5 Design Elements Your Yard Might Be Missing

Welcome! Come on a design journey with us to turn your landscape into an inviting sanctuary that fits your goals and doesn’t take all weekend to maintain. This is Part One of a series to make your space your favorite place in The Woodlands. Let’s get started. 

Great design pairs what you want to do in your yard within the constraints of the space you are dealing with, without it feeling forced or out of place. Here are 5 design elements that help everything flow and really deliver the wow-factor.

Purposeful Paths

Are you looking to infuse some character or intriguing elements into your landscape? Would you like it to seem larger? How about improving flow and tying separate spaces together? Consider installing a path.  

Purposeful paths can provide an important foundation for your landscape design. As you consider their potential role, ask yourself: What areas get the most use? Could underused areas be transformed into a destination, boosting their appeal? And note where you have to maintain access to easements, that big green box in the back corner or other rights of way for utilities – these routes could be incorporated into pathways. Think about how people could wander through the space. Meandering paths that reveal new views help make use of the full depth and width of your lot – making it seem larger.

Installing paths is fun, but they can also be disruptive. Make life easier by tackling them before you start building and planting your beds. Bonus points for paths that allow water to percolate through. This helps to manage rainfall and provides tree roots with better access to moisture. Think decomposed granite, pavers, woodchips, or an artful mosaic.  

Rooms with a View 

Which window do you look out from the most? Is it an inspiring sight? For many, it’s the kitchen sink or a favorite reading chair. How could you enhance the experience by bringing the outside in? Note any sightlines that need screening, and opportunities to borrow a view from farther vistas. A beautiful glazed pot, stunning statue, or dramatic pop of color could make doing the dishes that much more pleasant.

Places to Plant the Rain 

Rainwater is a mineral-rich drench for the landscape. Harness this abundant, free resource by directing downspouts to plantings that rely on a good soaking to set deep roots and lush growth.  Our area is gifted with 50 inches of rain a year, but often we are too eager to direct it off our properties, allowing soils to quickly dry out. During the next cloudburst, get out in the yard with muckboots and an umbrella for a practical education about stormwater on your site. Do you have an area that stays wet for more than 3 days? This could become a rain garden. Where is water eroding the soil? This is an opportunity to slow down the flow with some well-placed rocks or a slight change in slope. Don’t let this valuable resource run away; encourage it to spread out and sink into the ground.  

Better yet, save some water for the sunny days ahead with a rain barrel.  Easy to install, Ivy rain barrels qualify for a rebate from Woodlands Water and proceeds support The Woodlands GREEN scholarship program. Order online and pick up at Environmental Services. Stay tuned for an entire post devoted to harvesting and managing rainwater; until then get inspired by Brad Lancaster.  

Grow Up! 

There are so many creative ways to use vertical space in the garden – vines on trellises immediately come to mind. But a quick search will reveal all kinds of possibilities: wall planters, obelisks, re-purposed pallets, yard art, plant towers, plant pockets, nested gutters, the list goes on. Growing up and even over has the benefit of creating a sense of enclosure around outdoor spaces that leads to a big “reveal” on the other side. This interplay of intimacy and openness adds a little drama to a space instead of seeing everything at once.

Solar Reality Check 

Finally, it’s time to take an honest look at the sun in your yard. We’ve all been there – brought home a beautiful, sun-loving plant at the nursery and watched it struggle in the place we want to put it. Or lamented ferns frying in some unexpected late-afternoon sun.  

Note the way the light moves over the landscape throughout the season as trees leaf out and the sun’s angle changes. Pictures or video can be great references for when the shadows are long but the memory is short. The plants you have may already give some indication of sun and shade. Having problems growing grass under the trees? Our St. Augustine struggles if given less than 6 hours of direct sun, leading to bare patches which invite weeds. Save yourself the heartache and use a shade-loving ground cover for lush, low-maintenance alternative. 

Other sun-lovers are vegetable gardens and most fruit trees. If one of these is a priority, then you may find yourself planting a lemon in the front yard, or putting veggies in pots on the deck to get these plants the light they need. Being realistic about the amount of sun each area gets will help steer you towards a successful plant pallet for that space. 

You still have plenty of options for shadier spots. Veggie gardeners will want to focus on crops grown for their roots and shoots over fruits, which take much more time in the sun to develop and ripen. If flowers and shrubs are more to your liking, there are plenty o great options that thrive under the tall canopy of the Pineywoods. Check out the table below for some surefire options.

Perhaps you’d like to bring more shade into your landscape. Trees and umbrellas are standard go-to’s for creating a hot summer oasis. But have you considered some well-placed vines and trellises (grow up!), pergolas with slatted roofs or sling canopies? Shade sails can also be hung as the heat ramps up and are easily adjusted as sun angles change throughout the season. Retractable awnings are a larger investment but they’ll shelter you from the rain, too.  

Check out Alexandra from The Middle-Sized Garden as she tackles a difficult shady corner of her yard. Even though she gardens in the UK, the way she comes to her decision is a wonderful exercise in assessing design options.  

Design is an iterative, incremental process. Start with what you want, what you have, and identify your major constraints. Often it is through design challenges that we find our most creative successes. 

Up next… 

Stay tuned for Part Two where we get into some of the “right ways” to garden in the context of where we live – the humid south – to help you make the best choices for a successful, easy oasis.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Fantastic Fungi! Feed, Fix, Fight

While breaking down old tree limbs is their most visible job, fungi do far more than just decompose. They form vital associations with plants, supporting most of the green world as we know it. They’re employed at toxic waste sites to sequester heavy metals. And they even engage in biowarfare, helping to protect crops and turf. Fungi are antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. And many are tasty and nutritious, to boot! Here’s a taste of their superpowers: 

Feeding trees and plants

Only 10% of the estimated 5 million species of fungi produce mushrooms, but many more are important nutrient cyclers, turning detritus into soluble forms for living plants. Move a stick or log, and you’ll notice fuzzy, cobwebby threads stretching everywhere – that’s mycelium, a network of fungal threads that are the foundation of the food web, supporting other soil microbes like bacteria and invertebrates. The kin (called mycorrhizae) form a synergistic relationship with 95% or more of all plant species. The mycorrhizae gather nutrients from far beyond the grasp of plant roots; in turn, plants release surplus sugars from photosynthesis to support the fungal symbiotes. 

Remediating pollutants

Mycoremediation – using fungi to help break down environmental contaminants – is particularly effective at removing heavy metals such as copper, lead, mercury, arsenic, and nickel from contaminated soils. Mutagens and carcinogens, these metals contaminate food and water supplies, threatening the health of animals and humans, alike. Certain fungi also play a role in degrading pesticides, pharmaceutical wastes and even petroleum products.

Fighting pests

A fungus as a pesticide? Yes! First discovered in a cinnamon tree in Honduras, Muscodor albus produces a mixture of volatile organic compounds that kill a wide range of fungal and bacterial pathogens. Early tests indicate it could replace methyl bromide fumigation as a means to control soil-borne plant diseases. You can’t see it but they’re fighting the good fight deep below your feet. That’s why it’s not recommended to treat those stray mushrooms that pop up in your lawn – applying fungicides to the lawn kills these beneficial fungi too.  Consider that a single cubic inch of soil can have more than 8 miles of mycelium, a network that creates microenvironments for beneficial bacteria, flagellates and protists. Avoiding lawn chemicals protects the important balance of predators and pests that healthy soil provides.  


Did you miss the Walk in the Woods online presentation in February?  Watch the recording and join mycophile and Texas Master Naturalist Teri MacArthur as she shares The Weird and Wonderful World of Mushrooms.


Discover More! 

Paul Stamets Fantastic Fungi “Mush Room” of resources. Listen to his Ted Talk on the 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World

iNaturalist Mushrooms of Texas https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/mushrooms-of-texas 

North American Mycological Association has an extensive list of recommended books https://namyco.org/refbooks.php. While you are there check out their stunning photography contests.


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

Can your freeze damaged plants recover?

Were your plants damaged by the winter storm? If you’re unsure where to begin in the recovery process, we can help. Before you dig, cut, prune or chop let these local experts guide you through the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri.  


Many resources have become available in the last week. We’ve included a short list of archived videos and articles below.  If you are looking for a live seminar on plant recovery, register today for the March 10 presentation by Bob Dailey, Texas Master Gardener. 


Bookmark these timeless articles and refer back for quick tips on plant care over the next few months.  

Houston Botanic Garden  

A quick read to get you started on your plant recovery process. The biggest take away: Patience is key. 

Urban Harvest  

This article starts with step one: triage.  Learn what to look for, identify what needs to be removed and what indicates your plant has survived.  Read about specific approaches to your citrus, vegetables and fruits. 

9 Rules for Horticultural Freeze Recovery 

Notable author and host of Houston’s GardenLine radio, Randy shares his expertise on how to approach a post-freeze cleanup.  The advice doesn’t stop with these 9 rules. Listen to archived radio shows for more tips or call in for a Q&A during a live broadcast. 


Backyard Winter Storm Recovery Webinar with Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab  

A roundtable of lawn and garden experts answer the tough questions including: what does turf grass need after a freeze, how to be patient with your palms and how much to prune your shrubs.  

Will They Survive the Winter Blast?  

Aggie Horticulture dives into what impact Winter Storm Uri had across the state of Texas. This video reviews all the factors that made this storm especially damaging including the freezing temperatures, the duration of low temperatures, the wind and precipitation. Speakers walk around the garden and review best care practices for a variety of plants you may find in your landscape. 


Now that you know how to care for your freeze-damaged plants, have you given any thought on how to be better prepared for the next winter storm?   

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension has a detailed article on Protecting Landscapes and Horticultural Crops from Frosts and Freezes.   Weather is unpredictable, but by educating ourselves we can be better prepared for future freezes.  

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

Backyard Composting Week

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, food waste accounts for nearly 24% of all landfill material, consuming space and producing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s up to 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Much of this waste could be easily composted instead. From leftovers to kitchen scraps, composting is a great way to manage food waste, quickly turning it from problem to resource, right in your own backyard.   

This week The Woodlands Township’s Environmental Services Department brings you resources for starting or enhancing your backyard composting. Wherever you are on your home composting journey, these handy resources will help. 

Beginner Composter 

Composting 101

Learn to compost in only 15 minutes. This video walks you through the process, from beginning to end.  Easy-to-follow instructions and great visuals will have you composting in no time.   

Backyard Composting Guide

Keep this comprehensive, step-by-step brochure handy as you design, build and manage your compost pile. You’ll find yourself enjoying nutrient rich compost in as little as three months.

Benefits of Using Compost and Mulch

On the fence about starting your own composting bin? This compelling resource, which covers the multitude of ecological, economic and sustainability benefits of composting, will leave you convinced and inspired.

Experienced Composter 

Soil Food Web Compost and Compost Tea 

Have you been composting for a while? Looking to take it to the next level? Dr. Elaine Ingham’s video explores microbes, compost tea, humic acid, and new temperature and humidity reading techniques.  

Composting with Worms:  Seven Easy Steps

Vermicomposting is a great option for composting at home, especially if you’re lacking yard space. Use worms to breakdown your food waste and yard trimmings – explained in seven easy steps. 

Compost Bins for Sale

The Woodlands Township offers high quality compost bins that set up in seconds for only $50; retail price is $150-$200. Call The Woodlands Township at 281-210-3800 to purchase and arrange for pickup. 

Looking for more composting resources?  Check out the November resources we pulled together on Backyard Composting here.

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

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