Don’t Fear the Fungus

Some are scary or downright disgusting when you first encounter them. Is that dog vomit? No, it might be an aptly named slime mold, Fuligo septica. Technically not a fungus, this protist appears suddenly, much like a lawn mushroom, and disappears almost as fast. If you knew the gargantuan effort it takes to assemble this many single-celled organism you might just leave them be to finish out their lifecycle.   

While fungi come in a wondrous assortment of colors and forms, the vast majority are not only beneficial but necessary. They’re also beautiful! Consider the delicate banded Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), the lacey petticoat of bridal veil stinkhorn, or the artists’ favorite, Amanita muscaria

Situation Normal 

Mushrooms in your lawn is not a sign of something wrong! They’re simply the visible part of a much larger network of underground mycelium, breaking down dead and decaying organic matter. Look around – is there a stump nearby? 99% of fungus won’t harm a living tree; they’re there to help with decomposing dead or dying wood, along with leaves, wood chips, branches, and fallen fruit. Mushrooms are a good sign! They’re proof the soil is alive, diverse, and rich in nutrients – the foundation of a healthy lawn and landscape. 

What to Do 

Resist the urge to treat it and grab your phone instead. Easy-to-use apps such as iNaturalist or Google Lens will help you identify which mushroom is flourishing in your flower bed. iNaturalist will even help you filter by location to see what others are seeing nearby. 

Fungicides are not recommended. The mushrooms typically aren’t causing damage and the chemicals are largely ineffective since the bulk of the mushroom exists belowground – think multiple square feet. It’s that extensive network of hyphae throughout the soil that comprises the true fungus from which the fruiting bodies – mushroom caps – arise. They’re a natural part of spring and fall when moisture abounds and temperatures cool. As weather conditions become unfavorable mushrooms retreat on their own, often as quickly as they appeared. You can discourage mushrooms by watering less frequently and pruning to reduce shade. 

Treatment 

If you really want them gone – perhaps you have a toddler or dog that puts everything in their mouth, here’s how: 

  • Cut or pull or mow the fruiting bodies to limit the number of spores and therefore future mushrooms. The rest of the fungal mycelia will persist underground until conditions return for another round of fruiting – likely not for a while.  
  • When trees are removed, the roots persist and begin to decompose with the help of insects, bacteria and fungi. The only way to permanently stop the continual upcropping of mushrooms is to dig out the soil containing the decaying matter, 12 to 18 inches deep and 2 feet outside the mushroom cluster. If that seems like a lot of work, leave the mushroom power houses there. When they’ve done their job of devouring all that underground material, it – and the mushrooms above – will disappear for good. 
  • Take care to wash hands thoroughly after handling mushrooms, as even some edible types can cause irritation. 

Mushrooms are a good sign. Delight in their ephemeral presence next time they make an appearance in your yard. Most are no “truffle” at all. 

Discover More! 

iNaturalist Mushrooms of Texas 

North American Mycological Association has an extensive list of recommended books. While you are there check out their stunning photography contests. 

All about dog vomit slime mold 

Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

It’s Backyard Composting Week!

Composting is natural recycling. Put your yard trimmings and kitchen scraps to work by creating nutrient rich homemade compost in your own back yard. This week the Environmental Services Department is focusing on backyard composting. Whether you are new to composting or have been doing it for years, we’ve got some great tips and resources to help you out.  

Benefits of Composting  

Learn how composting can add value to your home landscape. 

Composting During COVID-19 Fact Sheet 

Home composting is safe even in the current COVID-19 situation.  Find out more from the US Composting Council. 


Beginning Composter  

If you are thinking about composting but haven’t started yet, these resources are just for you. Need a quick start “how to compost” guide? In just a few minutes, National Geographic will teach you how to begin composting at home.

Click the photo above to watch the National Geographic Green Guide

Remember the essentials of composting by using this easy one-page guide from Texas A&M. 


Already Composting   

Learn how to enhance your composting skills with this informative webinar from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. 

Texas A&M’s “do it yourself” guide offers more information on backyard composting. 


Experienced Composter  

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance offers detailed home composting information in this 1.5-hour webinar. 

Compost Bins for Sale

To help you get started with backyard composting, The Woodlands Township is offering high quality collapsible compost bins for only $50. If purchased online, these bins retail for $150-$200. Call The Woodlands Township 281-210-3800, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to purchase.  Bin pick up is available by appointment.  Happy Composting! 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

3 easy ways to help monarchs this fall

How far could you travel without your GPS before getting lost?  For most of us, a long road trip is impossible without satellite assist. Monarchs have managed for millennia to navigate their way across the continent, drawn by an unseen force to migrate en masse. Each fall, nearly 500,000 monarch butterflies fly south to their wintering grounds in Mexico, completing the longest repeat migration in the insect world. Monarchs from the eastern United States make this long and dangerous journey, traveling  from as far away as southern Canada, down through Texas, settling in mountains northwest of Mexico City – all without a map!

Unfortunately, eastern monarchs are in trouble; their population has plummeted nearly 90% over the last few decades and they need your help. Here are three easy ways you can make a difference: 

1 – Cut back tropical milkweed

Tropical milkweed is a popular choice for many gardeners. This Mexican native adapts well to our region as it is easy to grow with a long bloom season. However, despite its role as an effective host plant for monarchs, this variety comes with concerns. 

Given its ability to grow year-round, tropical milkweed interferes with monarch migration by inviting butterflies to linger instead of continuing on to their southern wintering grounds. If butterflies delay travel plans for too long they run into temperatures too cold to survive.  

Biologists also believe tropical milkweed proliferates the spread of the ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) pathogen. OE is a protozoan parasite that monarchs carry and spread to their host plants. It’s then ingested when caterpillars feed on the leaves. According to the Xerces Society, high OE levels in adult monarchs have been linked to lower migration success in the eastern monarch population, as well as reductions in body mass, lifespan, mating success, and flight ability. When native milkweeds die back after blooming, the parasite dies along with them so that each summer’s monarch population feeds on fresh, parasite-free foliage. In contrast, tropical milkweed that remains evergreen through winter allows for OE levels to build up on the plant over time, meaning successive generations of monarch caterpillars feeding on the plant can be exposed to dangerous levels of OE. 

If you grow tropical milkweed be sure to cut it back in the fall, preferably by early October. Leave the stalk 4-6 inches tall and keep cutting it back through February as leaves re-sprout.  

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

2 – Plant natives for spring

If you don’t have milkweed in your garden, tropical or native, plant now for spring. Planting in the fall allows natives to establish a strong root system over winter, creating a more drought tolerant and healthier plant for monarchs and other pollinators to visit the following year.   

Interested in planting milkweed? Try one of these native varieties. Milkweed is notoriously challenging to propagate so follow planting guidelines closely. Many local gardeners report good success with the aquatic (Asclepias perennis) and swamp (Asclepias incarnata) varieties. 

Milkweed is the only plant that monarchs will lay eggs on and the only food source for their caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars are voracious eaters, capable of consuming an entire plant as they grow. To ensure an adequate food supply throughout their larval stage, bunch at least 4-5 plants close together. 

In addition to milkweed, native nectar-rich plants are a much-needed food source for adult monarchs. Monarchs will travel back through Texas in March and April, looking for nutrients along the way. Give them a hand by adding some of these native plants to your garden this fall.  

3 – Avoid pesticides

Be aware that insecticides and herbicides are harmful to not only the target pest but pollinators and other beneficial insects, as well. You don’t have to spray a butterfly directly to harm it: plants absorb these chemicals, toxifying their leaves and nectar and poisoning visitors.  Help protect monarchs and other pollinators by avoiding chemicals in your landscape. Look here for organic alternatives.  

Begin with one easy change to help countless monarchs this fall. If you were traveling 3,000 miles, wouldn’t you appreciate a little help?

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Fall Foodscaping – Texas Style

Growing food in the home landscape can be challenging.  Too much shade, not enough sun, lack of space for a backyard vegetable garden are common barriers to growing our own food.  You may have more gardening space in your home landscape than you realize.  A unique gardening strategy, “foodscaping” offers ideas for using existing space in new ways.  One of the national leaders in this movement is Brie Arthur.  Her first book, The Foodscape Revolution:  Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in Your Garden will inform the content of this week’s free online class. 

Brie Arthur will present “Fall Foodscaping—Texas Style” on Saturday, October 24 from 10 a.m. to noon.  This class is packed full of information and creative ideas for using any sunny space to grow vegetables.  Brie will teach you how to beautify your landscape while growing your own food.  Whether beginner or expert, you’ll learn strategies you can employ right now to add cool weather vegetables to your home landscape.  The beauty of these vegetables will rival traditional annuals—and they are edible!  With Brie’s expert guidance, you will learn which vegetables and fruits will grow best in our southeast Texas climate. 

Don’t miss this one-time opportunity to learn from a renowned expert!  Gather your breakfast snacks and hot tea and join us online Saturday, October 24 at 10 a.m.  The class is free but registration is required. 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Fall in Love with Leaves

Its Fall! Time for cool mornings and pumpkin spice everything. And, while nothing says fall like fallen leaves, sometimes they can feel like a barrage.  If you’re thinking there’s got to be a better way to deal with those leaves than hauling bag after bag to the curb, you’re right. Here are three things to consider as you tackle the autumnal abundance.

Rake Into Beds

The best place for leaves is right on the ground – raked under your trees and shrubs or mowed into the lawn. This returns nutrients back to the soil and provides shelter to caterpillars and other overwintering insects. Come spring these insects will get to work as natural pest control in the garden, and they in turn will feed new clutches of baby birds. This native mulch also suppresses weeds and holds in soil moisture. A great return for “leaving the leaves”.

If all your landscape beds have a 3-4″ layer and you still have leaves here are some good options:

  • Start or feed a compost pile (scroll to the end for a downloadable manual)
  • Heap up 6-8″ in a corner along with branches and hollow stems for a simple insect hotel
  • Stockpile to put around tender shrubs as insulation over the winter

If you regularly contend with a lot of leaves, consider sucking instead of blowing. Units that vacuum and shred leaves as you go really help reduce the volume and small pieces break down faster into rich compost wherever they end up.

Out of Drains & Gutters

One place leaves don’t belong is in the stormwater system. Don’t blow leaves into the drain, its illegal! Stormwater flows untreated into local waterways and all that extra debris depletes oxygen, reducing water quality for fish, dragonfly naiads and a host of other aquatic organisms.

After a rain check for needles, sticks and other debris that may be lodged in driveway culverts and drain inlets near your house. Keeping the stormwater system clear reduces flooding. It also prevents formation of small, stagnant puddles ripe for mosquito breeding.

Fall is a great time to check those gutters, too. Pay special attention to sections under trees as well as roof valleys (where two sections of roof join). As these areas fill with debris you risk damage to the roof and you create more ideal mosquito breeding sites, right at your doorstep.

Fun with Leaves

Albert Camus wrote “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” There are 168 words to describe leaf shape, arrangement, venation, and edges; take some time to delight in the variety. Have a leaf scavenger hunt or make a leaf print bookmark. Learn the language of leaves.

Leaf Print Bookmark

  1. Collect leaves from the neighborhood that have interesting shapes or vein patterns
  2. Use a brayer, roller, or brush to apply paint to the underside of a leaf. Do it sparingly so that the texture appears
  3. Place painted side down on a heavy sheet of paper or cardstock
  4. Cover with a scrap piece of paper and use a rolling pin or straight-sided can to press the leaf down evenly
  5. Remove the scrap paper and peel the leaf back gently from the stem end
  6. Let the print dry and embellish with doodles, stickers, glitter or stamps
  7. Punch a hole at one end and loop through a piece of ribbon or yard to complete the bookmark

Other ways to use the leaf print technique:

  • Decorate brown kraft paper for a tablecloth or placemats
  • Stamp over newsprint for recycled wrapping paper

Check out the Texas A&M Forest service for help identifying native trees.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov