Integrated Pest Management in the Home Landscape

Are aphids camped out on your roses? Leaf miners munching away at your prized lemon tree? It’s enough to send you scrambling for the quickest, easiest solution. That’s understandable. Just please don’t look for that solution in the chemical aisle at the hardware store, compromising the health of your backyard “habitat” and your pocket book. Integrated pest management (IPM) offers a research-based alternative to chemicals that is economical, environmentally friendly, and it works!

Leaf miners munching on citrus leaves can be frustrating for many gardeners

Pests in the home landscape may be an insect or other arthropod, plant disease, weed or other organism that negatively affects plant health or becomes an annoyance to people or pets. IPM is an approach to managing those pests that respects the interconnection and inter-dependency of all organisms. IPM is used to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment.  

Using a combination of IPM methods, like biological, cultural, physical and chemical creates unfavorable conditions for pests. Biological control is the use of natural enemies, like a ladybug, to control pests, such as aphids. Cultural controls are practices that change the environment to remove the source of the problem, like adjusting irrigation levels, since too much water can increase root disease. Physical, or mechanical, controls trap or block pests from access to plants. Barriers or screens for birds and insects are great examples of a physical control.  The use of a chemical control, or a pesticide, is used only when needed and in combination with efforts of the above mentioned methods. If pesticides are needed, applying them so they minimize harm to people, beneficial insects and the environment is imperative.  Check out this fact sheet from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for more information on IPM.

Ladybugs provide a natural pest control by preying on aphids

With the average homeowner in need of problem-solving techniques to manage landscape pests, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department is presenting a FREE class on Integrated Pest Management in the Home Landscape.  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Specialist in IPM and board-certified entomologist, Wizzie Brown will offer practical research-based information to support implementing IPM in your own back yard.  Wizzie shares specific tools for use in the home landscape to strengthen plant health and reduce plant pests.  You’ll take home information that can immediately be put to use in your own yard or garden. 

Join Us
Saturday, January 18, 2020 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center
16135 Interstate 45 South
The Woodlands, TX 77385

Space is limited and registration required. Register here.

Questions? Comments? Contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800

Every Yard is an Ecosystem

How well is yours functioning?

Back in November, Andy, a resident of The Woodlands Township, told me he’d made a conscious effort to reduce water consumption in his yard some time ago. He was adding more and more natives to save on water usage and to create habitat at the same time. I wondered how successful he had been, so I inquired about the status of his burgeoning ecosystem. Here’s the update:

  1. Andy has only a small area of turf grass, specifically Zoysia. This is a grass species that doesn’t tolerate a lot of shade, but is otherwise a good choice for our weather. It tends to stay lower growing and needs far less water than the traditional St. Augustine.
  2. Although a few non-native plants and shrubs remain in Andy’s yard, lots of native vegetation has been added. To support pollinators, native flowering plants were added in bunches so bees and butterflies can easily find them, and host plants were mixed in so that caterpillars (future butterflies) have a food source. Andy’s observed a significant increase in pollinators and birds this last year.
  3. Andy converted much of his sprinkler system to drip irrigation, assuring his plants and grasses don’t get over watered. And he can easily avoid watering areas that consist solely of native plants – they don’t need it.
  4. Andy subscribes to Weekly Watering Recommendation emails from Woodlands Water (formerly Woodlands Joint Powers Agency – WJPA) to tell him just how much, if any, water his lawn needs each week. When he does water his lawn he does it in three-minute cycles with breaks in between. This allows the water to soak into the soil, avoiding run-off.
  5. Andy told me he avoids chemicals in his landscape, except on occasion when the nut-sedges try to take over his Zoysia. Otherwise, he’s careful to avoid anything that could be harmful to the pollinators and birds that visit. Twice-a-year applications of mulch to his beds help maintain the moisture level, reducing the need for watering while also deterring weeds. He noted that he sees few insect pests thanks to the many beneficial insects that now live in his gardens.
Andy’s template for native plants in his yard

Andy reduced his water consumption by 11,000 gallons a year by implementing these changes. And, he hasn’t stopped there. He’s been finding ways to avoid water waste inside the home, as well. By installing simple low-flow faucet aerators, fixing leaky toilets, reducing shower time and minimizing waste water in the kitchen, his two-person household  now uses less than 60 gallons-a-day, on average. Compare that to the national average of 180 gallons a day!

Considering trying some of Andy’s ideas and transforming your yard into an ecosystem? Here are some things to know:

Benefits of Native Grasses

Our native grasses provide great “texture” in a habitat for birds and butterflies. Providing grasses in multiple heights and native varieties creates resting places, nesting places, and shelter from predators.  More than a simple food source, grasses provide a safe space for wildlife.

The Zoysia grass in Andy’s yard receives controlled amounts of water by hand. Overwatering is avoided encouraging the roots to grow deeper in to the soil in search of nutrients. As a result, the grass is greener and more resistant to disease.Native grasses not only require less water but support healthier waterways, too.  As rainwater runs across your yard, the grass filters out debris on its way to the storm drain.  Keep in mind that any chemicals used in your yard will also wash into the storm drain. Use compost and mulch instead of fertilizers and weed killers to reduce chemical runoff.

Andy’s yard looks healthy year round, even in Winter!

Reducing Chemical Use

Pollinators and other beneficial insects don’t do well in landscapes where chemicals are present. Research shows that many of the commonly used chemicals persist longer than originally believed. More than 90% of pollen samples from bee hives in this study were contaminated with multiple pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified a number of effective alternatives to pesticides and herbicides. Check here for a list of resources.

Tools and Resources

The Woodlands Township has a variety of water saving and native plant resources to help you transform your yard, just like Andy. Now is the time to plant trees, before the warmth of spring and new blooms appear. The best time to integrate native plants into your yard is during the spring and fall.

Simple tools, like a rain gauge, are great for ensuring your grass is getting the right amount of water. Stop by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department’s office (8203 Millennium Forest Drive) to pick one up for FREE. We’re open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Don’t forget that The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department has a full schedule of FREE programs and classes this spring that can help you transform your yard into your very own flourishing ecosystem. From drip irrigation and invasive plant removal to pest management and organic vegetable gardening, if you are inspired by Andy’s story to change your yard, let us help!

Native plants in Andy’s yard offer food, shelter and nesting materials for a variety of wildlife

Thanks to Andy for letting me tell his story! If you would like to comment, or wish to contact Teri MacArthur, the Water Conservation Specialist for the Township, with your story, email to: tmacarthur@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3928.


Register here for the upcoming, FREE workshop on Drip Irrigation

Is your sprinkler off for the winter?

Every day more and more residents of The Woodlands Township are turning off their sprinkler systems for the winter. Letting grass “rest” for the cooler months is a trend that continues to spread. From soil scientists to turf grass specialists, all agree a “no watering” policy helps cultivate deeper roots and stronger grass while the grass goes dormant.

So, what does that mean for your yard? First off, don’t fertilize during the winter; it makes your grass lazy. By adding nutrients, your grass spends its energy staying green, rather than turning brown and concentrating on improving the root system. Secondly, don’t water your grass. Just like fertilizing, roots become lazy when they find moisture easily in shallow soil. By not watering, they reach deeper into the soil where microbes are working to recycle nutrients though decomposition and moisture is available.

There are many ways to have a beautiful yard and save money and resources. Be sure to check out Take Care of Texas, for more information

When you turn  off your sprinkler system, you will find you will not  need to water your gardens and flower beds at all, or not as often as you think. Use a manual hose-end sprinkler if your landscaped bed needs some moisture.

One resident, Andy, reported saving 11,000 gallons of water in one year by turning off the sprinkler system and using drip irrigation in its place.

Last year, nearly 700 residents took the pledge to turn off their sprinkler systems from mid-October to mid-April. Many of these water-conscious residents have reported their lawns are better than ever! Perhaps it’s time for YOU to join them. If you are a resident of The Woodlands, your pledge also becomes a point for your Village Association in the competition for scholarship funds. The benefits of turning off your system are plentiful: water savings, healthier yards, and the potential for your Village to present scholarships to college-bound students.

When you’re ready to pledge, the form is available ONLINE. And here’s a bonus: Once you pledge, pick up a free hose timer at the Environmental Services Office, located at 8203 Millennium Forest Drive, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Need more information? Contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800.

Home Pollinator Gardening Class

If you weren’t able to join us for a Pollinator Garden Class at Woodlands Landscaping Solutions last month, don’t worry! Lauren Simpson, area pollinator gardening expert, is coming back this month and is offering a deep dive into how she transformed her own yard into a beautiful space for pollinators. 

Lauren is passionate about educating on pollinators, their conservation and the urban wildscapes that support them. Her own pollinator garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a Monarch Waystation, and a Certified Butterfly Garden. Lauren has observed 48 species of butterfly, 20 species of syrphid fly and around 30 species each of bees and wasps within her home garden. 

Through the success of her garden, Lauren helped create the St. Julian’s Crossing – wildlife habitat, and has received much recognition around the Houston area for her efforts in pollinator conservation. For more information and to see Lauren’s home garden, check out the St. Julian’s Crossing Facebook page.

Register online here. Registration is required. For a complete list of upcoming Environmental Services programs, check out our calendar of events here.

Volunteers help keep the vision green

George Mitchell established The Woodlands as a community in which we live, work, play and learn in harmony with nature. More than 40 years later his vision remains alive and well. Numerous efforts are made each year to continue this balance of community and nature, with much of the work accomplished by volunteers. In 2018, volunteers logged nearly 5,000 hours on environmental initiatives through The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. This year volunteers are contributing to the community through two newly established initiatives, Milkweed for Monarchs and the Invasives Task Force.

Milkweed for Monarchs kicked off this summer when Environmental Services partnered with Nature’s Way Resources to grow native milkweed which will enhance pollinator habitats throughout The Woodlands. Native milkweed is critical to the survival of monarch butterflies; it’s the only plant monarchs will lay their eggs on and the sole source of food for monarch caterpillars. Unfortunately, it is in short supply due to habitat loss and growing more from seed is no easy task. But, the Township, Nature’s Way Resources and volunteers from the Heartwood Chapter Texas Master Naturalists have accepted the challenge and have spent more than 300 hours propagating over 13,000 seedlings. These seedlings will be planted this fall in rights-of-way, community gardens, parks and other projects. Additionally, a portion of the volunteer-grown milkweed is available to residents creating their own pollinator gardens. 

If you’re interested in receiving milkweed for your home, church, school, or business garden, pick up a voucher at The Woodlands Landscaping Solutions event on Saturday, September 28 from 9 a.m. to noon. You can also get them at the Environmental Services Department offices at 8203 Millennium Forest Drive, The Woodlands, TX 77381 during business hours as of Monday, September 30, 2019. Redeem your voucher for 6 pots of native milkweed at either Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware or Nature’s Way Resources by November 16, 2019. 


While the effort is underway to reestablish milkweed around The Woodlands, another group of volunteers is taking action to remove plants along pathways and open spaces. Non-native, invasive plants to be exact. Invasives, like air potato vine, Japanese climbing fern and Chinese Privet, crowd out native vegetation, degrade soil health and push out critical food sources that wildlife depend on.

Volunteers in the fight against invasives are a dedicated group who received training provided by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. Volunteers work alongside Heartwood Master Naturalists on scheduled days at specific sites throughout town. The most recent training for invasives removal took place in August with forty-two Township residents and master naturalists making the commitment to serve on the ES Invasives Task Force.  Dr. Hans Landel, Invaders Program Director for the UT-Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, provided instruction to the workshop participants. The next training is scheduled for February 2020. 

The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department would like to thank all volunteers for efforts to maintain our environment and for keeping George Mitchell’s vision alive. 

If you are interested in joining the Invasives Task Force, starting a pollinator garden or participating in upcoming volunteer opportunities, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov