastic packaging– the fastest-growing type of packaging–gets recycled.
  5. Kick the disposable straw habit. Plastic straws are not recyclable.. If you must use a straw, try a reusable one made of stainless steel or bamboo.

Take The Woodlands Plastic Free Pledge for a FREE stainless steel reusable straw and let us know how YOU will break your disposable habit!

Explore more easy tips here! Encourage others to BYO with these posters!


At home and on the go, when you can’t reduce, remember to recycle! Discover new opportunities to recycle beyond the norm at this year’s 3R Bazaar on November 9th at The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill. Bring batteries, toothbrushes, textiles, eyeglasses and more for special recycling collections. Need more information? Call the Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800.

TURF WAR: THE BATTLE BETWEEN INVASIVE AND NATIVE PLANTS

Everyone needs a home. For pollinators, and every other organism, that home, or habitat, means food, water, shelter and space. But what happens when our Texas pollinators can’t find a home? Well, it’s fairly simple; their numbers decline, often dramatically. And while there are many causes of habitat loss, some of the biggest culprits are non-native invasive plants.

One of the easiest and most effective ways for you to help our native pollinators is to avoid planting non-native vegetation and to replace any that currently reside in your landscape with natives. The types of plants, shrubs and trees you choose for your landscape is critical as they are primary providers of both food – pollen, nectar, leaves and seeds – and shelter. Many insects acquire most of their water from the vegetation they eat. Our Texas butterflies depend on Texas native plants for reproduction, laying eggs on the leaves. When the eggs hatch into caterpillars, those young butterflies eat the leaves to sustain themselves as they grow large enough to make their chrysalis, later emerging as adult butterflies. Many pollinators have evolved with native plants, both adapting to the local climate and growing season.  Non-native plants may not provide pollinators with enough nectar or pollen, or the plants may be inedible to some caterpillars.


Native plants play a critical role in the survival of pollinators

The existence of these plants impacts more than just pollinators. Many non-natives become invasive, out-competing existing natives for soil nutrients and crowding them out. Some of the worst offenders in our community include air potato vines, Chinese and Japanese privets, Japanese honeysuckle, Nandina (often called heavenly bamboo), elephant ears, and Japanese climbing fern. While some may look good in our yard and can be effectively managed, their seed or runners often escape into neighboring greenbelts, pathways and open spaces. The resulting loss of native vegetation and habitat value in these areas is never pretty.



Learn more about the challenges posed by invasives and simple steps you can take to help solve the problem. Attend The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department Invasives Task Force Workshop on Saturday, August 10, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the HARC Building located at 8801 Gosling Rd. For details and to register for this FREE workshop, click here. Space is limited, so register early to guarantee your spot.

Itching to know more about mosquitoes?

Attend these summer events and learn how to fight the bite.

In honor of the upcoming National Mosquito Control Awareness Week (June 23—June 29, 2019), the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) has three tips to help you declare independence from those pesky blood-suckers.

  • Drain: Empty out water containers at least once per week
  • Dress: Wear long sleeves, long pants, and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Defend: Properly apply an approved repellent such as DEET, picaridin, IR 3535 or oil of lemon-eucalyptus

Make your yard a mosquito-free zone  and remove standing water in these often overlooked places around the yard by: drilling holes in the bottom of yard waste containers, clearing roof gutters of debris, cleaning pet water dishes regularly, checking and emptying children’s toys, repairing leaky outdoor faucets, and changing the water in bird baths at least once a week.

Joseph Conlon, AMCA Technical Advisor, says, “Encouraging your neighbors to also eliminate sources on their own property is critical to a community-wide control program. Mosquitoes require water to complete their life cycle. If their water source is eliminated, so are their offspring.”

Mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance

Their bites can spread diseases such as Zika and West Nile Virus. “We already have the mosquitoes. We are continually importing the diseases they carry,” said Conlon. “We must be prepared to prevent their spread throughout our public health landscape – and this requires safe, effective, sustained mosquito control and awareness in the community.”

Visit us at a Fire Station near you

To learn more about mosquito control in The Woodlands Township, attend an upcoming  Public Safety Open House. Environmental Services staff will be on hand to answer questions and hand out mosquito dunks, so you can stop the cycle at home. Get an up-close look at fire trucks, rescue units and meet with local fire fighters, at these public safety events brought to you by The Woodlands Township Neighborhood Watch. Details on bike registration, National Night Out events, the Tech Free 4 Me Driving Village Challenge and Give-a-Ways will also be part of this fun and educational event series.  Don’t miss out!

For more information about how you can fight mosquitoes in your own backyard, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/mosquitoinfo. To report a mosquito problem contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.


The Woodlands Township is a member of the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), an international not-for-profit public service association. With 1,600 members worldwide, AMCA services are provided mainly to public agencies and their principal staff members engaged in mosquito control, mosquito research and related activities. For more information on National Mosquito Control Awareness Week, please visit AMCA online at www.mosquito.org and follow AMCA on Twitter @AMCAupdates.

These pollinators aren’t winning any beauty contests

Recognized as the beauty queens of bugs, bees and butterflies have reached celebrity status in the world of pollination. But, while they get the limelight when it comes to pollination, they’re only a small portion of the over 200,000 species that help produce our crops.  Many of these less adorable species include beetles, ants, moths, wasps and even flies.  Combined, pollinators service over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops, impacting nearly 1 out of every 3 bites of food and more than $20 billion worth of products annually in the U.S.

Awareness of the decline of the monarch butterfly and the honeybee has spurred communities across the country into action to ensure their survival.  But what about the less celebrated?  Let’s take a look at some of the underrated pollinators in our gardens.


Hover Flies

Hover Flies, also known as Syrphid Flies, are a large group of medium to large flies with black or brown bodies, yellow banded abdomens and two wings.  Resembling a bee or wasp, adults can be seen hovering above flowers, feeding on their nectar.  They can’t bite or sting but may try to steal some of your salty sweat from time to time.  The larvae play a beneficial role in gardens, consuming up to 30 aphids per day – a great natural pest control.  Hover flies feed on the same flowers preferred by bees, such as purple coneflowers, blanketflowers and sunflowers.

Black and yellow stripes don’t always belong to bees. Hover flies can easily be mistaken for bees but these petite pollinators don’t have stingers.

Hawk Moths

Experts at finding sweet-smelling flowers at night, hawk moths have the longest tongues of any moth or butterfly  – some up to 14” long!  These acrobatic fliers include sphinx and hummingbird moths, built with stout bullet-shaped bodies and long, narrow wings.  See them mostly at night hovering in place enjoying nectar from heavily fragranced flowers. While many tomato gardeners, admittedly, fear the larvae of the hawk moth (a.k.a. green hornworms), the adults are excellent  pollinators for your garden.

Hawk moths, including this Hummingbird Moth, have long tongues, or proboscis, to suck nectar from flowers, similar to a straw.

Soldier Beetles

Beetles present the greatest diversity of insects and pollinators, with more than 450,000 known species.  Regular flower visitors like the soldier beetle feed on pollen and even chew on flowers.  Solider beetles are one type of “mess and soil” pollinators, as they will defecate within flowers in the process of carrying pollen from one flower to another.  Soldier Beetles are commonly seen on flowers that are strongly fruity and open during the day such as marigolds, magnolias and many flowering herbs.    

Beetles have been pollinators for millions of years.  Based on fossil records, they were among the first insects to visit flowering plants as far back as 150 million years ago.

Ten Things You Can Do In Your Yard To Encourage Pollinators

1. Plant a pollinator garden—provide nectar and feeding plants (flowers and herbs).  Visit our website for more information on planting a pollinator garden or register your existing garden.

2. Provide a water source—place shallow dishes of water in sunny areas or create a muddy spot.

 3. Provide shelter and overwintering habitat (bee boxes, undisturbed soil areas, and piles of woody debris).

4. Stop using insecticides and reduce other pesticides.

5. Provide sunny areas out of the wind.

6. Use native plant species whenever possible—mimic local natural areas.

7. Grow flowers throughout season. Provide a variety of colors and shapes.

 8. Plant in clumps and layers. Use trees, shrub layers, with some low growing perennials and vines—intermix with flowering annuals.

9. Use compost instead of commercial fertilizers.  The Woodlands Township offers free compost classes October – March.  For more information, view this page.

 10. Look but do not touch.

Join Us In Celebrating National Pollinator Week

World Ocean Day : The cost of litter

June 8th is World Ocean Day, a celebration of the mysterious blue waters that cover 70% of the planet and provide a home for  50-80% of all life on earth. Healthy oceans and coasts provide services that are critical to sustaining life on land including climate regulation, food, medicines, and even compounds that make peanut butter easy to spread!


Source: NOAA Why Care About The Ocean?

Currently, the largest threat to the ocean is pollution, primarily from plastics. Plastics, synthetic organic polymers normally created from petroleum, are so long lasting that all the plastic that has ever been created still exists today. Once they enter our waters, plastics entangle marine life or erode into smaller particles that are then ingested. Every piece of litter we pick up on land, including here in The Woodlands, helps the ocean and the life within.

Where does pollution come from?

The majority of ocean pollution originates on land as trash that blows out of landfills, litter that was left behind in outdoor spaces, waste from processing facilities and illegal dumping. Litter can travel long distances through storm drains, lakes and rivers to reach the ocean.   Located in the Gulf Coast Region, litter in The Woodlands eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico if we don’t take the opportunity to remove it before it enters our waterways.  Beach goers and recreational boaters visiting our lakes and shores can greatly reduce ocean pollution by properly disposing of any trash, especially fishing nets, plastics bottles and bags. 

What does it cost?

Litter costs Texas taxpayers $40 million annually in clean up efforts, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. If every Texan picked up two pieces of trash each month, our highways would be completely litter-free in just one year. That money could be reallocated towards other programs working to clean our oceans. 

The top litter items found in the environment are cigarette butts and food/retail industry waste such as take out containers, straws and cutlery.

Let’s answer the call to action for our oceans!

Here’s how we can make a difference:

  1. Coordinate your own cleanup
  • Bring a bucket to the beach, one for treasures and one for trash; recycle what you can

2. Support an organization

  • There are many groups forming their own cleanups. Become involved or consider making a donation.

3. Not able to make it to the shoreline? There’s plenty you can do at home

  • Reduce plastics by, purchasing items with less packaging when shopping
  • Reuse as much as you canbring your own bags & bottles
  • Refuse single use plastics such as straws, bags and cutlery.

Smarter About Water: 4 steps to protect our watershed

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You wouldn’t want to swim in dog waste, but that’s what is happening when we’re taking a dip in most of the waterbodies in our region. Dog waste, or more specifically the fecal coliform bacteria that it carries, is prevalent throughout the San Jacinto Watershed, of which The Woodlands is a part. In fact, it’s the number one contaminant in Galveston Bay, the end point for our creeks and rivers. This was just one of the insights residents gained at the latest Smarter About Water Seminar, an annual series by The Woodlands Township.

Justin Bower, Senior Planner in Community and Environmental Planning for Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), outlined many of the issues facing our area waterways, examining impacts on recreation, drinking water and the environment. The lively question and answer session that followed underscored the critical importance of these issues to the audience.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There are simple actions each one of us can take that will make a real difference for our water quality.

  • Assure that pet waste is picked up and disposed of in the trash – Whether washed overland or dissolved into the soil, pet waste that is left outdoors will eventually work its way into a local water body. More than a third of the bacteria in local water bodies comes from dog waste. Left unchecked, that figure is projected to climb to 50% within 10 years.  Contamination could grow to be almost half of the bacterial problem over the next 10 years.
  • Ensure lawn chemicals are timely and needed. Due to stress on the aquifer, a portion of drinking water comes from treated surface waters. Applying too much fertilizer to your lawn, or applying it right before a rain will send these contaminates into nearby lakes and streams, impacting water quality through algal overgrowth and reductions in dissolved oxygen. This is one reason why surface water is more expensive to treat than groundwater.
  • Conserve water and costs – The cheapest water we have is the water we have now. Developing new sources, including surface water, is expensive and will only continue to increase in cost over time. Avoid wasting water in your home and landscape to reduce the stress on our water sources.
  • Get involved in the decision making process – Lend your voice to the next round of community meetings regarding Cypress Creek and Spring Creek this fall. Discover what actions are needed to protect the health of the watershed and collaborate with others in finding solutions.

To review the current Watershed Protection Plan and other documents go to: https://westfork.weebly.com/project-documents.html

For more ways to protect and conserve water in The Woodlands Township, contact the Environmental Services Department by calling 281-210-3800, or send your email inquiry to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov