How To Help Migrating Birds This Fall

Thousands of birds migrate through The Woodlands every fall. The reason – food. As days grow shorter, birds begin to head south in search of abundant food and warmer temperatures. Lucky for us, The Woodlands happens to lie right along the path that many species take on their journey south. Our warm climate and dense vegetation provides an ideal rest stop for swifts, swallows, hummingbirds, hawks, flycatchers, warblers and more. Our parks, yards and preserves are heavy with greenery, berries and flowers throughout the fall, but are they providing the food these migrating birds need?

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

…and the berries, insects, seeds and nuts. The most sought after avian delicacies varies with the season. Research shows that all birds, migrating and resident species, require different nutrition in winter than in warmer months. Summer is breeding season for most species and protein to produce healthy eggs and chicks is in high demand. Protein means insects and lots of them. Consider that a single pair of chickadees must find 6,000-9,000 caterpillars to raise their young!

More than 80% of all bird species rely on insects for part or all of their diet. The native Hackberry (Celtis laevigata) attracts insects for hungry birds, who also enjoy its fruit all summer long.

As breeding season ends, birds shift their diet from protein to fat to help them survive cold nighttime temperatures. Fat intake is extra critical for migrators in preparation for the grueling flight ahead. Produce from Woodlands natives such as American beautyberry, wax myrtle, coral honeysuckle, native dogwoods and viburnums, and yaupon holly are prized. Right now, most of these species are in the early stages of their fall and winter fruit and nut production.

Our native plants (and insects) have co-evolved with birds over the centuries, meaning birds depend on the specific nutrition these species provide. So, not just any seed, nut or berry will do. Consider the popular non-native plant, nandina (heavenly bamboo). It produces a bevy of bright red berries – quite attractive to our eye as well as the bird’s. Unfortunately, nandina berries, like most non-native berries, are sorely lacking in fat and other nutrients. Much like feeding french fries to a marathoner, these imitation foods leave birds depleted, unable to complete their migration route or make it through a cold night.

Just like you and me, birds need the right food. Here’s how to help.

Fall in Love with Natives

Migrating birds face several threats to their continued survival: the greatest being loss of habitat. We often think of habitat loss as a paved over forest. Yet, despite the green appearance, our lawns and landscapes have the same impact if they’re devoid of native plants. Much like a parking lot, they become a food desert for birds and other wildlife.

The simplest yet most impactful action you can take to support our migrating birds this fall is to add native plants to your landscape. Remove non-native or invasive plants to ensure you’re providing only nutrient rich food, not french fries.

Not sure where to begin? use the reference guide below and consider joining our free, online Invasives Species Workshop from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, August 14, 2021, to learn how to identify invasive plants in our community. Register online here to receive more information.

Backyard Feeders

For those who go one step further in helping our feathered friends with backyard feeders, consider that not all seed mixes are the same. Cheap mixes are full of milo, wheat, red millet, and various grains that birds can’t make use of. Most all of these “low cost” seed mixes contain little protein and almost no fat. The same holds for black oil sunflower seed. Cheaper seeds are often those which didn’t fully mature and lack protein and fat. Spend a little more on a quality seed and you’ll be rewarded with more frequent and healthier visitors.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Create a Totally Rad(ish) Fall Vegetable Garden

Opening the week’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery is always an exciting experience. What delicious vegetables await?! Well, this round certainly didn’t disappoint. I opened the box to find something completely new – a round white root vegetable with light green shoulders and dark green stems and leaves. Of course, I had to cut into it right away and what a splendid sight was revealed: beautiful, dark pink concentric circles with a light green outer edge, like a tiny watermelon!

I cut a few slices and chomped away. The pink flesh was crisp and sweet with a mild, peppery taste; the exterior a bit spicier. It was a watermelon radish. And it was delicious! 

Watermelon radishes (raphanus sativus) are in the brassica (mustard) family and are related to Napa cabbage, bok choy, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower and kale. It is an heirloom variety of the daikon radish.  

Originating in Asia, watermelon radishes have grown in popularity and are now available in our high-end groceries year-round. You might also encounter them at a farmer’s market in late fall and winter – prime growing season in Texas. They can be grown during warmer months though higher temperatures tend to soften their texture and bitter their taste. 

When shopping for watermelon radishes, choose ones with roots, stems and leaves intact. The roots should be pink, indicating a dark pink, tasty interior. Look for crisp, lively leaves, smooth shiny skin, no blemishes on the bulb and firmness when squeezed. 

Watermelon radishes are extremely hydrating – almost 90% water – and a good source of fiber, vitamins B and C, calcium and phosphorus. And just 16 calories per 100 grams! 

But why buy these beauties when you can grow them right at home – an ideal addition to your fall and winter vegetable garden. Plant them from September to mid-November and again from February to mid-March.  

Source your seeds from online seed catalogs or high-end plant retailers. Consider that they might be labeled by one of their many alternative names: Beauty Heart, Rose Heart, Shinrimei, Misato, Asian Red Meat and Zin Li Mei radish. Shop the “specialty” daikon or Korean radish categories. 

Once planted, be sure to use your drip irrigation – maintaining a consistent soil moisture level is important. Too little moisture and your radishes will turn out pithy and hollow, while too much water can cause splitting.

For the best flavor harvest your watermelon radishes about 45 days after planting. They should be about the size of a golf ball at this point. If you can stand waiting another 20 days you’ll produce a crunchier radish with milder flavor. 

Radish bulbs should be wrapped and stored separately with leaves and stems removed. The bulbs will keep refrigerated for about two weeks. You’ll need to use the stems and leaves quickly, within 2-3 days. 

Beauty and flavor combined make cooking with watermelon radishes a delight. Although, cooking isn’t really needed since their full flavor is best achieved raw. Take this buddha bowl for example – as tasty as it is lovely.

To prepare your radishes, scrub under cold water and trim the root just before using. If crispy radishes entice you, start by soaking the bulb in ice water for 1-2 hours. Their mild, peppery taste pairs well with citrus and slightly bitter greens such as arugula. The striking color accents any dish. I especially love paring them with root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, purple potatoes and rainbow carrots. And they’re perfect for pickling.

Don’t forget about the greens. Fold them into your favorite salad for a little extra spice or sauté them just as you would spinach or collard greens.


The Woodlands Township’s online Fall Sustainable Organic Vegetable Gardening Class is a great opportunity to learn more about growing watermelon radishes and other cool season vegetables. Questions about how to time planting, prepare soil, and care for your fall garden will be answered by an expert horticulturist. This FREE class happens Saturday, August 21, 2021 from 9 a.m. to noon. Register now using the button below. We’re excited to see you in class! 

11 Pet Friendly Houseplants

Why do dogs and cats eat houseplants? Perhaps to calm an empty stomach or help process hairballs. Or maybe they’re just too fun not to attack. Any pet owner knows it’s a challenge to keep houseplants away from a pet who’s determined to chew, so it’s up to us to make sure those plants are safe.

With the exception of edibles, like cat grass, the safest option is simply to keep houseplants up high and out of your pet’s reach. Of course, our Feng Shui usually doesn’t accommodate this. Thankfully, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) makes it easy to identify which of your plants may pose a danger to cats or dogs. Consult their Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant Lists to keep your furry friends safe. It makes a great buying guide, too. Here’s a few of our favorites.

Bright to Indirect Light

  1. Banana Plant Musa oriana

Some varieties will produce edible fruit (takes 3-4 years), but others do not (Musa basjoo). Can grow to be rather large. If limited on space, look for a dwarf variety like Musa ‘Dwarf Cavendish‘. Large, smooth edged leaves that are slighly wavy.

2. Ponytail Palm Beaucarnea recurvata

Drought tolerant, slow growing and easy to care for, the ponytail palm is a great houseplant for those who have busy schedules or travel regularly. A bulb-like trunk stores water and long leaves, resembling a ponytail, reach out from the top.

  1. Prayer Plant Maranta leuconeura 

Beautifully decorated leaves that are a blend of deep green and yellow with a red vein running across each leaf. Named from the way the leaves fold in the evening, resembling hands folded in prayer. This is a reaction to the amount of light the plant is receiving. 

 4. Boston Fern Nephrolepis exaltata  

Voluminous plant with distinct arching fronds made up of small leaves. Great in a hanging basket (and keeps fronds safe from a playful cat or dog). Pale to medium green leaves.  

  1. African Violets Streptocarpus S. saintpaulia 

Velvety petals with flower colors of violet, purple, pale blue and white. Can bloom year-round. Known for being a bit finicky, but actually not too difficult once you know some basic rules as mentioned in this video.  

  1. Spider Plant Chlorophytum comosum  

Among the most popular houseplants to grow. Hardy plants that can survive less than ideal conditions. Slender, arching leaves can average 1.5’ in length. Mature plants with long stems produce small, star shaped flowers. Consider planting in hanging pots if you have playful kitties around.  

Low Light  

  1. Friendship Plant Pilea involucrata  

Easily propagated from stem cuttings making it easy to share with friends, thus it’s common name. Deeply crinkled, velvety leaves with deep bronze veins. Most varieties do well as trailing plants but can be pinched back to create a more bushy plant.  

  1. Parlor Palm Chamaedorea elegans 

Also known as Bamboo Palm, with proper care, and plenty of time, this plant can reach up to 6’ in height. An ideal indoor plant that grows well in cramped spaces and low light. It’s possible to find single-stalk varieties, but most often you will find them growing in small clumps that resemble a palm-like shrub. 

  1. Gloxinia Sinningia speciosa 

Related to the African violet, gloxinia produces show stopping blooms in a variety of colors. Many gloxinias found in stores today are seed-grown hybrids, which put a lot of energy into creating beautiful blooms, instead of their root systems. This results in the plant dying back after their blooming season and is not likely to grow back. Many consider this pet-friendly houseplant to be an annual. Extend the blooming season by pinching off dead flowers.  

  1. Mosaic Plant Fittonia albivenis  

Commonly used in terrariums due to its need for constant humidity, this evergreen perennial thrives in low light. This low growing plant can spread up to 18”, completely covering a small space with it’s silver-veined leaves.  

  1. Cast Iron Plant Aspidistra elatior 

Just like cast iron, this plant is tough to destroy and is tolerant to being neglected. A great option for homeowners without a green thumb. Its bright green leaves can grow up to 2’ tall and 3’ wide. Cast iron plants don’t like to have their roots disturbed so select a pot that is a few inches wider than the roots to give this slow growing plant plenty of extra space.  

General Care 

Before you bring your new plant home, make sure you have the right conditions and space for your plant to thrive. Selecting a healthy plant from a reputable nursery will also make a big difference in the life of your plant. Not sure what a healthy plant looks like? Look for new growth (a sign that it will continue to grow when you get it home) and avoid plants that are damaged.  

A pot with good drainage will be more forgiving as you learn the watering needs of your new plant. Make sure to have a saucer to catch any runoff and avoid damage to your table or windowsills. A pot that is an inch or two larger than the plant will allow room for growth. Fertilizer is a must as the plant will exhaust the nutrients in the soil over time. And of course, be mindful of using chemicals to treat any pests or disease to keep your plants safe for kids and pets.   

Not for the Garden 

While these plants are non-toxic to pets, they can be devasting to our native landscape. We strongly advise against adding these plants to your yard or garden where they can become invasive, pushing out native plants and animals. Properly dispose of non-native vegetation by mixing in with your curbside yard trimmings  which will be sent to a local composting facility.  


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Native Plant Spotlight: Texas Creeping Oxeye

Wedelia texana

After many spring flowers and gardeners have languished from the heat, this easy-care shrub continues to bloom an airy bouquet of sweet daisy-like flowers through summer and into fall. A little water-sipper of a plant, Texas creeping oxeye Wedelia texana proves that even in the middle of summer, those with a sunny disposition can still thrive.   

Some like it hot 

True to its central and west Texas roots, the plant can handle reflected heat from a walkway, driveway or brick wall. Consider siting it at the edge of a patio or at that tricky spot just beyond the reach of the sprinkler. Also called zexmenia, this perennial shrub typically grows 18 to 24 inches and is semi-evergreen, going dormant during harsh winters. Unparticular about soil, zexmenia only requires excellent drainage to thrive. Rainfall typically provides all the water the plant needs once it is established.   

Feed the pollinators 

Ample nectar attracts butterflies and honeybees. A larval host like many members of the aster family, zexmenia is where the bordered patch butterfly lays her eggs. The buffet doesn’t stop there as songbirds also dine on the seeds.  

Growing success 

This low, long-blooming, shrub is well-mannered and adaptable. In partial shade it tends to sprawl into a pleasant groundcover. To maintain a compact rounded habit, plant zexmenia in full sun. Cut back in early spring and enjoy flowers by April or May. For denser growth or to rejuvenate plant, cut back by half in mid-summer. 

Remember to register your pollinator garden 

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

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


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Think Like A Plant: How To Water Effectively With Deep Watering

Here’s a deep thought for you: how a plant is watered is just as important as how much it’s watered. Start watering deeply for more robust and rugged root systems and thriving, happy plants. In this article, we’ll take a closer look into deep watering: its benefits, how to do it, and some other consideration to help make your landscape the best on the block.

What Does It Mean To Water Deeply?

There’s no cut-and-dry definition of a deep watering. Most gardeners generally refer to it as when water has soaked at least eight inches into the soil. This gives plants the structure required to survive lack of water, whether from a drought, a busy gardener, or other environmental stresses.

5 Perks Of Deep Watering

  1. Water gets to where it’s needed most – The majority of a plant’s root system is well below the surface. Deep watering ensures water gets down to the roots instead of lingering at the surface.
  2. Develop strong root systems – Plants that receive frequent watering don’t bother developing strong root systems. Why should they? We’re training their roots to stay near the surface where the water is, leaving them susceptible to stress, especially when we miss a few days of watering. Once water-stressed, it may take weeks for a plant to recover, or it may never fully recover!
  3. Protection during drought – The top of the soil dries out quickly. Delivering the water deeply shields it from evaporation.
  4. Use less water – Deep watering is efficient watering. For most plants and vegetables, one inch delivered once a week is adequate. If your plants act like they need more, you might not be watering deep or often enough.
  5. Save money and time – This one’s a no-brainer.

Watering Deeply How-To

The keys to successful deep watering are simple: infrequently and slowly. But let’s dig a little deeper…

  1. First, check your soil’s moisture. Moisture meters help but your finger will do just fine. Be sure to get eight inches down and near the roots. Does the soil feel dry?
  2. Next, water your plants with a steady and light stream. Fast running water slides off the top of the soil, taking your time and money with it. Clay soil is especially slow at absorbing water so be patient.
  3. Wait 30 minutes for the water to percolate down.
  4. Recheck the moisture level. If the water hasn’t soaked down eight inches, water a little longer.
  5. Wait 30 minutes and recheck the soil.
  6. Once you’ve moistened at least eight inches down, you’re set. Be sure to note the total time it took along with the number of watering cycles and the water flow rate.

Remember To…

Mulch It

Mulch offers a second layer of protection for your plants. It slows evaporation, preserving soil moisture which is especially important for our hot Texas summers. Mulch also deters the spread of garden pests. Check here for tips on effective mulching in our area.

Drip It

Drip irrigation is specifically designed for deep watering. The drip emitter sits at the base of the plant delivering water right to the roots, minimizing evaporation and eliminating runoff. Installing a drip system is easier and cheaper than you might think and it allows you to vary the amount of water each plant receives, ensuring each one gets just the right amount. If you’re new to drip, check out this Environmental Services blog for an introduction.

Plant Native

Native plants and wildflowers are accustomed to drought situations, so they’re naturally inclined to grow longer roots and be more resilient. To really save water and money, choose native plants whenever you can and you’ll have significantly fewer struggles in the garden and landscape.

Go Deep

Deep watering is a game changer. In our hot, demanding climate, proper watering technique is a make-or-break, especially during prolonged dry periods. Save water and save your plants this summer.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov