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

Plant A Piece Of The Universe In Your Garden

Sounds impossible? How can you plant something so infinite and so vast? Can you pluck a star out of the sky to fertilize, water and gaze upon?  Well, no. But what about a flower with a celestial name that’s as radiant as the sun: the yellow cosmos. An annual herb native to Mexico and northern regions of South America, this sunny yellow flower was favored by Spanish priests to adorn their mission gardens.

Cosmos sulphureous
The plant’s genus name (cosmos) derives from the Greek word ‘kosmos’ meaning beauty, while the species name (sulphureous) refers to the luminous yellow to orange flower.

Care and adaptability

Yellow cosmos prefer hot, dry weather and poor soil conditions. It is a perfectly adapted plant for southeast Texas gardens. Plant cosmos seeds when the soil is warm or around 65 degrees. For our region that can be as early as March and as late as September and October. Choose a location which receives 8-10 hours of full sun; too much shade reduces flower production. Cover seeds lightly with soil so they receive enough sunlight for germination. Keep the soil moist for 5-10 days after seeding. Look for sprouts in the next 7 to 21 days and soon after you will have a garden full of rays of sunshine beaming from your yellow cosmos.

Cosmos thrives on neglect!  If watered too frequently and fertilized too heavily, the plant will grow too tall, flop over and produce fewer flowers. Easy to care for cosmos can grow from 1.5 to 6 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide, forming a long taproot to reach water deep within the soil.  When other plants are struggling in 100-degree temperatures, cosmos thrive.  

Prolong the late summer to fall bloom time by removing dying flowers (deadhead) frequently. When seeds form, the plant may be cut back to encourage re-blooming. In late fall, stop deadheading to allow the plants to form seeds which attract small birds, particularly gold finches. Resistant to most pests and diseases, yellow cosmos is a valuable wildlife plant in the garden. 

The single yellow flowers are extremely attractive to butterflies, bees and beneficial insects such as lacewings and parasitic wasps which help control garden pests. Hummingbirds are attracted to the cosmos nectar while many small backyard birds love the seeds. Cosmos is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the flowering annuals most attractive to butterflies.

Beyond the garden

It is also easy to grow cosmos from seed in containers. Just remember to avoid over-fertilization and over-watering. If your garden is pesticide free, cosmos is edible and can be used as an attractive addition to salads.

Add a pop of color to your flower arrangement with some cut cosmos. When correctly harvested, cosmos arrangements can last 7-10 days. Select flowers that have just opened, cutting them early in the morning when the highest water content is contained in the stems. Immediately place the cut flowers in a container of lukewarm water and strip foliage from the stems to prevent decay. Bouquets of cosmos provide a light, airy, cheerful appearance. 

When the cosmos plant was introduced in Japan, it became very popular due to its light, airy appearance. Highly revered in Japan as the cultural meaning of the plant refers to cleanliness and beauty, many festivals celebrating the flower are held each fall.

Growing cosmos in southeast Texas is one of the easiest possible gardening projects. Fall planting time is now. Cosmos seeds are available at local home stores and from online retailers. Grow it and enjoy the other worldly results!


For more information on gardening, or to learn about the upcoming Pollinator Gardening class on October 26, 2019 visit http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

The countdown to fall is on

School is back in session. Everything pumpkin spice flavored will be here soon. Falling leaves, sweater weather and romanesco are just around the corner. Caught off guard by that last one? If you’re not counting down the days to having fresh romanesco on your plate, then you are missing out on one impressive fall vegetable.

With a vivid chartreuse color and an unusual shape made of multiple cones arranged in a hypnotic spiral pattern, romanesco is one of the most underrated vegetables you will find this fall.

What’s in a name?

A member of the brassica family, romanesco is related to both broccoli and cauliflower.  Sometimes  labeled “romanesco cauliflower” or “romanesco broccoli”, it’s neither cauliflower nor broccoli. Romanesco is its own unique and individual vegetable. Just the visual details alone allude to how uncommon it is.

The stunning appearance of romanesco is created by a fractal,  or “a never-ending pattern.” Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.” (Fractal Foundation). You might be having déjà vu from your high school math class, but if you didn’t memorize the details of the Fibonacci sequence, just take a look at the intricate spiny spiraled protrusions that make up the edible flowering head of the plant and admire its complicated beauty, without sweating a pop quiz in geometry.

With the support of high resolution photography, romanesco’s fractal pattern is mesmerizing.

Eat your greens

While romanesco is more commonly found in Italian cuisine, there are many ways to serve this crunchy crudité as part of dinner this week. Chock full of vitamins C and K and high in fiber, this cousin to cabbage, kale and radishes is very versatile in the kitchen.   

With a nutty and slightly spicy flavor and a texture similar to cauliflower, romanesco adds a nice kick of flavor to a simple salad or is a great addition on your next fruit and veggie tray.  When lightly steamed or roasted, enhance the flavor with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Cooked romanesco goes great in a bowl of pasta or as a nice addition to a sandwich. Try it on your next Italian sub!

The season for romanesco comes and goes quickly.  If you find it available at the farmer’s market or in a grocery store, grab it before it’s gone. Look for it late in the summer or during a second harvest in early winter if planning to purchase this exotic vegetable.  Don’t want to rely on retail for this tasty treat?  Add romanesco to your fall garden and create an endless supply to enjoy during the cooler months.

Try this delicious salad recipe, using grilled romanesco.

Get your hands dirty

Ready to add some romanesco to your fall garden?  Join The Woodlands Township’s Environmental Services Department on Saturday, August 24, 2019, for a  free organic fall vegetable gardening class.  Learn how simple planting and caring for fall vegetables is from our distinguished presenters, Bill Adams and Tom LeRoy. Bill and Tom will share their many years of experience as Texas A&M horticulture agents and their personal expert gardening skills and knowledge.

This FREE organic fall vegetable gardening class will be held at The Woodlands Emergency Training Center from 9 a.m. to noon. Space is limited, so register today.

Romanesco’s dark blue-green leaves appear very similar to broccoli and cauliflower plants. A cool season plant, romanesco is perfect for fall gardening in southeast Texas.

For more information on upcoming events, visit thewoodlandstownship-tx/environment or contact the Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800.

Giant Coneflower: Taking your garden to new heights

Rudbeckia maxima

Piercing the sky like a lighthouse in a sea of plants and shrubs, the giant coneflower attracts eleven different species of butterflies, native bees, and beautiful birds to your garden.  Guided by a beacon of yellow petals, hover flies and minute pirate bugs are drawn to this plant, as many pollinators are, and will feed on common garden pests such as thrips, aphids and whiteflies.   The giant coneflower is a plant that stands tall in any garden and is worth searching for at local fall plant sales, native plant nurseries, or online plant retailers. 

Where to find it

The giant coneflower is native to a small geographic area incorporating parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.  This herbaceous perennial can be found growing naturally in open woodlands, prairies, pastures and along roadsides and railroad tracks.

In 1816, near the Red River, in then Oklahoma Territory, the giant coneflower was first identified by the English botanist and plant explorer Thomas Nuttall.

Easy care and adaptable

The best part: giant coneflower is low maintenance. It thrives in clay or sandy soil and tolerates dry to medium soil moisture, drought conditions, heat and even short term flooding.  Sounds like Houston weather to me!  This golden giant has no serious disease problems and is resistant to pests, an impressive combo any gardener will love.

Begin planting in early fall to allow the basal clump time to establish itself during the cooler months, and allow adequate spacing to accommodate the 3-4 foot spread of the mature plants.   Giant coneflower thrives in full sun but tolerates part shade.   Throughout the first year, only the beautiful blue green leaves will be visible.  In warm climates like ours the leaves are evergreen, adding to the plant’s winter interest.  At maturity, these attractive cabbage-shaped leaves may be 15” to 18” in length, earning this plant the common name: cabbage coneflower.

The second season is when this plant really becomes a showstopper.   Tall stalks reach 6-8 feet in height and 3 inch wide flowers with drooping yellow petals and tall, dark brown cones make a strong statement in the garden. Use the stunning flowers in fresh or dried floral arrangements but be sure to leave some on the stalk as food for gold finches, chickadees and other backyard birds. 

The J.C. Raulston Arboretum located at North Carolina State University has provided an online collection of photographs of this beautiful plant.   Check out these gorgeous pictures HERE and get ready for some fall garden inspiration.

Giant coneflower is a uniquely beautiful and towering plant that will enhance not only the visual appeal of your garden, but will  reward you with visits from  a variety of pollinators this fall.