The Butterfly Effect – How can you help the migratory monarch?  

National “Start Seeing Monarchs Day” is celebrated every year on the first Saturday in May.  In 2023, May 6th is a day to educate and celebrate the Monarch Butterfly.  

The Importance  

The Monarch was adopted as the Texas state insect in 1995, for its beauty and spectacular migration patterns. Texas is an important state for Monarch migration because of its location on this arduous journey. Texas is situated between the Monarch’s breeding grounds in the northern US and Mexico, where they spend the winter.  

Here in Texas, we see monarchs on the flyway in the fall and the spring, but they are not the same individuals. To put it into perspective, a flight from Canada to Mexico would take people 8 hours; for the monarch that flight takes 2 months to complete. Monarchs have managed for millennia to navigate their way across the continent, drawn by an unseen force to migrate en masse. Nearly 500,00 monarch butterflies will undertake this journey every year – the longest repeat migration in the insect world.  

The Issue  

Unfortunately, since the 1990s the population of Monarchs has declined by more than 85%, landing them on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species. The number one reason – habitat loss. Breeding grounds throughout the US and Canada have been lost to urbanization, shrinking their habitat by 20% to 70% in the past decade. The situation is just as dire in their overwintering grounds, where deforestation to make space for urban development has destroyed vital areas of shelter. Throughout the monarch’s extensive range, pesticides and herbicides have killed butterflies and their host plant, milkweed.  

The Solution 

Protecting the monarch isn’t just about conserving a species, it’s about conserving a unique migratory phenomenon and ourselves. The term “butterfly effect” refers to the notion that small actions can have larger effects.  Even the smallest changes to your yard can help preserve this threatened species. Here are some ways that YOU can help save the monarch.  

1. Plant native milkweed 

Population decline for the monarch is inextricably linked to a decline in milkweed, the monarch’s only host plant. If monarchs don’t have milkweed they can’t complete their life cycle, forcing populations to plummet. Fortunately, there are over 100 species of milkweed in the US and over 30 species native to Texas. Some species native to our area include Antelope Horns (Asclepias asperula), Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Planting native milkweed is the best option to help the monarch as it is adapted to our climate. By going dormant in the winter, it preserves the natural cycle for monarch migration.  

One species to avoid is tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is native to Mexico. While this species has risen in popularity to fill demand for milkweed, the downfall of tropical milkweed is that due to its hardiness, it doesn’t readily die back in the winter. This can confuse monarchs, signaling they have reached their destination and don’t continue to migrate to Mexico for winter. This becomes problematic if we have a hard freeze because the monarch and its caterpillars won’t survive the winter.  

The other issue with tropical milkweed is Ophryocytis elektroscirrha (OE) which is a parasite whose primary host is the monarch. If tropical milkweed is not cut back in the winter, monarchs infected with OE can leave behind spores of the parasite on the plant. Then concentrations of OE can build, infecting monarchs that subsequently visit the plant. For these reasons, the Xerces Society has named tropical milkweed a “no-grow” species. The best way to support monarchs is to find native milkweed species to plant in your landscape.  

2. Plant native plants 

While monarchs will need milkweed to lay their eggs on, during migration, they require an abundance of nectar plants to provide energy for adults as they continue their journey. While picking up your milkweed, be sure to add native nectar plants into your landscape design too. Loss of nectar-rich habitats and widespread insecticide use are also contributing to the decline of the monarch. Adult monarchs depend on diverse nectar sources for food and energy through all seasons of the year. Be sure to have a range of bloom times to ensure native nectar plants a providing a 3-season buffet for visiting monarchs. 

3. Avoid using pesticides  

Broad-spectrum insecticides and herbicides harm not only target pests, but pollinators and other beneficial insects as well. Systemic pesticides are particularly toxic as plants absorb these chemicals, toxifying their leaves and nectar which will poison visiting pollinators. If using pesticides is unavoidable for your landscape, choose the least toxic option that targets the specific problem pest and follow the label to put out no more than the recommended rate. To avoid unnecessary exposure to pollinators, avoid spraying plants in bloom, apply pesticides in the evening or at night when pollinators are not actively foraging, and don’t apply on windy days to minimize drift.

There are many alternatives to chemical pest control that can be just as effective in your landscape without harming these beneficial pollinators. Many insects are the “good guys” providing biological pest control for free! Find out how to encourage them in your own yard to reap the rewards of lady beetles, lacewings, spiders and more. Even the U.S Capital Grounds are maintained through the addition of beneficial insects to fight pests like scale. Learn to recognize these garden heroes and help prevent pests by designing your garden to work with nature.  

By planting native milkweeds, a variety of nectar plants, and avoiding the use of pesticides, you can join the growing movement of those making small changes to protect migrating monarchs and the local ecosystem. Like Doug Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope has stated: “Chances are you never thought of your garden–indeed, all of your property–as a wildlife preserve that presents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are playing.” 

For great resources on how to create a pollinator garden, visit the Plant for Pollinators page or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is an annual celebration on April 22nd to promote environmental awareness. The first Earth Day was in 1970 which started the modern environmental movement. A long-lasting tradition of The Woodlands Township is the annual celebration of Earth Day. This celebration includes the GreenUp litter cleanup event back this past March. This year 611 community volunteers removed over 1,100 lbs of litter!  

Coming up on Saturday, May 13th, 2023, from 10 am – 1 pm is the Woodlands Township Earth Day Festival at Northshore Park. Bring your family and friends to celebrate mother earth with fun and educational activities. Enjoy live entertainment, face painting, games, educational displays, and meet organizations that celebrate earth day every day.  

Whether you’re outside participating in the Iron Man this weekend or prefer to stay home, The Woodlands Township has many programs and resources to help you celebrate Earth Day. Here are 8 ways to celebrate Earth Day year-round!

1. Conserve Water

Conserving water saves energy, and using less water keeps more in our ecosystems. There are many ways to conserve water from taking shorter showers, turning off the water while you brush your teeth or installing drip irrigation in your garden. Drip irrigation delivers water to your plants right where they need it most- the roots. Learn how to install a simple system yourself at this free workshop Saturday, May 20 from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Register Today to save your place. 

2. Plant a Tree

Planting trees has many environmental benefits and can improve the quality of life of the community. Every February, the Woodlands Township hosts an annual community tree planting event. Learn more about the Community Tree Planting Event on the Woodlands Township website. The Woodlands Township hosts an Annual Arbor Day Tree Giveaway to encourage residents to help reforest our community. If you don’t want to wait until Arbor Day, read the Environmental Services Department Native Trees article to learn the best way to plant a tree and ensure it thrives. 

3. Recycle  

Reducing waste is one of the many things you can do to help lessen your carbon footprint. Read the Recycle-More-Guide to see what and where to recycle beyond the curbside cart! Or save your hard-to-recycle items for the 3R Drive Thru. This special collections day in November gives you the opportunity to drop off items you’re not able to put in your curbside cart.  

4. Compost

One way to reduce the amount of waste in landfills is to compost. The Woodlands Township offers free backyard composting classes every year in the spring and fall. If you are interested in trying this at home, you can buy a compost bin from Environmental Services anytime. Learn more about The Woodlands Township Composting Resources here. Last October, The Woodlands Township had its first Pumpkin Smash Event. It was a Smashing success and a great way for residents to dispose of their pumpkins in an environmentally friendly manner. Find out details on the Woodlands Township Calendar. 

5. Support Wildlife

You can make a difference starting in your own backyard. The Woodlands Township has many programs, workshops, seminars, and volunteer opportunities available to help support your local wildlife. National Pollinator Week is right around the corner, with spring in full bloom there are many ways you can support our native pollinators. Planting native milkweed or nectar-producing plants is a great way to support habitats and encourage pollinators to stop by!  Additional resources are in the Environmental Services Blog. Invasive species take over the environment and cause harm to the stability of ecosystems. Join the Woodlands Township Invasive Species Task Force to help.  

6. Pick Up Litter

Keep the community clean by picking up litter in our public spaces. The Woodlands Township has trash grabbers, gloves, and trash bags available to be picked up by appointment. Also, the Earth Day GreenUp, a community clean-up event takes place every March, and again in September. Both the GreenUp and GreenUp Fall Sweep information can be found on the Woodlands Township website If you’re interested in keeping the Woodlands free of litter Adopt-A-Path is a year-round program that you can apply to join. Additional information can be found on the Adopt-A-Path webpage. 

7. Immerse Yourself in Nature

Going outdoors and educating yourself about the wonders of nature is a wonderful way to appreciate the earth. The Woodlands Township has two upcoming events that are great opportunities to learn about nature. The Great Texas Birding Classic will be held on April 29th, at the George Mitchell Nature Preserve. This event is a bird-watching competition across Texas, and the Woodlands Township has a registered team. More information about this event is on the calendar listing. If you can’t attend the Great Texas Birding Classic, we have birding backpacks available to rent year-round for those interested in birding! Make a reservation here   

Another event coming up is the Bioblitz during Pollinator Week. It is a two-part event, starting June 19 through June 25 is the week-long community effort to identify as many species as possible through the iNaturalist App. Then join the in-person event on Saturday, June 24th at Rob Flemming to continue the search in person and visit the BioBooth. Read about BioBlitz on The Woodlands Township website.  

8. Garden

There are many benefits to gardening, it improves the quality of air in the soil, provides habitat and cover for pollinators, and adds to the aesthetic of the environment. The Woodlands Township provides two home gardening classes, one in the spring and one in the fall which is coming up on August 21st, you can register here. The Woodlands Township administers community gardens, if you’re interested in a garden plot call the Environmental Services department and ask to be connected to the community garden coordinator.

There are many ways to celebrate earth day year-round. Some of those include finding ways to conserve water, planting trees, recycling and composting to reduce waste, supporting local wildlife, picking up litter, and gardening. The Woodlands Township has multiple resources to help you on your journey to becoming more environmentally friendly and connecting with your community. If you have any questions, visit The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Website or search the online library for your favorite topics.

Essential Resources to Plant & Care for Native Trees

Whether you join us at the Arbor Day Tree Give Away in The Woodlands, or are buying tress from one of the many sales this time of year, here are some great resources to ensure your trees thrive for years to come.

Here is a quick overview of what you’ll find here. Click on a category to jump to each section, or scroll through for all the tree care tips.

Planting Bare-Root Trees | Mulching the Right Way | 3 Great Pruning Resources | Plant Health Care | Right Tree Right Place | Find a Certified Arborist Near You

Arbor Day Varieties | Which Tree is Good For Me? Guide to Arbor Day Varieties | Detailed Links for Each Variety |

Planting Bare-Root Trees

Click here for the step-by-step guide from the Arbor Day Foundation to successfully plant your bare-root tree.


Mulching the Right Way

After you plant, there’s one more step! Mulch is one of the best things you can do keep moisture in the soil and add organic matter. There is a right and a wrong way to mulch; check out this simple guide to make sure you are helping the tree, not harming it.

Check out this quick guide to mulching right from the Arborists themselves, or watch the video below from the Tree Care Video Library.

Mulching is also important to avoid conflicts between trees and turf grass. Find out why here.


3 Great Pruning Resources

1] This Tree City USA Bulletin covers How to Prune Young Shade Trees. Follow the story of two families who both plant trees, and how those trees turn out in 15 years. Isn’t the one below a thing of beauty? It is the result of judicious pruning throughout the tress life.

2 ] A quick guide to correct pruning is found in this this ISA Guide to Pruning Young Trees. Proper pruning is essential to a tree having a strong structure and pleasing form.

3] Wondering what some of the common mistakes are? This USDA Forest Service Guide has some great pictures on what to avoid as well as how to do it right.


Plant Health Care

Health Care? For Plants? Certainly! Plant Health Care (PHC) is a holistic approach to the care of trees and plants that can save you money, save your trees, and save our environment from needless amounts of toxic chemicals.

The benefits are large following the 5 steps of PHC. Skip to the second page of this Tree City USA Bulletin to find out how to implement PHC in your own yard for healthy and resilient trees.


Right Tree Right Place

Even if you plant the tree correctly, mulch it well and prune it for a strong structure, it won’t matter much if the tree is in the wrong place to begin with. One of the essential functions of trees in SE Texas is to provide cooling summer shade. Think about that and other factors that affect tree placement in this visual guide to determining the Right Tree for the Right Place.


Find a Certified Arborist

If you would like to entrust pruning, assessment and health to a certified professional, the International Society of Arboriculture has a great online tool to find one using your zip code HERE.

And for some talking points to consider in discussing your trees with the Arborist, check out this guide on How to Hire an Arborist.



CANOPY TREES

American Sycamore

Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Chinkapin Oak

Quercus muehlenbergii (Chinkapin oak) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Overcup Oak

Quercus lyrata (Overcup oak) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Green Ash

Fraxinus pennsylvanica (Green ash) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Loblolly Pine

Pinus taeda (Loblolly pine) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

UNDERSTORY TREES

Chickasaw Plum

Prunus angustifolia (Chickasaw plum) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Possumhaw Holly [NOT SHIPPED BY GROWER]

Ilex decidua (Possumhaw) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Roughleaf Dogwood

Cornus drummondii (Roughleaf dogwood) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Texas Redbud

Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Texas Persimmon

Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Spicebush

Lindera benzoin (Northern spicebush) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)

Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana (Witch-hazel) | Native Plants of North America (wildflower.org)


Tree Resource Hubs

Arbor Day Foundation | Tree Care Tips & Techniques for Homeowners

Trees Are Good.org | Tree Owner Information

Tree City USA | Bulletins & Resources


Arbor Day is brought to you by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services

Originally started by the Howard Hughes Development Company, since 1977 more than 1.5 million seedlings have been shared with residents to plant in their yard, in community open space reserves and in forest preserves. Participate in one of The Woodlands longest standing traditions and help plant trees today for our community to enjoy for years to come.

Resolution for a Greener Year

This New Year, while fine-tuning your list of personal resolutions, how about including a few goals to help the environment? Changing habits can take effort. One theory of behavior change is the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM). This model posits that motivation, ability, and triggers are the three key factors for any behavior change—the higher the motivation, the greater the ability to perform the new behavior and the presence of a trigger drive how well one can make a change.  

Here are ten “triggers” for resolutions that can make for a healthier earth.

Use reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags are the second most prevalent form of litter, with over 4 billion bags getting carried by wind, clogging storm drains and littering our forests, rivers, and oceans every year. According to Plastic Oceans, eight million tons of plastic end up in our waters each year harming marine life. Carry a tote or two and forgo the plastic bag. 

Turn off the water while you brush. It can save up to 200 gallons of water a month. That’s good for your water bill and the environment. Learn more ways you can conserve water in your home at Sustainability.ncsu.edu 

Reduce your lawn. Lawns are water hogs that also are often chemically dependent. Cut back on turf grass and plant natives instead. This single step helps conserve water, reduces polluted water runoff, and enriches biodiversity. 

Compost kitchen waste. Organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting wasted food and other organics, methane emissions are significantly reduced. So refrain from dumping those nitrogen-rich coffee grounds or calcium-loaded egg shells and other organic kitchen waste. Enrich the soil instead. Learn more about the environmental benefits to composting at EPA.gov 

Ditch paper towels. They may be easier, but in one year alone, Americans use 13 billion pounds of paper towels. That’s about 45 pounds per person. If everyone used just one paper towel less, 570 million pounds of paper waste would be eliminated per year. In case that’s not enough to make a change, it goes without saying that paper towels simply can’t rival the charm of a kitchen towel.  

Eliminate phantom power usage. When household devises are left plugged in they still use energy—even those chargers with no phone or tablet attached. The draw may be small, but collectively and over time it adds up. Unplug. Or, use a smart power strip that reduces your power usage by shutting down power to products that go into standby mode. Doing so may save you some cash. Statistics vary, but experts say standby power consumption ranges from 5 to 10 percent of total household energy consumption on average. 

Cook from scratch. In a busy household, this may be challenging but the benefits are manifold. Processed foods come with loads of packaging that ends up in landfills yet deliver little nutritional value. Cut down on waste and improve health with some good old home cooking. 

Bring your own water bottle. Not only do all the plastic water bottles we use require 17 million barrels of oil to be produced, in 86% of the time they end up in landfills. You’ve seen some of the neat reusable water bottles on the market—consider buying one and using filtered tap water instead.   

Walk, bike, use public transportation. Bikes have been hailed as the most efficient transportation ever invented. Why not bike for those short trips? While helping to reduce emissions and saving on gas, you’ll be helping yourself stay fit at the same time. 

Cut back on meat. This may challenge carnivores, but consider this: industrially farmed corn and soybean that feeds livestock is a major source of greenhouse gasses and air and water pollution. What’s more is that it takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of meat. Yet, only 25 gallons of water are required to grow 1 pound of wheat. You can save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you can by not showering for six months! 

When you crave that steak, only buy meat from grass-fed livestock. Eating less meat can have health benefits too. Check out more information about the benefits of reducing meat in your diet by The Mayo Clinic

The Environmental Services Department wishes you a safe and Happy New Year!

Fall in Love with Leaves

It’s Fall! Time for cool mornings and pumpkin spice everything. And, while nothing says fall like fallen leaves, sometimes they can feel like a bombardment.  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
  • 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 vacuuming 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, it’s 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 
  1. Use a roller or brush to apply paint to the underside of a leaf. Do it sparingly so that the texture appears 
  1. Place painted side down on a heavy sheet of paper or cardstock 
  1. Cover with a scrap piece of paper and use a rolling pin or straight-sided can to press the leaf down evenly 
  1. Remove the scrap paper and peel the leaf back gently from the stem end 
  1. Let the print dry and embellish with doodles, stickers, glitter or stamps 
  1. 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 

Resources

Check out the Texas A&M Forest service for help identifying native trees