5 Steps to Create a Backyard Bird Habitat

Did you know Texas is home to more species of birds than any other state? In fact, we host more than half of the 1,100 species in the US. Here in The Woodlands, we’re doubly fortunate: not only are we replete with resources birds depend on – forests, edges, riparian zones, and native plants – we lie at a crossroads of eastern and western habitats mixed with subtropical and temperate ones. From this diverse habitat springs diverse bird life. Best of all for the local avian lover, we sit smack dab in the central flyway where spring and fall migrations amplify an already impressive diversity of species. 

You need not invest in a pair of hiking boots or high-powered binoculars to take in the spectacle. In fact, backyards and even apartment balconies offer ample opportunity to invite birds in for your enjoyment and their support.   

Start by providing the essentials: 

  • Native trees and plants – they’re far superior to non-natives for providing sustenance and they require less water and care to thrive. Check out these lists of native plants for The Woodlands.  
  • Clean feeders – supplementing what your native plants offer is a great idea as long as you provide quality feed and you clean feeders every couple weeks to prevent disease transmission. 
  • Water sources – birdbaths should be no more than 3 inches deep with sloped sides. Be sure to clean them regularly with soap or a vinegar solution.  
  • Nesting and shelter options – trees, tall grass, and shrubs provide cover for resting or nesting; supplement with bird houses and roost boxes suited to local species you want to attract. 
  • Use biocontrol – applying pesticides rids your landscape of an essential food source for most birds (seeds alone aren’t enough). Instead, invite birds in as a natural pest control.  

For more tips, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s page on attracting birds. 

The best habitats incorporate each of these elements. If you want to make your backyard even more inviting, keep it cat-free. Cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds in the U.S. annually, making cat predation the largest human-caused threat to birds. If you can’t keep your cat indoors at all times, bring them in at dusk and dawn, when birds are more active.  

For more resources on native plants for The Woodlands or to learn more about upcoming birding programs, contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

How much water are you using?

It’s time to evaluate your water use both indoors and outdoors.

Did you know that 10 percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day? Taking 10 minutes to check for leaks can not only save water but prevent future water damage within the home.  

Audit your home for leaks 

  • Turn off everything in your home that uses water. 
  • Read your water meter. 
  • Wait 15 minutes, and then read the meter again. Did the numbers change? If so, you may have a leak. 

If you’re a Woodlands Water customer, the recently installed Smart Water Meters allow you to view your bill, monitor water usage, identify potential leaks, get notifications about excess water use or weather events that might impact your water use.  Get started today with the WaterSmart Customer Portal here. 

Possible leak?  

Look around and check that outdoor faucets aren’t dripping. Look under sinks in all bathrooms and kitchen. If you can’t identify the leak, call a professional for help. 


How many inches? 

Lawn watering accounts for over 50% of water usage by Woodlands residents. If you’re watering more to account for our current drought conditions, you might be doing more harm than good. St. Augustine grass needs only one inch of water per week. Any more than that can lead to disease, pests and weakened lawns. Not to mention wasted water running off the lawn and into the street grows mosquitoes when it enters the storm drains.   

Audit your outdoor water use 

Have questions about reducing water use indoors or outdoors? Contact our water conservation specialist at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Turn your nightmare lawn into a dream 

With less fertilizer, less money, and less work. 

So, your lawn is having a recurring nightmare… you dump on the high-nitrogen fertilizer, thinking more is better. You get an immediate reward of super green grass and pat yourself on the back for your green thumb, BUT then the problems start. Since nitrogen overuse decreases grass’ water-holding capacity, you’ve soon got unhealthy turf and a welcome mat for weeds and disease. Desperate for a remedy, you then crank up the watering. And your nightmare snowballs – our St Augustine lawns suffer when they get more than an inch a week. Now you’re back to the store shelling out more money for more chemicals and paying a higher water bill, too boot.  And the nightmare rolls-on. 

What your lawn dreams of instead is to grow deep roots thereby reducing stress, promoting health and keeping pests and weeds at bay – something it can’t do when over-fertilization and over-watering keeps the top green but the roots shallow. 

So, listen to your lawn: 

  • Apply fertilizer only if you’re sure you need it – have a soil test performed every 2 to 3 years to find out. 
  • Apply fertilizer only when the lawn is actively growing – in the spring after you’ve mowed at least 2 times (and indicator of active growth). 
  • Look for fertilizers with slow-release Nitrogen so your grass can take up a little at a time and the rest won’t be lost through leaching and runoff. Too much nitrogen leads to fertilizer burn, so follow label instructions carefully. In our clay soils, keep to a 1/2 pound per 1000 square feet to prevent Nitrogen leaching. 
  • In our region, avoid fertilizing after mid-October. This allows the grass to fully uptake it before the first freeze occurs. 

Your grass would also like you to know: 

  • St Augustine grass needs 4 to 6 hours of sun every day – if you see thinning growth, it may be getting too little light. 
  • Mow at a height of at least 2 inches, but 4 to 6 inches is better – and only take off a max of 1/3 the height at a time. 
  • Skip the bagging, leave the grass clippings right on the lawn. This provides nutrients your lawn needs. And your back will thank you.
  • Water no more than 1 to 2 times a week for a total of 1 inch per week. This lessens susceptibility to turf grass diseases. 
  • Use cycle and soak methods. Set your timer to water for 10 to 15 minutes, rest for 20, and then water again. Remember, no more than 1 inch a week, total.    
  • Follow the mandated Defined Irrigation Schedule for The Woodlands (2-days per week allowed) and water between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. This reduces water waste from evaporation and supports a healthier lawn. 
  • Turn off irrigation over winter. Our grass naturally goes dormant in the cool months (November through March): leaves turn brown so the roots can concentrate on growing deep and strong. Watering hampers this process, leaving you with a disease and pest-prone lawn in the spring.  

Better yet, turn off your automatic system year-round and operate it manually only when needed. How will you know when to turn it on? It’s easy.

Simply sign up for Weekly Water Recommendation from Woodlands Water Agency. You’ll get an email each week recommending how much to water.  

Stop the nightmares and help your lawn lose the stress and get strong, healthy and lush!  

Resources

Attract Hummingbirds All Summer with Texas Red Yucca

Hesperaloe parviflora

More effective at attracting hummingbirds than a feeder, the Texas Red Yucca is also a nectar source for butterflies and native bees.  A member of the Century Plant family, the Texas Red Yucca thrives in our hot Texas summer, though it’s cold tolerant enough to survive freezing temperatures.

With low watering requirements after establishment, this striking perennial evergreen shrub produces dramatic 3-4 foot spikes of pink, coral or red tubular flowers. These beautiful flower spikes provide focal interest in landscape beds, large containers, rock gardens or as a single specimen plant. Each bloom produces a seed capsule which dries to offer winter interest in the landscape. The evergreen leaves turn a deep shade of purple in cold weather, further enhancing the garden.

Thriving in full sun to part shade and needing only natural rainfall, this plant is adaptable to any soil. Maintenance is minimal requiring optional removal of the dried flower spike before spring begins. Planting this succulent in your landscape or a large container will provide beautiful blooms from May through October. Texas Red Yucca is readily available in most local plant nurseries as well as those specializing in Texas natives. Enjoy this easy to grow plant along with the hummingbirds and other pollinators it will draw into your garden.

Looking for more native and pollinator plants for your landscape?

You Can Grow Your Own Food!

So many of us love the idea of growing our own food but lack of space, sun, and let’s face it, time get in the way. If you’re in that crowd, don’t despair, there is an answer – edible landscaping!

Many vegetables and herbs are as beautiful as they are delicious. This makes them perfect candidates for sprucing up your landscapes as well as your dinner. A wide variety of edible plants offer splendid texture and color for most any landscape. And you can position them just about anywhere that receives six or more hours of sun a day.

Consider existing landscape beds. Chives, parsley, prostrate rosemary and smaller varieties of artemesia are excellent border plants. Basil is a beautiful and delicious accent plant. African Blue Basil grows to maturity as a tall plant with stunning purple bloom spikes that attract many species of bees. Sweet basil planted with Purple Ruffles basil offers interesting textures as well as bright green and purple color in the garden.

African Blue Basil
Sweet and Purple Basil

Herbs provide interesting textures and colors in the garden or strategically placed containers. Spend time outdoors to identify where your landscape receives at least six hours of sun. Start small by planting one or two containers in the sunniest spot in your landscape. Vegetables and herbs can be tucked into an ornamental planting bed. Just remember to consider the mature size of the vegetable to provide adequate space for it to grow. Large containers are perfect for growing many vegetables and herbs. Make certain that the container has a drainage hole. Purchase good quality potting mix to fill vegetable or herb containers. Place the container in its final location before filling with soil.

One in three households in the U.S. is growing food and children involved in growing vegetables are more willing to eat them.

Zucchini

In our southeast Texas climate, now is the perfect time to begin growing warm season vegetables. Just follow these easy steps and you’ll be well on your way:

  • Make a list of your family’s favorite vegetables and/or herbs
  • Decide which plants you want to grow
  • Purchase starts to create an instant garden
  • Buy general purpose organic fertilizer and compost
  • Identify the nearest water source (hose bib) for a garden hose or plan to hand water
  • Dig only where each plant will be planted
  • Add a small amount of fertilizer and the plant to the planting hole
  • Gently replace the soil around the roots and stem of the plant
  • Cover with an inch or so of good quality compost
  • Water thoroughly
Asian Eggplant

Ultimately, let your palate be your guide. If you plant what you love to eat you’ll be more likely to harvest and prepare the fruits of your labor. Common warm season vegetables include beans, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and okra. Some warm season herbs are basil, dill, mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Local groceries, hardware stores and home supply stores have vegetable and herbs ready to add to your landscape. Set aside an hour or two and begin to grow your own food.

Growing tomatoes in a sunny container

For more information, check out these helpful gardening guides from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Cherry tomatoes

Try this delicious recipe using tomatoes grown in your own landscape!

Create a delightful family project by harvesting, cleaning, and preparing the chemical free vegetables and herbs you have grown. Let children make suggestions about what they would like to eat. Involve your family in meal planning and cooking. Sharing edibles from your own landscape is a very rewarding experience. List your favorite vegetables and start now!