Friend or Foe? Managing Garden Insects

Nature provides a free workforce that keeps pests under control. Beneficial insects include predators and parasitoids that prey on insect pests such as aphids, scale, mealybugs and caterpillars. Many chemical insecticides used to control pests will kill these garden friends as well. Learning to recognize beneficial insects in all their life stages helps you know when sprays should be avoided, and pest control left to these voracious predators.

Beneficial Insects – Here’s your workforce! 

Turn over a new leaf and identify some of the natural enemies worth conserving in your yard with this video from the University of Georgia. Learn the signs and symptoms of insect damage and get up close with the praying mantids, tiger beetles, syrphid flies, and parasitoid wasps hunting them. We can all pick out lady beetles, but do you know what their larvae look like? These black and orange alligator-like juveniles are aphid-eating machines, each one consuming upwards of 300 as it develops. 

In a nutshell 

  • Insects are the most diverse creatures in the world – you may have over 1,000 different ones in your yard this very moment! 
  • Even if it were possible, it certainly wouldn’t be desirable to eliminate all insects – they’re a critical link in the food chain, essential for most birds, amphibians, and garden “friends.” 
  • Predatory insects tend to be larger and quicker than plant-eating pests, with strong piercing or biting mouthparts.  
  • Predators are generally found singly or in small numbers (<10) on a plant, whereas pests group in much larger numbers. 
  • Many insects are useful partners, some are minor players, and fewer than 3% pose a potential problem; knowing which are which and how they live is the key to effectively managing them. 
  • Conserving insect predators by reducing or eliminating pesticides lets nature’s pest control do the work for you. 

Discover more beneficial insects, spiders, and other mini-creatures in your garden with this picture-heavy resource. We cover some plants that will draw them into the yard – check out how to mix up your blooms in Pest Prevention by Design.

There’s an app for that! 

Join us Friday, June 4, 2021, as Texas Nature Tracker Biologist Craig Hensley walks us through how easy it is to click a pic and get a suggestion with the iNaturalist app. Register here to receive the link.  

 

Kids Corner 

Share these 10 Interesting Insects with your budding entomologists. Watch a monarch emerge from a chrysalis, follow worker bees in their quest for pollen, and learn how a cricket chirps and grasshoppers sing. 

These Good Bug/Bad Bug Activity pages from AgriLife Extension help children learn about the benefits of insects and gain an appreciation for what insects do for the world in which we live. View the picture gallery here


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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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

It’s Backyard Composting Week!

Composting is natural recycling. Put your yard trimmings and kitchen scraps to work by creating nutrient rich homemade compost in your own back yard. This week the Environmental Services Department is focusing on backyard composting. Whether you are new to composting or have been doing it for years, we’ve got some great tips and resources to help you out.  

Benefits of Composting  

Learn how composting can add value to your home landscape. 

Composting During COVID-19 Fact Sheet 

Home composting is safe even in the current COVID-19 situation.  Find out more from the US Composting Council. 


Beginning Composter  

If you are thinking about composting but haven’t started yet, these resources are just for you. Need a quick start “how to compost” guide? In just a few minutes, National Geographic will teach you how to begin composting at home.

Click the photo above to watch the National Geographic Green Guide

Remember the essentials of composting by using this easy one-page guide from Texas A&M. 


Already Composting   

Learn how to enhance your composting skills with this informative webinar from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. 

Texas A&M’s “do it yourself” guide offers more information on backyard composting. 


Experienced Composter  

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance offers detailed home composting information in this 1.5-hour webinar. 

Compost Bins for Sale

To help you get started with backyard composting, The Woodlands Township is offering high quality collapsible compost bins for only $50. If purchased online, these bins retail for $150-$200. Call The Woodlands Township 281-210-3800, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to purchase.  Bin pick up is available by appointment.  Happy Composting! 

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

Recycling Dilemma #1008: Plastic bags and film – Friend or Foe?

Paper or plastic? Environmentally conscious shoppers know the answer: none of the above. They know reusable totes beat paper or plastic every time. Forgoing plastic bags at the store has a big impact. But what about all the other plastic packaging in our lives? Film that wraps itself around our favorite snacks, air pillows and bubble wrap mailed to us daily, and newspaper bags magically appearing on our driveway.   

While it is most important to reduce our consumption of single use plastics such as bags and film, it’s nearly impossible to avoid these stretchy, sneaky plastics. They’re everywhere. Yet, they can’t be recycled in our curbside carts. They can, however, be easily recycled at local stores.  

Are these plastics all foes to the planet, or could they be recycled and reimagined as an eco-friendly material?  

The plastic bags and film that you recycle at the store are sold to manufacturers. They take on a second life as bottles and containers, plastic lumber, picnic tables, lawn furniture, playground equipment, recycling bins and more. Trex combines recycled film with reclaimed woods to create a wood-alternative decking and railing used in local parks, pathways and backyard patios.  

See how companies like Trex are reimagining plastic film as an Eco-friendly alternative to traditional wood lumber. 

Recycle these plastic films if they are clean and dry only: 

  • Air Pillows and Bubble Wrap 
  • Case Wrap, Pallet/Stretch Wrap 
  • Newspaper and Magazine Sleeves 
  • Bags on Clothing or Electronics 
  • Dry Cleaning Bags 
  • Bread Bags, Produce Bags, Food Storage Bags (but NOT frozen food or salad bags) 
  • Grocery/Retail Bags & Other Film Packages 

Please only recycle film that is clean and dry. Moisture causes mildew on film and cannot be accepted at stores. For a printable guide, click here.

Plastic bags and film can be recycled at participating locations such as all grocery stores in The Woodlands, the Precinct 3 Recycling Facility and department stores such as Walmart and Target. Look for a receptacle near the entrance or ask staff at the service desk.  Please note, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some locations may not be accepting plastics at this time. If either is the case, please collect your bags/wraps at home until events change. Bags/wraps can be compressed and stored inside another plastic bag. 

Plastic bags and bagged recyclables are not accepted in our curbside recycling cart program because sorting equipment is not designed to process it without damaging equipment or creating hazardous work conditions for staff. Find more information in Recycling Dilemma #1004 – To bag or not to bag

Check out these recycling tips from previous blogs:    

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