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

Simple changes are enough to avoid West Nile virus

We’re all doing our best to social distance these days. If only mosquitoes self-quarantined, too. Fortunately, out of the 44 species of mosquitoes in The Woodlands, only one one threatens to pack more than an itch with its bite – West Nile virus. Here’s what you need to know about preventing annoying bites and potentially much worse.

AVOID PEAK TIMES 

You might feel like the main course at times, but the southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus) – the primary vector for West Nile virus – would rather feast on birds than people. That’s why they’re most active at dawn and dusk, when birds are roosting. However, if you’re active then, too, you’ve put yourself on the menu.   

Consider changing your routine to avoid harm’s way. Could you: 

  • Walk the dog before dinner instead of after dark? 
  • Go for a run after the sun has risen? 
  • Take a tee time between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.? 

Putting it in action: Marissa likes walking her dog in the morning when the air is as cooler. With the increase in WNV activity though, she’s started answering emails until 9 a.m. and then hits the trail. Sure, it’s a little sweatier but the peace of mind is worth it. 


FIGHT BACK  

If you do find yourself watering plants at dusk or enjoying a sunrise coffee on the patio, here are some tools to fight the bite. 

A Big Oscillating Fan 

A fan that blows air horizontally creates an air current too stiff for mosquitoes to handle – their flight speed maxes out at 2 miles per hour (a gentle breeze is about 10 mph). The wider the fan oscillates, the greater the area you can keep mosquito-free. Overhead fans are nice, but not as effective. Pro tip: add a second fan for more complete coverage and refreshment. 

Best application: when you’re outdoors in one spot. Think grilling, reading, or lounging, on a blanket with the kids. 

Putting it into action: neighbors Neil and Susan read how to Mosquito-Proof the Patio and liked the simple solution of an oscillating fan for their grilling competition. Susan had a fan in the garage that would fit the bill, just needed an extension cord. Neil decided to augment his overhead fan with a floor fan. Now let the competition begin!   


Cloaking Spray 

It can’t be said enough – wear repellent! Now is the time to make it a regular part of your outdoor routine. Think they all stink, are full of chemicals, or just plain don’t work? We explore these three common reasons and offer some myth-busters to help you find the repellent that works for you. For those with wee ones see this Parents Guide to Repellent.   

Best application: anytime you’re out and moving – especially during peak times. Think watering the veggies in the evening, walking the dog before a 7 a.m. Zoom meeting or picnicking in the park for dinner. 

Bonus points: wear a light-colored, long-sleeve shirt or long pants (or both!) to cut down on your exposure to bites – and reduce the amount of repellent you need. 

Putting it into action: Sebastian likes to work off the day’s stress at the park before dinner – but he’s noticed this is a peak time for mosquitoes. After some trial and error, he found that IR3535 works best for him. It isn’t greasy and has no odor. Now he makes sure to keep a bottle in his car so its right there when he needs it.  


The options are endless – what three things can you do today to reduce your chance of being bitten? Here are some ideas: 

  • Leave a can of repellent by my front door to use before walks 
  • Try a new repellent, one with a different active ingredient that might work better for me: try oil of lemon eucalyptus which has a citrusy scent or IR3535 that doesn’t small at all 
  • Wear a long-sleeve shirt when I garden 
  • Wear long pants when I go for a walk 
  • Move the floor fan from the spare room to the patio 
  • Water the garden with a sprinkler on a timer instead of standing there with the hose  
  • Change up the timing of my dog walk 

The best protection against West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites. To make sure you aren’t breeding your own mosquitoes, find a handy checklist and other good resources at www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/MosquitoInfo

To report a mosquito concern, contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800 

Mosquito Surveillance Summary

The Woodlands Township Mosquito Surveillance Program indicates disease activity is widespread with over half (56%) of zones and 9 of 10 Villages returning a mosquito sample positive for West Nile virus (WNV). The next two weeks continue the typical peak of WNV activity in the mosquito population – please be vigilant in taking personal protective measures. There has been one reported human case of WNV in north Texas, according to the state press release

Access the treatment map and schedule for South Montgomery County here and for Harris County here

Personal Protective Measures 

  1. Everyone is advised to wear repellent when outdoors when West Nile virus is known to be circulating. This is especially true if someone: 
  • Is outside in the early morning or evening hours when mosquitoes are most active 
  • Is over age 50 
  • Has underlying health conditions 

There are special considerations for children – see this Parents Guide to Repellent.  

  1. The mosquitoes that carry WNV are more active at dusk, dark, and the early dawn hours. Consider changing your routine if you are normally outdoors during these times, or create a barrier by covering up skin with long sleeves and pants. 
  1. Drain after rain to deny mosquitoes a place to lay their eggs and reproduce. Empty out water that accumulates in toys, tires, trash cans, buckets, clogged rain gutters and plant pots.  
  1. Treat water you do keep – in bird baths, rain barrels, and ponds – with non-toxic Mosquito Dunks®. Cheap, easy, and safe for pets and wildlife, you can find them at your local hardware store.  

More Tools to Mosquito-Proof Your Patio 

Here is information about why an oscillating fan works well and why we recommend garlic barrier, just two of the suggestions in the Mosquito-Proof Your Patio series. Use this handy guide to check your yard for other places mosquitoes might be lurking.  

To report a problem area or to request more information, contact the Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800.  

How to reduce your chances of West Nile Virus

Pools are open and grills are going, but are you cooking up a breeding ground for mosquitoes? Make your yard a mosquito-free zone: clear roof gutters of debris; drill holes in the bottom of yard debris containers ; clean pet water dishes and bird baths at least once a week; check and empty children’s toys; repair leaky outdoor faucets. 

Why is this important? 

The Woodlands Township Mosquito Surveillance & Education program recorded the first positive sample for West Nile virus in Panther Creek earlier this month. South Montgomery County Mosquito Abatement responded by spraying about a square-mile area. Take a minute to access this map and input your address to see which zone you live in. Residents of Creekside Park can check the Harris County Treatment Map.

This is a normal time of year to see the start of disease activity in local mosquitoes, and serves as a reminder to do a check of your property for items holding water and protect yourself when outdoors.  

The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) recommends people follow the three D’s to keep mosquitoes away:  

  • Drain: Empty out water containers at least once per week  
  • Dress: Wear long sleeves, long pants, and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing  
  • Defend: Properly apply an approved repellent such as DEET, picaridin, IR 3535 or oil of lemon-eucalyptus 

Joseph Conlon, AMCA Technical Advisor, says, “Encouraging your neighbors to also eliminate sources on their own property is critical to a community-wide control program. Mosquitoes require water to complete their life cycle. If their water source is eliminated, so are their offspring.”  

He further states, “we must be prepared to prevent their spread throughout our public health landscape – and this requires safe, effective, sustained mosquito control and awareness in the community.”  

So take a moment to check these simple ways to mosquito-proof your patio and make your next grilling session much more pleasant. Are your neighbors aware it’s just that easy? Share with them and increase the mosquito-free zone around your house even more. Collectively you can make a difference to Fight the Bite and reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases, like West Nile Virus. 

Increase your awareness with more mosquito-proofing tips or contact us at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.  

Behold, the power of invisibility

There are two ways to guarantee that mosquitoes won’t bite you. 

  1. Get a shield 
  2. Go incognito 

Let’s start with number 2 first. What if I told you that there is a magical coating that cloaks you from marauding hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes, no matter where you go? An invisibility cape that takes about 20 seconds to put on. Would you wear it?  Like standing upwind of a deer hides your location, wearing repellent has a similar effect when mosquitoes try to track down their next target, as explained here in How mosquitoes find you.  

The biggest problem with the efficacy of repellent is that people don’t wear it. If you are complaining about mosquitoes and not wearing repellent, you may as well criticize the government but not exercise your right to vote.

Here are the top 3 reasons people give for not wearing mosquito repellent:

It stinks

Certainly some repellents are more heavily scented than others (we’re looking at you DEET), but two have almost no smell at all. Look at the front of the bottle and go for one that contains picaridin or IR3535 (also sometimes listed by its chemical name, ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninate). If odor is your issue, these are the two you want.

It doesn’t work

There are people at universities that make a living studying the effectiveness of mosquito repellents. One thing they can agree on is that there are 4 effective active ingredients. 

Have you tried each of these? Not everyone will find the same one the most effective. Keep trying until one works for you; it might not be the same one that works for your friends.  Also, note the percentage of active ingredient. It tells you how much of every spray is actual cloaking juice. The more active ingredient, the longer it will repel before you need to reapply. If you’re out where ticks are also abundant, choose one that is effective for both and more highly concentrated. 

Active IngredientPicaridinIR3535Oil of Lemon EucalyptusDEET
% Ingredient15 to 20%15 to 20 %30 to 40%10 to 30%
Fights AgainstMosquitoesMosquitoes and TicksMosquitoesMosquitoes and Ticks
Age Restrictions> 2 months> 2 months> 3 years> 2 months
Derived FromSynthetic version of piperine, found in group of plants that produce black peppercornsStructurally similar to the natural substance β-alanine – a component of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)Derived from lemon eucalyptus tree branches and leaves or a synthetic version of the same (PMD)Synthetic repellent invented by the US Army for use by military personnel in insect-infested areas
Also Listed AsIcaridin, KBR 3023ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninatePara-methane-diol or PMDN, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide
Additional InformationNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact SheetNPIC Fact Sheet

I don’t want to bathe in chemicals

Does anyone want to expose themselves to harmful substances? Of course not. Rest assured that repellents are approved through the EPA and safe for use – read the label. If you use fabric softener, you are exposing yourself to more unknown chemicals formulations than you would be with repellent. Some people are sensitive to DEET and can develop a rash. If the concern is to find a more “natural” mosquito repellent, then check out oil of lemon eucalyptus. It’s derived from an actual lemon eucalyptus tree, but standardized so that the same amount of active ingredient is in each batch. See this previous post for guidelines on using repellents safely.  

Back to Number 1

When weighing all the options to reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites, and thus the risk of mosquito-borne disease, nothing beats an impenetrable shield. Anything that physically separates those piercing, sucking mouthparts from your skin provides the ultimate protection. This usually begins in the form of clothing with a tight weave that hangs loosely, away from the body. 

Bug nets around strollers are the best protection for babies before they’re old enough to wear repellent (see above). Bug jackets are available for adults too – and depending on your situation you might consider it! When treating post-Harvey floodwaters for mosquito larvae, Township staff used these to protect against the swarms of floodwater mosquitoes.  

Fighting off mosquitoes starts by protecting yourself but remember that you can also fight back by treating and removing common breeding places around the home. By protecting yourself with these two simple steps above, you can once again comfortably enjoy your time outside. Just remember that you are only invisible to the mosquitoes, the rest of the world can still see you! 

Questions, comments or to report a mosquito concern, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800