Bird is the word

Grab your binoculars and guide.  Winter on the Texas Coast is a great time for bird watching.

With more than 600 species of birds documented in Texas, an afternoon outside in the Lone Star State can easily provide a rewarding bird watching experience for all. Whether you’re a novice or have decades of experience, bird watching offers something for everyone from an excuse to spend time outside, travel more or practice your photography skills. More than 20 million Americans enjoy this hobby; now might be just the time to try it out yourself.

In 2016, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 45 million people nationwide purposefully watched birds, making roughly 1 out of 7 Americans birdwatchers

Consider yourself warned, though; birding can be addictive.  “Birders” spend $41 billion annually on travel, lodging, food and equipment. Many travel great distances just to see that one elusive species, plan vacations around migration patterns, trek through difficult landscapes, and invest in the best equipment. If you’re new to bird watching you probably aren’t ready to splurge on high end binoculars or hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to chase a lead. Don’t despair, there are plenty of opportunities to view our feathered friends at your own pace and price. Simply walking outside and observing can offer plenty of reward.

That said, a few simple tools will make your birding more effective, even a cheap pair of binoculars will make a big difference. As leaves fall off of trees, take advantage of the bare branches which provide great perches for resting birds. What’s that?  A small red bird, with a black mask, hopping from branch to branch.  Can you identify it?  Take some photographs  or write down details, like size, color and distinct markings or make a quick sketch in a notebook.  Identification apps like Merlin Bird ID and Audubon Bird Guide are great tools for identifying birds and collecting data that can then be shared as part of citizen science efforts. Now that you’ve identified your red bird as a male northern cardinal, you are officially a birdwatcher!

Houston Audubon has a great resource on local and migratory birds around Houston

If you build it, they will come

Birdwatching can be as simple as observing with the naked eye. It’s fun as an individual or with groups. And it can range from casual hobby to fierce passion.  When you‘re ready to go beyond just ‘watching’ know that there are several ways to actively bird right in your own community.

Create a bird-friendly environment in your yard, patio or balcony. Providing food, water and shelter for winged visitors provides an ecological benefit while also creating great birdwatching opportunities right outside your window. Depending on the species you wish to attract, the habitat should include a variety of trees, grasses, and shrubs to create an inviting space for birds to live, hunt, and raise their young.  A general rule of thumb is “more native plants mean more insects, which leads to more birds” (ecology professor and author, Doug Tallamy). If using pesticides in your garden to control the insect population, you are removing the main food source for many birds.  Adult bluebirds will eat up to 2,000 insects in one day and gather more when they have a nest of chicks to feed.  A yard full of insects is like an all you-can-eat buffet for birds.

Providing shelter and food are two very important considerations if you are hoping to attract specific species to your yard. For example, did you know that red-bellied woodpeckers are attracted to suet feeders? For more tips on attracting local birds to your yard, check out this article on the Environmental Services blog. Looking for the right bird house to attract purple martins? Plans to build the perfect birdhouse  to attract your favorite feathered friends can be found here.

December is a great time to get your Purple Martin houses prepared for their arrival in January

Beyond the back yard

Filled with local and migratory birds in search of winter sustenance, southeast and coastal Texas offers a number of prime bird watching spots, several within a short drive of The Woodlands.  When you’re ready to venture out, be sure to check with the Houston Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Map for nearby birding hotspots.

Hit the road early to enjoy a full day of birding and be sure to remember the essentials for a day of birdwatching: binoculars, sunscreen, hat, water, snacks, a notebook and pen. 

Don’t forget that the annual Texas Christmas Bird Count takes place December 14, 2019 – January 5, 2020.  For more information on how you can participate and take part in this long standing holiday program that collects data from around the state, be sure to check out this year’s event page.


The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department presents ‘An Introduction to Bird Watching in The Woodlands’. Join us Thursday, November 14 at 6 p.m. at Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) for a presentation by Alisa Kline, naturalist at Buffalo Bayou Park. To register online, view here.

Questions? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800

What do you think about water?

Consumers in Texas commented on a Water Survey!

  • Do you think about your water usage on a daily basis?
  • Do you make an effort to use your appliances efficiently?
  • Do you contribute to community-oriented water conservation efforts?

In 2018, 4,000 residents across 14 states shared their thoughts on these and other questions about our most precious natural resource – water. Texas respondents to the Perspectives on America’s Water Survey numbered 383, second only to California. See if you agree with their answers.


More than half of the people surveyed thought American businesses should do more to contribute to sustainability efforts related to water:

Should businesses take the lead and work with local community groups on water related initiatives?  

70 percent said YES.

Should businesses help community members be better educated about water usage and conservation?

67 percent said YES.


Are you trying to conserve water?

46 percent of consumers reported that they were personally trying to conserve water.

43 percent are willing to do more – by new daily activities at home to reduce water use.

However, 23 percent said they needed help in identifying new ways to save water.


In answer to questions about drinking water:

67 percent of consumers in the southern region of the U.S., including Texas, are concerned about contaminants in the sources of their drinking water.

Overall, 91 percent of consumers say clean water is our most important natural resource.


So what do you think?

Do you agree with their answers? We want to hear from you! Copy and paste into an email the questions below , and include YOUR responses. Send it to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.

Water Survey Questions:

Should businesses take the lead and work with local community groups on water related initiatives?  

Should businesses help community members be better educated about water usage and conservation?

Are you personally trying to conserve water?

Are you willing to do more by learning about new daily activities at home to reduce water use?

Are you concerned about contaminants in the sources of our drinking water?

Do you agree that clean water is our most important natural resource?

Sign up to receive “New and Noteworthy“, a weekly update from The Woodlands Township Environmental Services to stay informed, receive notifications about events, and get tips about best water use. You will see:

  • education and information about water use and conservation
  • how to reduce contamination in local waterways
  • notices about presentations on these and other vital topics

You will also receive information on other helpful topics such as Recycling, Native Plants, Holiday trash schedules, and more. For more water-specific information visit HERE!

If you have questions, call Environmental Services at 281-210-3800.

Click HERE to view the entire Water Survey.

Give a hoot

Mysterious, spooky, wise, lovable. Depending on who you ask, owls have quite the reputation. With four of the 19 North American species found in our area – Eastern Screech, Great Horned, Barred and Barn – , it’s likely there are a few living in the woods near you. But what do we really know about these birds of prey? Here are 10 fun facts to unravel some of the mystery surrounding these amazing creatures.

Hunting Facts

Fact #1 Incredible hunters, owls have super-powered hearing that allows them to track prey under leaves, dirt and snow. Their hearing is especially sensitive to high-frequency sounds, like rodent squeaks. Studies have shown that Barn Owls are able to catch their prey in absolute darkness just by picking up the sound of rustling leaves.

Fact #2 Owls can turn their neck up to 135 degrees in either direction – 270 degrees of rotation! 14 neck bones – 7 more than humans – allow owls to swivel back and forth effortlessly. Most mammals would be hindered by the lack of blood flow to the brain and eyes, if they were able to rotate that far. However, owls have a unique type of reservoir system at the base of their head which prevents damage to blood vessels while rotating.

Fact #3 Owls make virtually no noise when they fly. Their wing feathers have comb-like serrations that break turbulence into smaller currents and reduce sound. The soft down feathers also help to muffle noise.

Fact #4 An owl’s eye is not a true eye “ball”. Instead, its tube-shaped and doesn’t move which requires them to rotate their entire head to look to the side. This inconvenience comes with an advantage, though. The binocular vision helps them focus on their prey and boosts their depth perception. Owls may have the most efficient vision of any animal. Depending on the species, their vision is 35 to 100 times greater than humans.

Watch this video to see why owls are such excellent hunters

Food Facts

Fact #5 Owls swallow their food whole and then cough up the carcass. Using their strong talons to crush their prey, owls swallow small animals whole. If too large, they use their beaks and talons to rip prey into smaller pieces. Nourishing parts are digested and parts that can’t be digested, like fur and bones, become compacted into a pellet which the owl later regurgitates

Fact #6

Great at pest control. A single barn owl family will eat up to 3000 rodents within 4 months. A single owl can eat 50 pounds of gophers in a year. Farmers frequently install owl nesting boxes to help with pest control. It’s cheaper and safer than poison, which kills many owls and other predators each year as the poison passes on from the prey.

Fact #7 Rodents aren’t the only thing on the menu. Owls eat insects, earthworms, fish, crawfish, amphibians, other birds and small animals. Occasionally, owls will attack and eat smaller owls. Larger owls, like the Great Horned Owl will attack a Barred Owl, which have been known to attack the Western Screech Owl.

For more ways to help owls, visit here

Fun Facts

Fact #8 Owls have been depicted throughout history, from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to the 30,000 year old cave paintings in France. Ancient Greece recognized owls as a symbol of learning and knowledge and were often seen as a companion to Athena – goddess of wisdom. Unfortunately, owls were seen by many cultures throughout history as a symbol of impending death or evil and affiliated with witches or the unnatural. This fear led many cultures to attempt to rid themselves of nearby owl populations.

Fact #9 Not all owls hoot. Barn Owls make hissing sounds, Eastern Screech Owls whinny like a horse and Saw-Whet Owls are named after the sound they make which is similar to the sound of a whetstone sharpening a saw. To hear the various sounds and calls from owls across North America, check out the Audubon Owls Guide for your phone and I.D. owls on the go.

Fact #10 Owls come in all sizes. The largest owl in North America is the Great Gray Owl which can grow as tall as 32“. The smallest is the Elf Owl – 5-6” tall and about a mere 1 ½ ounces in weight. Here in east Texas, you may come across one of the largest owls in North America, the Great Horned Owl. At almost 2’ tall, the Great Horned Owl is adaptable to many habitats, including city neighborhoods, forested areas, coastal areas, deserts and mountains. Listen for the deep, low hoo, hoohoo, hoo that sounds similar to a dove’s call but is deeper in tone.

To contact Environmental Services Department, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800

Recycle beyond the curb at 3R Bazaar

Reduce, reuse, recycle and re-imagine waste at the annual 3R Bazaar! Bring select items for recycling, shop the market for crafts featuring recycled materials, and discover new opportunities to recycle beyond the curb. It all happens on November 9 at The Woodlands Farmers Market at Grogan’s Mill 8 a.m. to noon.

Reduce

Americans make up roughly 5% of the world’s population but generate nearly 40% of the world’s total waste. Learn tips and tricks to reduce waste on the go and at home.

Reuse

The U.S. produces 4.6 million lbs. of wrapping paper each year. Half of it is sent to landfills. Many wrapping papers are foiled which means they cannot be recycled. Visit the Reuse Workshop and learn how to create eco-friendly gift boxes and bags from newspaper and vinyl record sleeves. They can even be reused or recycled after the holiday!

Recycle

Bring select, hard-to-recycle items for free recycling and learn about year-round collection opportunities.  Participate in the 2019 Village Challenge! Earn scholarship funds for your village by bringing Alkaline AA, AAA, C, D, 9V batteries for recycling.

Free Recycling

  • Alkaline Batteries
    • AA, AAA, C, D and 9 volt
    • Residential only, no businesses
  • Textiles
    • Clothing in unusable condition
  • Eyeglasses
  • Oral Care Products
    • Collected by Girl Scout Cadette Troop 11953
    • Used toothbrushes, empty toothpaste tubes, and floss containers

3R Bazaar is hosted by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services with sponsorship from Waste Management, Woodlands Water, Southern Shred and The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. For more information, please visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/3rbazaar or contact the Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800.



Secure Document Shredding by Southern Shred

  • Boxed or bagged personal documents
  • Residential Only
  • 5 cans of food or $5 per box benefits Interfaith Food Pantry
  • No limit

Milkweed for Monarchs

On the move

It’s peak migration season in Texas.  Millions of monarchs have made their way along the Eastern United States, funneling into Texas, on the way to their winter site in central Mexico.  This migratory generation will be making stops all across the Houston area in search of food and shelter over the next few weeks.  Guided by an internal compass, monarchs are on a mission to reach their small mountain side retreat by early November.

In early October, monarchs made national news as they rode a cold front through Oklahoma City in numbers large enough to be captured by the National Weather Service Doppler radar.

Good news!

Researchers tracking the monarch population in Mexico recorded a 144% increase in numbers during the 2018-2019 wintering season. Many reports this year are already boasting record numbers, as well. Encouraging news, as monarchs have seen an overwhelming decline in the past two decades. Most information is recorded through citizen science efforts like Monarch Watch. Increased efforts to protect and restore habitats have played a large role in the population growth and offer simple ways for everyone to help.

Data collected by personnel of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas in Mexico.

For more information on the fall migration, be sure to read The Environmental Services Blog: ‘A Wonderous Journey’.

How to help

Cut back tropical milkweed

Tropical milkweed is a popular choice for many gardeners. With a long bloom season, adaptability to our region and availability in nurseries around town, it is an easy-to-maintain, monarch-friendly plant. This Mexican native can be a much-needed resource for monarchs to lay their eggs. However, there are also concerns with this plant.

Given the ability to grow year-round, tropical milkweed may interfere with the monarch migration causing more butterflies to linger later in the season when they should be on the way to their wintering sites. If butterflies delay travel plans for too long, they will run into temperatures too cold for them to survive. In addition to delaying monarchs late in the season, tropical milkweed may increase the risk of infecting monarchs with the OE protozoan pathogen. OE, ophryocystis elektroscirrha, is a protozoan parasite that is ingested by caterpillars.  The disease affects the development of a caterpillar during its transformation into an adult butterfly.  When adults emerge, they are often too weak to fly.  A mild winter without a freeze, results in tropical milkweed that is unlikely to die back. This allows infected plants to continue to grow and be available year-round for caterpillars to ingest; continuing the spread the OE parasite. The best thing for a strong migration and disease-free plants is to cut back your tropical milkweed and watch healthy monarchs continue south.

Cut back tropical milkweed plants to within four to six inches off the ground each October

Plant for spring. Plant natives.

If you don’t have milkweed in your garden, tropical or native, now is the time to plant for spring. Milkweed is the only plant that monarchs will lay eggs on and the only food source for their caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars can eat an entire plant in one day so be sure to plant at least 4-5 milkweed plants to provide adequate food next spring and summer. The Native Plant Society of Texas has a great article on native milkweed varieties for reference.

Not sure where to find native milkweed?  The Woodlands Township has milkweed seedlings to give away this fall.  In partnership with Nature’s Way Resources and the Heartwood Chapter of Master Naturalists, more than 13,000 milkweed seedlings were propagated over the summer.  Many residents, churches, schools and community organizations have already picked up milkweed to plant in gardens across the community.  If you are interested in receiving free milkweed, you are in luck.  4” pots of orange, common and green milkweed are still available at Nature’s Way Resources. These seedlings need to be planted by mid-November so be sure to pick some up before it’s too late!

In addition to planting milkweed, native nectar-rich plants are a much-needed food source for adult monarchs. Monarchs will travel North, through Texas from March to May looking for nutrients along the way. Planting in the fall allows native plants to establish a strong root system over winter, creating a more drought tolerant and robust plant for monarchs and other pollinators to visit the following year. 

Whatever plants you decide to add to your garden, be aware that insecticides and herbicides can be harmful to monarchs.  Plants can absorb chemicals providing leaves and nectar that is toxic to pollinators. Help protect monarchs and other pollinators by avoiding the use of chemicals in and around your garden.

For more information on Plant for Pollinators and the Milkweed for Monarchs programs, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Are you Kevin?

Kevin’s a Water Hero!

One hot August Saturday at the Grogan’s Mill Farmers Market, Kevin Currey walked up to me and said, “Last year you told me to turn off my sprinkler system for the winter and I haven’t turned it back on since then. I’ve saved so much water!”

Kevin’s been using only a sprinkler or spray nozzle to hand water where needed, and his yard looks great, even during the hot months. He’s so happy that he’s considering leaving the system off indefinitely, except for occasional one-time watering needs.

My water hero, Kevin, asked me to give you a gift: a spray nozzle to encourage you to water by hand this winter. Just come by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department (8203 Millennium Forest Drive), Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and say, “Kevin sent me,” and it’s yours.

Kevin is not the only Township resident with a water-saving success story. More and more residents are turning off their systems and improving their lawns.

You could be a water hero, too! So why aren’t you? The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department is looking for a few more water heroes. Take the Water Wise Village Challenge Pledge now to turn off your system until April. You get benefits for your yard, and your Village gets a point for your pledge that could become a donation for their scholarship fund. For more details and to complete the pledge form, visit here.

Already have a success story to tell? Share how you have taken action to avoid over-watering your lawn. Are you a water hero who only turns on your sprinkler system when the lawn needs a quarter inch or more of water? Do you use compost to strengthen your lawn and reduce watering needs? Send in your story. We want to hear from you.

For more information, contact Teri MacArthur, Water Education Specialist at tmacarthur@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3928.

Home Pollinator Gardening Class

If you weren’t able to join us for a Pollinator Garden Class at Woodlands Landscaping Solutions last month, don’t worry! Lauren Simpson, area pollinator gardening expert, is coming back this month and is offering a deep dive into how she transformed her own yard into a beautiful space for pollinators. 

Lauren is passionate about educating on pollinators, their conservation and the urban wildscapes that support them. Her own pollinator garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a Monarch Waystation, and a Certified Butterfly Garden. Lauren has observed 48 species of butterfly, 20 species of syrphid fly and around 30 species each of bees and wasps within her home garden. 

Through the success of her garden, Lauren helped create the St. Julian’s Crossing – wildlife habitat, and has received much recognition around the Houston area for her efforts in pollinator conservation. For more information and to see Lauren’s home garden, check out the St. Julian’s Crossing Facebook page.

Register online here. Registration is required. For a complete list of upcoming Environmental Services programs, check out our calendar of events here.

Just in time for Halloween: vampires, zombies and other ghoulish bugs.

Good night, sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite

While this rhyme has been sung to loved ones since the 1880’s, the nocturnal creatures it refers to have been feeding on sound sleepers since the time of the pharaohs.

Sheltering in the nooks and crannies of baseboards, floorboards, or even along the seam of the mattress, bed bugs emerge at night to feed on unsuspecting dreamers. Lured by carbon dioxide and body heat, the little wingless vampires crawl along your body in search of uncovered skin to draw their weekly feast. Ten minutes later, engorged and sated, they return to the shelter of the box spring, or a loose flap of wallpaper, and digest. Take a Deep Look at these bloodsuckers if you dare.

Attack of the body snatchers

The prospect of being fed upon in the dead of night might make your skin crawl, yet it is a far sight better than what can happen to a tomato horn worm in broad daylight.

A teeny, tiny wasp – only an eighth of an inch long – will lay eggs just under the hornworm’s skin. The eggs hatch inside the caterpillar and start eating its insides while it’s still alive! Larvae chew their way to the outside and spin cocoons that look like white insect eggs along the hornworm’s back. Weakened, the hornworm soon dies, unleashing 50 or more wasps to parasitize other tomato-destroying caterpillars. Purdue University has produced a brief look at the “alien encounter” for your viewing displeasure.

Photos used with permission from the Galveston County Master Gardener Association

Superhero bugs to the rescue!

For everything that creeps and crawls, there is another thing that stalks and eats it. Spiders are a formidable foe, ensnaring flies in sticky webs, chasing down crickets, or ambushing ants.

Whatever the method, most spiders end the fight by injecting venom into their hapless prey through fangs at the end of their “jaws”. All spiders are on a liquid diet – that narrow waist makes it impossible for solid food to pass into their abdomen. Just like in Arachnophobia, these eight-legged predators must pump their prey full of enzymes to suck the resulting juices, leaving behind an empty husk. Fortunately, if you are not a fan of spiders, there are even spider-eating spiders such as the cunningly clever, Portia.

For more spectacularly spooky tales from the creepy crawly world of bugs, join us for Walk in the Woods, October 10, 2019. 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

3R Bazaar: Battery Recycling

Recycle batteries and earn scholarship funds for your village

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. They keep things going in our hospitals and military operations; and at home in our electronics and children’s toys.

Did you know? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each year, Americans throw away more than 86,000 tons of single-use alkaline batteries.  Batteries make up about 20% of all household hazardous materials in America’s landfills.

Batteries contain two common elements that combine to create power: an electrolyte and a heavy metal such as mercury, lead, cadmium, or nickel. As batteries break down in landfills, they leach mercury and other toxins. These pollutants can eventually make their way into the surrounding water table.

In an effort to reduce hazardous waste, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department has selected Alkaline AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V Batteries for the annual Village Recycling Challenge held at the 3R Bazaar on Saturday, November 9, 8 a.m.to noon at its new location The Woodlands Farmer’s Market.

Recycling batteries saves resources and keeps heavy metals out of landfills and water.

Keep in mind: Rechargeable batteries may cost more up front, but each rechargeable battery can substitute for 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.

If your stash of used batteries runneth over, or if you’ve just started your collection, support your village by bringing Alkaline AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V Batteries to the 3R Bazaar for the Village Recycling Challenge. The village that collects the most will receive a donation to its scholarship fund from The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N.

Can’t make it to 3R Bazaar? That’s ok! The Precinct 3 Recycling Center (1122 Pruitt Road in Spring), Home Depot, Lowes, Batteries Plus, Best Buy, and some Walmarts accept batteries all year. For a comprehensive list of local recycling opportunities of other oddities such as electronics, light bulbs, paints, pharmaceuticals, and more check out the Recycle More Guide.

For more information, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/3rbazaar

Woodlands Landscaping Solutions

Join us this Saturday for the 22nd annual Woodlands Landscaping Solutions. More than 30 exhibitors will provide information on native plants, local wildlife, yard care, attracting butterflies, and more! Live music, food vendors and children’s activities are all part of this family-friendly event. 

Free classes offered this year include Home Pollinator Gardening with Lauren Simpson, Lawn care with Tom LeRoy and Backyard Composting led by Montgomery County Master Gardeners. Classes are offered at 9:15, 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. Come learn simple ways to enhance your landscape this fall!

For more event information, visit our website here or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Volunteers help keep the vision green

George Mitchell established The Woodlands as a community in which we live, work, play and learn in harmony with nature. More than 40 years later his vision remains alive and well. Numerous efforts are made each year to continue this balance of community and nature, with much of the work accomplished by volunteers. In 2018, volunteers logged nearly 5,000 hours on environmental initiatives through The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. This year volunteers are contributing to the community through two newly established initiatives, Milkweed for Monarchs and the Invasives Task Force.

Milkweed for Monarchs kicked off this summer when Environmental Services partnered with Nature’s Way Resources to grow native milkweed which will enhance pollinator habitats throughout The Woodlands. Native milkweed is critical to the survival of monarch butterflies; it’s the only plant monarchs will lay their eggs on and the sole source of food for monarch caterpillars. Unfortunately, it is in short supply due to habitat loss and growing more from seed is no easy task. But, the Township, Nature’s Way Resources and volunteers from the Heartwood Chapter Texas Master Naturalists have accepted the challenge and have spent more than 300 hours propagating over 13,000 seedlings. These seedlings will be planted this fall in rights-of-way, community gardens, parks and other projects. Additionally, a portion of the volunteer-grown milkweed is available to residents creating their own pollinator gardens. 

If you’re interested in receiving milkweed for your home, church, school, or business garden, pick up a voucher at The Woodlands Landscaping Solutions event on Saturday, September 28 from 9 a.m. to noon. You can also get them at the Environmental Services Department offices at 8203 Millennium Forest Drive, The Woodlands, TX 77381 during business hours as of Monday, September 30, 2019. Redeem your voucher for 6 pots of native milkweed at either Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware or Nature’s Way Resources by November 16, 2019. 


While the effort is underway to reestablish milkweed around The Woodlands, another group of volunteers is taking action to remove plants along pathways and open spaces. Non-native, invasive plants to be exact. Invasives, like air potato vine, Japanese climbing fern and Chinese Privet, crowd out native vegetation, degrade soil health and push out critical food sources that wildlife depend on.

Volunteers in the fight against invasives are a dedicated group who received training provided by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. Volunteers work alongside Heartwood Master Naturalists on scheduled days at specific sites throughout town. The most recent training for invasives removal took place in August with forty-two Township residents and master naturalists making the commitment to serve on the ES Invasives Task Force.  Dr. Hans Landel, Invaders Program Director for the UT-Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, provided instruction to the workshop participants. The next training is scheduled for February 2020. 

The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department would like to thank all volunteers for efforts to maintain our environment and for keeping George Mitchell’s vision alive. 

If you are interested in joining the Invasives Task Force, starting a pollinator garden or participating in upcoming volunteer opportunities, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Six degrees of separation between your lawn mower and mosquitoes

Many of us are familiar with the party game that challenges us to connect any person in six steps to anyone else in the world. But, it’s more than just a game. Based on a study by social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, the theory that we are just a few people apart from being connected to everyone was proven right! So, if it works time after time for people, can’t we use this theory to connect all things? Let’s put it to the test to see if we can connect a simple household chore, like mowing the lawn, with eliminating mosquitoes. Sorry, Kevin Bacon, this version of six degrees does not involve you.

Step 1: Raise your mower blade

Next time you get the mower out, leave the grass a little longer to shade the soil and help it hold onto precious moisture between rains. By removing only the top 1/3 of the leaf, more grass remains to make sugars that support strong root growth. Check out the Woodlands Water Best Lawn Practices page for other great lawn care tips.

Step 2: Deeper grass roots

Now that your grass is growing taller, you’ve got a deeper and more extensive root system in your yard.  The next step is to apply compost once or twice a year (in the spring and fall). This adds slow-release nutrients and helps break up heavy soils so water can penetrate more deeply. In fact, increasing the carbon in soils by a mere 5% using compost can quadruple the soil’s water-holding capacity.

Step 3: Less frequent watering

When soil holds more water, and longer roots are better able to find it, the result is a lush lawn with less water from the tap. Turf grass needs only an inch of water a week – an amount that can often be met by rainfall alone. For expert guidance on irrigation go to Woodlands Water (formerly WJPA) and check out the watering calendar.

Check out the lush turf at the front of the Woodlands Water office on Lake Robbins Dr. You might not believe it but it has thrived on precipitation alone for years!

Step 4: Reduce run off

Accounting for rainfall in your irrigation schedule will leave more water on your lawn and money in your pocket. When irrigation is needed during a long dry spell, the best technique for our clay soil is the cycle and soak method – dividing the sprinkler run time into two or three cycles which allows water to soak into the soil. The first cycle wets the surface of the soil, breaking surface tension. After a rest, the second cycle of water soaks into the soil more effectively. A third cycle is especially beneficial for sloped lawns. Allowing the soil to soak up the water is not only great for your landscape, it keeps less water from running off into the street.

Check out the City of Frisco’s great explanation of the cycle and soak method and the Colorado Springs YouTube Video below.

Step 5: Sewers stay dry

Less water running into the street means drier storm sewers. Storm sewers are designed to move rainwater through, not hold it; if it’s not raining they should be dry. If they are perpetually full of water from over-irrigation, then they will be full of another thing we definitely don’t want – mosquitoes. These little bloodsuckers don’t need much in order to thrive in the cool protection of a wet storm sewer. Eggs are laid in as little as an inch of water and emerge as flying, biting adults in only 7 days.  

Step 6: Fewer mosquitoes!

So…

If the your nearby sewer stays dry between rains,

because you are sending less water into the street into the street,

because your healthy lawn need less irrigating,

Then, voila! You get fewer mosquitoes!

We did it – six steps connecting your lawn mower to fewer mosquitoes! Take a moment today to raise that mower blade and appreciate fewer bites while enjoying your beautiful green oasis. 

Additional Resources

In this video, Eric Becker, Irrigation Specialist of Colorado Springs Utility will walk you through how to apply the cycle and soak technique to your irrigation system.

Check out A&M Extension’s guide for water efficient lawn care – these methods for  North Texas can be applied to our Southern region too.

Learn more about the connection between water and mosquitoes in this Community Magazine article.

And if you missed it, here is a 2-part series on How to Mosquito Proof Your Yard.

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

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