Grow a lot in a little space: edible container gardening

Has your desire to grow your own food been stymied by a lack of space or sun? You’re not alone – it’s a common scenario in our heavily wooded community. But don’t despair, containers might be your answer. With a bit of planning and minimal investment, you’ll amaze yourself with the bevy of edibles you can grow in just one pot, bucket, crate or barrel. And you’ll add beauty and interest to any landscape, balcony or patio. 

Where to start

Begin your plan with a list of vegetables you most enjoy. Then consider the season and planting time. The Montgomery County Master Gardeners’ Vegetable Planting Chart makes an excellent guide.  

Creating a beautiful edible container is as simple as following a recipe. When planting multiple varieties into one container, make the most of the space by including a: 

  • Thriller—a tall, showy  plant (perhaps your favorite variety of pepper) 
  • Spiller—a trailing/vining  plant (try your favorite squash—the flowers are also edible) 
  • Filler—smaller edibles to add color and texture (purple ruffle basil, bunching onions, oregano) 

Vegetables and herbs make fantastic companions. Basil and tomatoes, for example, complement each other just as well in a container as they do in a sauce. Learn more about growing herbs in Texas here.

Look for the largest possible plants to give your edible container a great start. Check with plant retailers, nurseries, and home improvement stores. Many groceries stock potted vegetables and herbs, as well. 

Gather supplies

As for containers, almost any type of material will do: terra cotta, fiberglass, wood, plastic or metal. Err on the side of a larger container to give your plants room to grow. In our hot climate, larger containers also do a better job of keeping roots moist. And make certain it has a drainage hole.

Spring for high quality potting soil. You’ll thank yourself – good soil is key to growing successful edibles. And spend a few extra dollars on quality fertilizer. Whether your gardening preference is organic or conventional, be sure to look for one labelled ‘slow release’ .

Vegetables need 6-8 hours of full sun. Walk around your yard at different times during the day to find the location that receives enough light. Once you’ve found the right space and gathered your supplies, it’s time to start planting. 

Plant and enjoy

Place your new edible container garden in the sunny location you selected and add soil. Gently transplant the plants from the nursery pots to the prepared large pot. Place the “thriller” plant in the center of the container. Add the “spiller plant(s) near the edge of the pot. Fill in with the “filler” plants. Fertilize using the label directions. Water thoroughly. Your edible garden is complete! Container gardens require early morning or late evening watering daily in the southeast Texas climate, unless rain occurs.

Enjoy these additional resources: 

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

New Village Challenge

Residents are encouraged to support pollinators by registering their garden or yard in the newest Village Challenge. The Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge aims to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and how habitat creation can support pollinator populations. Many pollinators, including monarch butterflies, have seen a significant decline in the last few decades due to overuse of pesticides and herbicides and loss of habitat. Take action today to protect bees, butterflies, moths and many more pollinators.  

Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo Credit: Andy
Native plants provide food and shelter in a small backyard garden
Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer
The pollinator perimeter at the Veggie Village garden, located at the Alden Bridge Sports Complex, provides a variety of native and adapted plants for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to enjoy
Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer
This well designed front yard blooms year round, inviting many pollinators to visit

Registered gardens provide the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical free zone. The garden registration form highlights the many ways you can help pollinators, like offering nectar-producing plants for every season, leaving bare ground for burrowing insects and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. The form is a great guide for those looking to start a pollinator garden offering many options including native plant lists, shelter ideas and water sources. 

Registrations received from June 1, 2020 through December 1, 2020 will count towards the 2020 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your Village Association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. and Project PolliNation, will contribute scholarship money to the three Village Associations with the most points. When you register your garden, you will receive a Plant for Pollinators window cling in appreciation. Find the garden registration form at www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/plantforpollinators.

Check out these past articles to learn more about local pollinators:

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

It’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week

What’s growing in your backyard?

Just what are invasive species? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an “invasive species” is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration; and, whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm, or harm to human health. A number of federal and state agencies are concerned with invasive species including The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which battles non-native plants and animal species every day to maintain the health of our natural areas and waterways. 

Closer to home, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department is addressing the many invasive plant species that have infiltrated our pathways and open spaces, impacting native plants and trees. Since May 2019, nearly one hundred Township residents have attended classes on invasive plants, learning to identify them, monitor their spread and report data. This “Invasives Task Force” has also gone to work on our on pathways, removing hundreds of pounds of air potato vine, Japanese climbing fern, nandina, elephant ear, Chinese privet and other non-natives.

Invasive Tasks Force participants proudly sharing the bags of invasives removed during a morning of volunteering

What can you do?

Learn more

May 16-23, 2020 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. What better time to join your neighbors in learning about invasives and how to stop them?

Texasinvasives.org offers a wealth of helpful information on invasive species in our state and region. Learn how to identify key invasives in our area and how to take action. Whether you are a boater, aquarium owner, gardener, hiker, pet owner or all the above, you’ll find specific tips to help stem the tide of invasive species.

Stop the spread

Once you’re familiar with our most common invaders, check your yard to see if you have any. If so, take a simple but important action for the health of our local environment by replacing them with natives. Then, consider increasing your impact even more by joining the Township’s Invasive Task Force!   

You might also be interested in exploring the “Citizen Science” section of texasinvasives.org for advanced learning opportunities such as area workshops and online trainings. Citizen Scientists are volunteers who receive expert training to identify and track key invasives in our area. The information they gather is delivered into a statewide database and to those who can do something about it. The premise is simple. The more trained eyes watching for invasive species, the better our chances of lessening or avoiding damage to our native landscape. 

Let us know if you’re interested, or have questions, by sending an email to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov. Learn more and help Stop the Spread! 

Why volunteering works – COMMUNITY!

We have all been staying home and away from our favorite activities, but we remain connected by community – one with deep roots and a rich history of volunteering.

Our forested community was once a dynamic gathering place filled with unique biodiversity. We live in the western-most part of the “Big Thicket,” an area unrivaled in the U.S. for flora and fauna richness. Over the centuries, as the population of the area grew, our community was developed and with that development came change. The number and diversity of species was reduced and non-native, invasive vegetation and animals were introduced, leading to issues like loss of native habitat.

In May 2019, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department held a training class for volunteers to help alleviate the damage caused by removing invasive species from our pathways. The response by volunteers was overwhelming!

By December 2019, volunteers had spent more than 500 hours removing a huge amount of invasive vines and other non-native vegetation from green spaces so native plants and trees could thrive again. A record number of volunteers were hard at work in 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic brought a stop to these activities. . When the time is right, these volunteers will be ready to get back to their work and you’re invited to join them!

Volunteers remove invasive, air potato vines from along pathways in The Woodlands

The Invasives Removal Task Force has quickly become an established community group and riding on their success, another volunteer opportunity presented itself for 2020. Growing concerns about our waterways have led to the creation of The Watershed Project. Our community is built around a complicated web of streams, waterways, bayous, ponds and lakes, creating many opportunities for them to be negatively impacted by litter, chemical runoff and invasive species. Being surrounded by so much water also means that there are any opportunities for volunteers to help manage the health of our waterways.

When the new Watershed Project was launched, earlier this year, more than 50 residents signed on to learn how to save water, reduce chemicals in our landscapes and waterways, and offer educational training to neighbors in their community. In the first two months of the year, more than 140 hours of time was recorded in water related training and volunteering. Yes, for now, projects, trainings and community educational outreachhave been postponed but we know it will return stronger than before. And when it’s safe for our community to come together again, we hope you will join us in working to make our outdoor spaces a healthy and vibrant place to call home.

Volunteers for the Watershed Project learn how to determine the turbidity of the water in the stream as part of a water quality monitoring training

To those who have volunteered in the past, THANK YOU! But, if you haven’t found your niche to serve and would like to know about upcoming opportunities, contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov. You can be a part of the work to keep our community connected and healthy by serving as a volunteer. It works because of YOU.

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


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Gardening with Children: easy strategies during social distancing

With the extra time created by social distancing, gardening is an activity that children of all ages can enjoy. Simple and exciting gardening opportunities abound in your yard and even inside your home. Here are a few tips to get you started with minimal supplies and minimal cost.

Look around. Get Creative.

Take a quick inventory of your gardening supplies. Just a few simple tools that are needed to start: a spade or trowel, hoe or small gardening rake are essential. If a tool is missing, improvise using items from your home. No trowel? Use large cooking or serving spoons. Lacking a rake? Try a large cooking fork. Plastic milk cartons make excellent watering cans and soil scoops.

Younger children can use small recycled containers as soil scoops

Small cardboard containers or cans are useful seed starting pots. Your Sunday newspaper is perfect for creating paper pots. Older children will enjoy making these seed starting pots for the family.

Shop around

When making the weekly grocery trip, add gardening supplies to your list. Most groceries are currently stocking flower and vegetable seeds and potting soil. They’ll likely have a selection of vegetable and herb starts on hand, as well. Another great option for starts are your local plant retailers. Many are now offering online purchasing with curbside pickup.

Time to plant

Flowers and vegetables can be planted in the landscape or in containers. Soil for containers can be sourced from an existing landscape bed, or commercial potting soil may be used. If your supply of planting containers is scarce, check the recycling cart. Large plastic containers can be transformed into pots simply by punching drainage holes in the bottom. Giving children the freedom to plant seeds any way they wish is a satisfying activity. The seedlings can be separated later on as a new gardening activity. When the seeds sprout, the joy is obvious!

Gardening has many benefits that nourish the body, mind and soul. Spending time learning a new skill while enjoying nature is beneficial for all ages.

Caring for a garden can become a regular part of your child’s daily routine. Even the youngest child will quickly learn how to carefully water the growing plants.

Start each day off by checking on your growing garden and watch how quickly children will embrace their new sense of purpose and responsibility

Many online resources are available to support creative gardening activities with children.  Check this list for simple, practical ideas to get you started:

The joy of gardening and the skills children learn will benefit them all of their lives. Get outside and get growing!

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