Go with the flow: 4 videos to help you take advantage of the rain

Not all water is the same. And there’s no water better for plants than rain.  

Free from the chemicals and salts in tap water, rain is 100% soft hydration. It also contains one of the most bio-available forms of nitrogen, a key nutrient plants need to thrive. Discover more reasons why you want to catch the rain in this short video, and practical ways to do it with our three-part Rainscaping series.   

Rainscaping is simply landscaping with the rain in mind. At a recent workshop we highlighted 3 easy ways to work with the rain and reap the benefits in your landscape. Put away the hose and make a self-watering landscape bed that attracts birds and butterflies. Learn six things to ensure success with rain barrels, and simple ways to work with rain to ensure a lush landscape. Find all this and more in our three-part series from the Rainscaping Workshop. 

Creating a Self-Watering Garden for Birds and Butterflies 

With a few easy steps your landscape beds can water themselves and provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and bees. Learn where to place gardens to take advantage of rainwater, how to prepare the ground, and which plants are best suited to your site. 

Success with Rain Barrels – 6 Things to Know 

Whether you already have a rain barrel or are considering adding one to your garden, discover 6 key points to make it easy, safe, and rewarding to use rainwater.  

Beyond the Barrel – easy ways to work with rain  

When it rains here it pours! Turn what may be a problem into an asset with these simple steps to direct rainwater through your landscape. Whether you have gutters or not, discover how to soften and slow stormwater with a “smiling landscape”. Get rewarded for your efforts with rebates from Woodlands Water.  


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5 beautiful, pollinator-friendly grasses for spectacular fall interest

Texas grasses are a striking addition to the landscape, asking very little of us in return to look their best. Bunch grasses keep a tidy, columnar shape with texture and movement that provides year-round interest. Low on upkeep and water need, they really shine in fall and winter when other plants are past their prime. Unlike your lawn, these no-mow beauties offer a special bonus for native bees, birds and butterflies.  

How do Texas grasses help bees and butterflies? 

Even though grasses don’t provide nectar, they’re vital to the lifecycle of many pollinators and other beneficial insects. Native bunch grasses give ground-nesting bumble bee queens protected sites to overwinter. Over 70% of native bees nest in the ground; adding grasses is one way to ensure more pollinators survive to emerge in the spring. Discover even more elements to help pollinators and other beneficial insects make it through the winter from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. 

Many species of skipper caterpillars develop only on Big and Little Bluestem grasses. Just like monarchs are tied to milkweed, skippers rely on these specific grasses to complete their lifecycle.  And the seed heads last through the cool months, feeding birds and squirrels, too.

Side-oats grama: the state grass of Texas 

Staying short in the spring, this grass mixes well with early wildflowers. Purple oat-like flowers with orange accents fall from one side of graceful arching stems. Blue-green growth turns pale yellow in the fall, with the basal leaves often taking on hues of red and purple. Makes a nice compliment to Little Bluestem but doesn’t compete well with taller grasses.  

Host plant for: 14 species of butterflies and moths including green and dotted skippers 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Big Bluestem: a butterfly magnet 

One of the “big four” native grasses of the Tall Grass prairies that dominated the center of the continent (along with Indiangrass, Little Bluestem and Switchgrass). Songbirds love the cover it provides, as well as cozy nesting material and tasty seeds. Blue-green blades turn russet in fall and winter. Plant this beauty where you want to make a statement or provide a backdrop for fall-blooming asters and goldenrod.  

Host plant for: 22 species including the dusted, Delaware, crossline and swarthy skippers 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Little bluestem: small and striking 

Bluish spring blades may give this grass its name, but the deep mahogany red fall color topped with white puffy seed heads are the most striking features of this 2-foot-tall grass. Planted in multiples of 5 or 7, it makes a dramatic focal point when the rest of the landscape looks drab in winter. Plants stay compact, reaching about a foot across.  

Host plant for: 8 species of skippers including the dusted, crossline and swarthy 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database. 

Indiangrass: a glorious golden accent 

This grey-green grass provides a subtle backdrop most of the year until it erupts with golden flower plumes reaching up to 6 feet by October. Leaves turn shades of orange to purple. Plant two or three together to make a dramatic statement in place of a shrub or small tree.  

Host plant for: the pepper and salt skipper 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Bushy bluestem: a grass for wet places 

Bold, feathery flower heads catch the light and add texture to autumn beds. Especially striking when backlit by the sun; plant this bunch grass where the sun will glow through the copper leaves. Bush bluestem likes to have its feet wet, so plant in a place that stays moist such as near a downspout or low area where water collects. Just be sure that it is in full sun – this grass doesn’t tolerate shade. 

Host plant for: many skippers and satyrs 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database. 

For more great Texas grasses and beautiful pictures of them in yards, check out this article from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  


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Recycle Your Halloween Pumpkin

Wait!  Before tossing out your Jack-O-Lantern to carve room for Christmas, consider giving it a second life. Pumpkins, one of the oldest known crops in the western hemisphere, have been cultivated for thousands of years. Today, the US alone produces nearly 2 billion pounds of pumpkins a year. Unfortunately, most end up in a landfill after the holidays. Now that’s scary! Especially when there are multiple ways to make wonderful use of our beloved Cucurbita. 

Here are a few of our favorites…

Eat It 

Pumpkins are a fruit and, like all fruit, packed with nutrients. If your uncarved pumpkin is still firm and ripe, consider eating it. One half cup of pumpkin provides all the vitamin A required in a day and one cup has more potassium than a banana. It’s also a fantastic source of fiber.   

Puree it 

Skip the can and puree your own pumpkin. Then try one of these amazing recipes from the Food Network. 

Roast the seeds   

Pumpkin seeds are especially delicious roasted, not to mention nutritious and FUN to eat. After washing and drying, toss in olive oil, add some salt and your favorite seasoning, spread on a baking sheet, and bake at 300°F for 30–40 minutes (or until brown and crunchy).  Check out some more easy recipes here.

Donate it 

We’re not the only ones who love pumpkin. Some municipal zoos collect uncarved pumpkins for elephants and other animals. Check with the Houston Zoo to see if they’re accepting donations. Pig farms often accept both carved and uncarved pumpkins, like this farm in Liberty County. 

Get Crafty 

Before your pumpkin transforms into a slimy monster, consider one of these great DIY projects.   

Decorate for Thanksgiving  

Uncarved pumpkins have a surprising shelf life. They should keep until Thanksgiving on a shady porch.

Feed some butterflies 

Share pumpkin with butterflies by placing pieces on a shallow dish.  Learn how to make a feeder for fruit-loving butterflies here.  

Make a bird feeder   

Learn how by watching this quick video from the National Audubon Society.

Compost it 

When sent to the landfill pumpkins add to the 30.3 million tons of annual food waste in the US.  Food waste produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Compost your pumpkin instead to capture its nutrients and enrich your potted plants or raised garden beds.  

If you have a backyard compost bin, cut the pumpkin into small pieces and add to the bin with other green material.  If you don’t have a bin, simply shovel out a shallow depression in the ground, lay the pumpkin pieces in and cover with leaves. Nature will do the rest of the work and in a few weeks you’ll have compost that can either be left in place or scooped out and applied to your garden or lawn.   

Learn all about backyard composting on Saturday, November 6, 2021, by attending The Woodlands Township’s free backyard composting class at 8203 Millennium Forest Dr., from 10 am to 11:00 am. High quality C.E. Shepherd compost bins will be for sale for $50 each.

For superior pest control, look to the “web”

Often spotted in late summer, a fully grown orb weaver can be a startling discovery. They seem to appear overnight, spinning expansive webs across paths and between plants. Despite their sometimes-intimidating appearance, spiders deserve a place in your garden if you can get past the “creepy” factor. 

99.9% of all spiders are no threat to you 

Unlike the giant arachnids you may have seen in B-grade horror films, it’s humans who are large enough to be a spider’s worst nightmare. Like with snakes, almost all spiders are benign and a small few are venomous. Learn how to recognize those two species in Texas; the other 900 are worthy of welcoming to your garden.  

Your best friend against pests 

Spiders consume a massive quantity of garden pests, including aphids, mites, leafhoppers, stink bugs, earwigs, armyworms, leaf miners, spider mites, flies and mosquitoes. Their insect feasting removes more pests than even our feathered friends.  

While orb weavers are rather stationary, trapping prey in webs, many others chase down their meals instead. Known as cursorial species, jumping spiders, wolf spiders, and crab spiders are especially important to gardeners because they move around the garden in search of prey. A healthy spider presence is an excellent way to keep insect pests at bay without the need for traps or pesticides. 

Give spiders a space 

Orb weavers like tall plants – sunflowers, cornstalks, tall grasses, shrubs, even tomato cages on which to attach their webs. Seeing webs in your garden beds means that these natural predators will be ready to munch on pests trying to munch on your plants. Running spiders prefer mulch, ground covers, and other damp places to hide.  

Sheltered areas of undisturbed leaves and small twigs are also important overwintering sites. Spiders live only one to two seasons. Most die in fall leaving papery, brown egg cases nestled in protected nooks until spring, when teeny tiny spiderlings emerge. They often spin a silken thread that carries them on the wind like a balloon to a new garden home. 

Spiders are more friend than foe. If you see a web, leave it be if possible – or use the long stabilizing silks to move it to a better location. If you’re raking mulch and a spider scurries out, resist the urge to squash it. They are an essential part of controlling insects that would happily feed on your plants.  

Keeping spiders outside

Spiders inside the house can be easily transported outside. If you care to keep them out…

  1. Seal cracks around doors and windows where insects may get in.
  2. Trim back any shrubs and trees that touch the house; ideally leave a 2-foot gap between plants and your siding.
  3. Give everything a good vacuum – get above door frames, in corners, and behind furniture. A good spring cleaning will eliminate spider egg sacs and all the insects that spiders love to eat.

Keep in mind that, inside or out, most pesticides aren’t effective on spiders. These products rely on the insect crawling over the chemical to penetrate their outer shell while spiders keep their bodies aloft while they walk.

Discover More 

If you want to learn more about the importance of spiders and other beneficial insects, check out these resources: 

ONLINE 

BOOKS 

  • Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy 
  • Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control by Jessica Walliser 
  • Insects and Gardens: In Pursuit of a Garden Ecology by Eric Grissell 
  • Good Bug Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically, by Jessica Walliser 

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Native Plant Spotlight: American Beautyberry

Fall is here and you know what that means… beautyberry bushes burgeoning with deep purple berries. You’ll find the gorgeous natives growing wild throughout The Woodlands but have you considered adding this perennial shrub to your garden? 

Read on to find out how wonderful this native plant really is. 

Food for Everyone 

Beautyberry is a veritable feast for native wildlife. Butterflies feed off its nectar from April to July. The magenta berries, which begin to show in early fall and can last through the winter, help sustain more than 40 species of songbirds. Armadillo, foxes, opossum, raccoon, squirrels and deer also enjoy the berries. You may even see deer nibbling on the leaves. Good thing this plant is so resilient and can handle being a year-round buffet. 

It’s not just wildlife that enjoys the non-toxic berries and leaves. Raw berries are edible, but don’t have much sweetness to them. In fact, it’s flavor can be described as mildly medicinal when eaten off the stalk. However, they make a fantastic jelly – its arguably the best way to enjoy them. If you’re feeling adventurous, recipes for wine, tea and sauces are available online. Just remember to leave some berries behind for hungry birds and mammals this winter. 

Warning: Limit your consumption of beautyberry when first trying as some people have reported upset stomach afterwards. 

Growing Success 

This fast-growing perennial does well in either part shade or full sun. They spread naturally along forest edges where the amount of sunlight varies. More sunlight will boost berry production but also increases the shrub’s need for water.  

While tolerant of somewhat dry conditions, beautyberry prefers a moist soil. If you’re growing at home in a sunny location, make sure it receives around 1” of water a week.  A layer of mulch around the base of the shrub will help retain soil moisture, especially through the summer months. Skip the fertilizer unless you have very nutrient-poor soil. If so, a shovelful or two of compost in the spring will do just fine. Be careful not to over-fertilize or you’re likely to decrease berry production. 

In the right conditions, American beautyberry can reach a height of 6 to 8 feet and be just as wide. It earns its beauty moniker multiple times a year, festooned with delicate lavender and pink flowers in early summer and show stopping berries throughout the fall and winter.  

2 compounds in the leaves: callicarpenal and intermedeol – have been shown to repel mosquitoes and biting bugs when the leaves are crushed. 

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.