Hiring! Seasonal Mosquito Technicians

The Environmental Services Department is looking for enthusiastic, dedicated, independent individuals to join the Mosquito Team. Increase your field and laboratory experience while being an important part of this public health and outreach program.

  • Work as part of a team to monitor for mosquito-borne diseases
  • Deploy traps throughout The Woodlands that target different species
  • Use your interpersonal skills while sharing information with the public
  • Delve into the world of mosquito anatomy and identification in the lab
  • Expand your knowledge of water conservation, recycling right, sustainable landscapes and more supporting Environmental Services programs and events

Positions are from mid-May through end of November with an opportunity to extend the term of employment (can also accommodate students returning to college in August).

Apply today!

Applications will be accepted until April 19, 2019, or until position is filled. Interested candidates are encouraged to submit applications early. View the full job description here.

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

Established in 2005, the mission of the Mosquito Surveillance & Education Program is to reduce the risk of mosquito-borne disease transmission for the protection and wellbeing of The Woodlands residents through the application of Integrated Mosquito Management. Learn what you can do to target mosquitoes.

 

Green fun for the whole family

Check-In, Cleanup...

Participate in The Woodlands Township community-wide litter cleanup event, Earth Day GreenUp on Saturday, March 23, 2019!

This event is fun for the whole family and an excellent opportunity for team building, meeting neighbors and enjoying the outdoors. Join us in targeting litter on pathways, along waterways, and in greenbelts to keep our community looking clean and green!

GREEN STARTS WITH ME! 2019

 

Help GreenUp Your Community in 5 Simple Steps

  1. Check-in at a designated park near you.
  2. Receive trash bags, gloves, and instructions.
  3. Cleanup litter along a nearby pathway, park or natural area.
  4. Drop off full bags of litter along the pickup route (a map will be provided at check-in).
  5. Head to Northshore Park for the GreenUp Celebration 11 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Join us for live music by the Buck Yeager band, entertainment by Mr. Cirque the Acrobat and games for the whole family. As honored guests, Clean-up Participants receive free pizza, drinks, and 2019 GreenUp T-shirt. Everyone is welcome to share in the Celebration – pizza and drinks are also available for purchase.

Pre-register by Monday, March 11th for a speedy check-in and to ensure equipment for your group. Walk up registration is welcome between 8 and 10 at one of these parks.

Be prepared for cleanup by wearing appropriate clothing – long pants and closed-toe shoes/boots. Remember hats, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and a reusable water bottle – we will have a refilling station at the celebration!

Thank you to our sponsors: Keep Texas Beautiful, Waste Management, Berkeley Services, HEB, The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency (WJPA), Nature’s Way Resources, The Howard Hughes Corporation, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. and Papa John’s!

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The Woodlands Earth Day GreenUp is coordinated by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. For more information, call 281-210-3800 or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.

Plant for pollinators this spring!

At first glance, a pollinator garden may look like any other pretty flower garden. But for a garden to be a haven for native bees, butterflies, and moths, it needs to meet their needs for all life stages. And the most important ingredient are plants rich in nectar and pollen to feed adult pollinators and host plants specific to butterfly species. Here are simple guidelines for creating a pollinator garden that will reward you with three seasons of garden visitors and help protect these vulnerable insects.

Choose a sunny spot.

Most blooming plants require sun. Four hours of sun is ideal, but a minimum of two to three hours will work too. Some great nectar and pollen plants thrive in part shade (two hours of sun with dappled shade the rest of the day).

Plant natives.

Native plants support more than 29 times the number of insect species than non-native plants. Aim for at least 70% of native plants in your garden. (Print the PDF for recommended plant list.)

Plant host plants.

Host plants are where the female butterfly will lay her eggs and her young caterpillars will feed. Some butterfly species—like the monarch and some swallowtails—only have one host plant. It is vital, therefore, to include some of these plants to support these species. Most of our host plants are native, but some are non-natives well adapted to our area. By including these host plants, you’ll welcome more diversity into your garden. (Print the PDF at the bottom for recommended plant list.)

Plant variety.

Adult bees and butterflies like some variety in their diet, just like us. By including different varieties of plants, your garden will attract a diverse assortment of pollinators.

Plant for three seasons.

Pollinators that overwinter in our area start emerging as the weather warms, and that could be late February to early March. As the weather turns cool, bees and butterflies go into hiding. As a general rule, they can’t fly when temperatures fall to 55 degrees. Bumblebees and some solitary bees will hibernate underground; other solitary bees will hibernate in nests they create in rock crevices and dead wood tunnels . Honey bees don’t hibernate, but buzz all winter keeping the hive warm—only the queen hibernates.  The monarch butterfly is the only migrating butterfly in North America and usually leaves its overwintering site in central Mexico in March, returning in November. You can track their migration each season at journeynorth.org.

With pollinators active and needing food spring through fall, it’s important that your garden provide blooms each season. (Print the PDF at the bottom for recommended plant list.)

Plant in dense color blocks.

Avoid planting different plant varieties singly. Go bold! Group a minimum of five to seven of the same plant to create large swaths of color in your garden. This helps pollinators find them. A dense planting has another advantage. When host plants especially, are planted densely, the young caterpillars have a better chance of survival by hiding from predators.

Include a puddle.

If there’s a low area that holds water after a rain in or near your pollinator garden, leave it! These “puddling” areas are great for providing certain butterfly species (like male common buckeyes) with necessary minerals and nutrients. You can create your own puddle by filling a shallow pan or plate with soil, some rocks, and pieces of a kitchen sponge and keeping it wet.

puddler

A simple butterfly “puddler” is easy to add to a garden.

Provide shelter.

Shelter can take various forms, from a nearby fence or trellis, dense shrubbery, or a man-made bee house for solitary bees. It can also be as simple as leaving a pile of fallen leaves and pine needles in a nearby spot. Shelter provides safe places for caterpillars to pupate, and for overwintering pollinators.

Use no pesticides.

In your garden or near it. Period.

 Print a PDF of these tips and recommended plants.

Register your garden!

Register your pollinator garden with The Woodlands Township as part of the Plant for Pollinators program and receive a window cling for recognition and appreciation.

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Learn more about registering your pollinator garden.

Important note about tropical milkweed

If you already have tropical milkweed in your garden, be sure to cut it to four to six inches of the ground every October to prevent the spread of OE and interference with normal migratory behavior. Consider planting native varieties of milkweed. Learn more about OE and tropical milkweed, and native milkweed species for our area in our recent blog post.

 

 

 

Save the date!

Saturday, March 23

Pre-registration is open

GreenUp Logo. Globe only

Join neighbors, family, and friends at Earth Day GreenUp on March 23, 2019. Volunteer to beautify our community by picking up litter on pathways, waterways, and greenbelts. After your hard work, celebrate at Northshore Park with free pizza, face painting, live music, and an event t-shirt. Together, residents keep The Woodlands beautiful and protect natural areas for wildlife by helping in this community stewardship project.

GreenUp invites everyone to take ownership of our environment. Recruit or join a group of your peers – you may find that you’ll meet neighbors and create new friends while enjoying the outdoors. Disposable gloves, bags and maps will be provided during check-in at a designated park in each Village.  Remember to bring a reusable bottle and your favorite work gloves to minimize waste. Ensure equipment for your team by pre-registering by March 11th. See the box below for registration information.

GreenUP Celebrations

The GreenUP celebration is fun for all and begins at 11 a.m. at Northshore Park.

After the cleanup, the entire community is invited to celebrate in the spirit of Earth Day with food, fun and live music for all ages at Northshore Park, 2505 Lake Woodlands Drive. Local organizations will present fun activities and information on how you can make everyday Earth Day. Learn and play games that will teach you that “green starts with me.”

Volunteers will receive a commemorative T-shirt and be treated to pizza. Beverages will be available, but remember to bring your own water bottle. Food tickets will be on sale to the general public.

Key Information

Pre-register: Through Monday, March 11 at  www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/greenup

Check-in:  Saturday, March 23, 8 to 10 a.m. at a location near you.
Walk-ups welcome. Check-in locations:

  • Alden Bridge: Alden Bridge Park
  • Cochran’s Crossing: Shadowbend Park
  • College Park: Harper’s Landing Park
  • Creekside Park: Rob Fleming Aquatic Center
  • Grogan’s Mill: Sawmill Park
  • Indian Springs: Falconwing Park
  • Panther Creek: Ridgewood Park
  • Sterling Ridge: Cranebrook Park

GreenUp:  8:30 to 11 a.m.

Celebrate: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Northshore Park

More Info:  Call Environmental Services at 281-210-3800

 

Remodeling? Plan for water efficiency

A home remodeling project is a perfect time to consider how to maximize your home’s water efficiency. Bathrooms are where most of our water is used, accounting for more than 50% of all indoor water use.

When it comes to water use, the American mindset is shifting from one less mindful and therefore wasteful, to one more aware that water is a valuable resource to conserve.  We are fortunate to have easy access to some of the safest water in the world and it may be that very ease that results in our taking water for granted. Just how much water do we use? On average, an American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Water Pie Chart

In a 2014 Government Accountability Report, it’s noted that 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages under average conditions in some portions of their states over the next decade. So it just makes sense to replace old or inefficient appliances and hardware with new, more efficient products.

That’s where WaterSense comes in. WaterSense is a partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). WaterSense labeled products meet EPA’s specification for water efficiency and performance, and are backed by independent, third-party certification.

WaterSense label

The WaterSense label on a product certifies that it is 20 percent more water efficient than average products in that category. There are WaterSense Products in many categories, including:

  • Faucets
  • Showerheads
  • Toilets
  • Irrigation controllers
  • Irrigation sprinklers

Stop by the Environmental Services office and receive a free faucet aerator or a replacement showerhead while supplies last. Both meet high water efficiency standards.

Environmental Services Department
8203 Millennium Forest Drive

 

Fix a leak

You don’t have to take on a remodeling project to conserve water. That annoying dripping faucet is more than annoying; five to 10 percent of U.S. homes have easy-to-fix leaks that drip away 90 gallons of water a day.

EPA’s annual Fix a Leak Week is March 18 through 24. You can learn more about how to locate leaks on the EPA  Fix a Leak Week webpage.

Leaks Graphic

Demonstration home

Check out the WaterSense demonstration home at Water University at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Dallas. To be WaterSense certified, homes must meet standard criteria in three areas: indoor water use, including plumbing, plumbing fixtures and fittings, and appliances; outdoor water use, including landscape design and any installed irrigation systems (which are optional); and homeowner education.

 

In celebration of trees

It’s undeniable. There seems to be a universal human response to the majesty of trees. Trees do us a lot of good and not all their benefits are visible by the eye. These benefits are often grouped by their social, environmental, and economic qualities.

(Be sure to see the upcoming Township events that pay tribute to trees listed below.)

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Social benefits

One might say that trees help make us happier. They provide a sense of place and when we are in their presence, we feel serene and peaceful. Trees’ calming effects extend to the workplace, where trees can reduce worker stress. It’s also been cited that trees can decrease recovery time after surgery or illness and reduce crime in urban communities. A large, mature tree imparts a sense of majesty, strength, and even awe. This and their capacity for a long life may be why they are so often planted as living memorials to those we love and have lost.

The oldest verified flowering tree is a 2,293 year-old Sri Maha Bodhi Sacred Fig. It is also the oldest human-planted tree, known to be planted in 288 BC at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

People are drawn to shaded parks, pathways, and sidewalks, which in turn encourages social interaction and enhances a sense of community.

Environmental benefits

Trees improve the environment by moderating our climate from sun, wind, and rain. Sun is absorbed or deflected by leaves and the larger the tree, the greater its cooling effect. In urban environments, trees moderate the heating effect caused by pavement and buildings. Compact foliage and dense tree plantings provide an effective windbreak. Rain and stormwater runoff is not only slowed by trees, but is reduced by the water trees take up by their roots and store.

Improved air quality is another great benefit—leaves filter the air we breathe by removing particulates and pollutants (such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead) and replace them with oxygen. They absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Trees are natural air conditioners that can lower temperatures 6 to 8 degrees by evaporating water through their leaves. Their roots stabilize soil and prevent erosion, and improve water quality by filtering rainwater.

Trees can block and absorb sound, reducing noise pollution by as much as 40%.

Finally, trees provide important food and shelter for urban wildlife, including birds, pollinators, and small animals.

Economic benefits

Although determining a “value” of a tree can be very difficult, trees increase in value as they grow. The value of trees is also evident in home sales: homes landscaped with trees sell more quickly and are worth 5% to 15% more than homes without trees. When trees are planted strategically to shade a home, air conditioning costs are lower. And when they form a windbreak they can reduce heating costs in winter.

Native trees

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The native Mexican Plum, Prunus mexicana, has a spectacular spring display that is a feast for the eyes and pollinators as well.

There is a wealth of native trees to use for landscapes in our area. The benefits of native trees are many and can include colorful spring blooms, fall color, or food and nectar for wildlife. Natives are well-adapted to our weather conditions and soil, and once established, require no supplemental water (except for times of extreme drought).

View and print the list of Trees Suitable for The Woodlands. This list is far from exhaustive, but meant to provide a good sampling of those that can be found at local nurseries and provide special benefits.

Upcoming events

Mark your calendar for these events that each in their own way, celebrate trees.

Arbor Day Tree Seedling Pickup
The Howard Hughes Corporation® is excited to host the Arbor Day Tree Seedling Pickup on Saturday, January 26, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hughes Landing®. This year, more than 44,000 tree seedlings will be handed out, representing nine varieties including Bald Cypress, Laurel Oak, Live Oak, Loblolly Pine, Overcup Oak, River Birch, Sawtooth Oak, Silky Dogwood and Water Oak.

2019 Community Tree Planting
The community will come together to keep the woods in The Woodlands at the fifth annual Village Tree Planting event Saturday, February 9, 2019, from 8 a.m. to noon at Spindle Tree Ponds Park in the Village of Sterling Ridge. Volunteers of all ages are called upon to help reforest our community. Register now!

Creating Habitat in the Garden and Community
Saturday, February 2, 2019 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Woodlands Emergency Training Center. This free seminar will address how wildlife has been impacted by growth and why home and community habitats matter. Learn how to create habitat for butterflies, bees and birds and help them thrive. Register now!

Helpful resources

Visit the International Society of Arboriculture for loads of great information about trees. View and print their useful guides for planting and caring for trees:

New Tree Planting

Proper Mulching Techniques

Pruning Mature Trees

Insect and Disease Problems

Irrigation can’t replace rain

You’ve seen it. The luminous post-shower greenness of a lawn; the sudden growth spurt of a plant that didn’t seem to be doing much at all; or the effervescence of new blooms on an otherwise sleepy plant. Why are these effects so evident after a good rain and absent with irrigation?

What’s the magic of rain? It’s all about what it has that tap water doesn’t,  and what it doesn’t have that tap water does.  And this all boils down to chemistry.

Rain water is free of minerals

good elements

Rainwater lacks the minerals usually found in irrigation water. In The Woodlands, the water that flows through an outside spigot is the same as what flows from the kitchen faucet—that is, treated water suitable for consumption. This is of course, what you want for water use in the home, but your landscape can actually suffer for it when used in excess.

Chlorine and fluoride are the first plant-offending additives in treated water. Chlorine is a necessary disinfectant and fluoride helps to prevent tooth decay.  But nearly all plants are susceptible to chlorine toxicity and many are subject to fluoride toxicity as well—especially common house plants.

Another chemical component to tap water is sodium, which can help remedy the pipe-corroding effects of calcium and magnesium, also present. When a white sediment is present on the outside of containers or on the leaves of plants, it’s evidence of calcium and magnesium. Sodium, like chlorine, is toxic to plants.

Rainwater has the right stuff

good elements

Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Rain highly saturated in oxygen goes right to the roots that take up this vital element. Nitrogen is what makes your lawn and plants seem to glow green after a good rain. Air is 78% nitrogen and this element in its nitrate and ammonium forms comes down in rain and is immediately absorbed by plants through their roots and leaves.

Carbon dioxide is also delivered to plants with rain. When carbon dioxide combines with other minerals in the air, it gives rainwater an acidic pH. Acidic rainwater (and we’re not talking about “acid rain” which has excessive pollutants mostly an issue in the Northeast) helps the soil release essential micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, copper, and iron that are vital to plant growth.

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Something can be said about the physical properties of rain too.

Rain penetrates the soil better than irrigation. Raindrops fall at about 20 mph while irrigation droplets fall at about 5 mph. And rain falls uniformly. Both properties help water reach plants’ roots. And they do something else: they help leach salts away from the root zone of a plant where they may have accumulated over time through irrigation. This cleansing effect can have a pronounced effect on new plant growth.

The cleansing effect of rain extends to the entire surface of a plant as well. We can see how foliage glows after a rain washes away mineral deposits, dust and pollutants from leaves. This is a boon to photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is much more efficient when light reaches a plant’s leaves unobstructed by grit and grime.

Harvest it

The benefits of rain water over tap water used for irrigation might even motivate a person to harvest rainwater. So often, rainwater harvesting is presented only as a method for conserving water. Yet it’s more than that. By storing up rain water, you’re also creating a supply of high quality water that your plants crave.

A Drip Irrigation and Rainwater Harvesting class will be offered free by the Township later this spring.

OE and tropical milkweed

The relative virtues and problems associated with tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, continue to be a hot topic within the monarch conservation community, but the disparity between the two is becoming more and more clear. Scientific research suggests that its problems, namely its link to the spread of the Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) disease, far out-weigh its virtues. In fact, it’s those very virtues—availability, adaptability, and long bloom season—that multiply its negative effects relative to the health and sustainability of the monarch butterfly species.

What is OE?

OE is a protozoan parasite that infects butterflies that host on milkweed. Its life cycle starts as a microscopic spore that breaks open when ingested by a caterpillar. Within the caterpillar, it grows and multiplies. Because a parasite depends on its host for its own life, OE rarely kills the caterpillar.

scales and spores

OE spores are only visible under a microscope.

But the disease affects the development of the adult butterfly while pupating, and adults emerge weak and often with crippled wings. While many monarchs may carry OE as spores attached to its wings and thorax, the size of the spore-carrying population and the heavy level of spores within that population in the Gulf Coast region—especially Texas and Florida—is cause for alarm. Visit Project Monarch Health for more about OE.

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An adult butterfly with OE has no chance of survival when wings are malformed.

Recent studies corroborate earlier studies and tighten the link between tropical milkweed and an increase of OE. Gardening to help conserve monarchs requires an understanding of the risks associated with tropical milkweed as well as the steps to take to minimize its ill effects.

The introduction of tropical milkweed in the U.S.

Monarch enthusiasts with the best intentions were thrilled when local nurseries began to offer tropical milkweed for sale and embraced the Mexican native with gusto. It didn’t take long to discover that aside from being very easy to grow, monarch butterflies love this variety of milkweed. It seemed that a solution was in hand to help restore milkweed habitat for the Eastern migratory monarch population. As a result, tropical milkweed has been well established in parts the southern states—especially southeast Texas and southern Florida.

Then research began to emerge that showed an increase in monarch disease caused by OE was linked to tropical milkweed grown in the southern states.

What the research shows is particularly troubling for the monarch migration that passes through Texas gardens to feed and breed.

The effects of tropical milkweed

Research by Karen Oberhauser, Dara Satterfield, and others has and continues to demonstrate that OE in monarchs increases where tropical milkweed flourishes. (See links to studies at the end of this blog.)

What’s been determined is that the proliferation of tropical milkweed (in the southeastern parts of Texas and south Florida in particular), coupled with its near year-round foliage and flower production does two things:

It interferes with the monarch’s migratory cycle. Tropical milkweed encourages them to linger in the southern states and continue breeding and laying eggs, “trapping” them here where they cannot survive temperatures that drop toward the freezing mark. Possibly more important is the effect of milder winters. Given a non-stop supply of milkweed, interference with normal migratory behavior produces populations of monarchs that overwinter in Texas and Florida instead of completing their migration to the oyamel fir tree forests of central Mexico.

Monarchs who stay in the southern states for the winter are five to nine times more likely to be infected with OE than migrating butterflies.

It significantly increases the rate monarchs are infected by the debilitating OE protozoan pathogen. If mild winters don’t produce a freeze, infected milkweed continues to thrive, not dying back like native milkweed species. This means infected plants persist. Infected plants in Texas are especially harmful because they sit in the gateway for the spring and fall monarch migrations.

Migrant butterflies at sites with overwintering residents were 13 times more likely to have infections compared to migrant populations that don’t come in contact with residents.

Adult monarchs migrating from Mexico in the spring that visit infected plants pick up hundreds of OE spores and carry them to other plants—increasing the number of infected plants and as a result butterflies, exponentially.

What to do?

If there’s any good news in this it could be that originally, most of the tropical milkweed planted was done so in gardens. By definition, gardens are tended. Gardeners should consider taking one of two actions.

Replace tropical milkweed with native species. While native varieties are more challenging to start, the effort would help minimize the spread of OE. Try these native species:

  • Asclepias incarnate, Swamp milkweed
  • Asclepias perennis, Aquatic milkweed
  • Asclepias tuberosa, Butterflyweed
  • Asclepias verticillata, Whorled Milkweed
  • Asclepias viridi, Green milkweed

Or, be diligent about cutting it back every winter. Cut tropical milkweed plants to within four to six inches of the ground each October.

If you have tropical milkweed in your garden and didn’t cut it back in October, do it now.

Milkweed for habitats

Milkweed used for non-gardening purposes poses a more clear guideline. Dara Satterfield  recommends, “that habitat restoration for monarchs focus on native species of milkweed, which are synchronized with the monarch’s natural migratory cycle and do not enable the year-round breeding that can lead to high parasitism rates.”

The spring migration approaches

Tracking the spring monarch migration starts on February 14. Visit Journey North to learn how you can enter your own monarch sightings and track the migration real time.

Delve in and learn more about tropical milkweed and its effect on the health of monarchs with these recent studies:

Patterns of parasitism in monarch butterflies during the breeding season in eastern North America, Ecological Entomology, 2018

Migratory monarchs that encounter resident monarchs how life-history differences and higher rates of parasite infection, Ecology Letters, 2018

Monarch butterfly migration and parasite transmission in eastern North America, Ecological Society of America, 2011

Loss of migratory behaviour increases infection risk for a butterfly host, The Royal Society Publishing, 2015

Learn more about native milkweed species at these resources:

Native Plant Society of Texas

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Database

PDF of Identification of Milkweed in Texas, by Texas Parks & Wildlife

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.

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The Fogg Behavior Model. The different levels of ability and motivation define whether triggers for behavior change will succeed or fail.

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

Who’s in?

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.

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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.

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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 motivation to make a change, it goes without saying that paper towels simply can’t rival the charm of a vintage tea towel.

Eliminate phantom power usage. When household devices 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.

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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. A Bottled Water Report by the World Wildlife Fund points out that there are more standards in regulating tap water in the U.S. and Europe than in the bottled water industry.

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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.

Give new life to old stuff

The “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s” from unwrapping gifts are over. Now it’s time to make room for your new electronics, toys and all those great socks your Aunt gave you. In your excitement to remove the old and put up the new, throwing away your old items may first come to mind. Instead, consider donating them to a local charitable organization. Although an item may have outlived its usefulness for you, it could still be useful to someone else before wasting away in a landfill.

Donate usable items graphic

Donate

Give a second life to your clean, gently-used clothing, housewares, toys, furniture and appliances by donating them to local charitable organizations. Items should be in good, usable condition. Check out The Woodlands Donation Guide for a list of local organizations accepting donations. Some organizations are able to pick up items or offer convenient drop-off locations. If you have an item that is not specified in the guide, call first to assure it is accepted.

Donate More Guide December 2018

Recycle

Not all items are suitable for donation. Sometimes clothing and housewares are past the point of repair such as stained rags, threadbare linens, ripped clothing, worn out shoes, etc. These items shouldn’t be donated as they can’t be used by the organization and end up being thrown away. If you have overly worn items such as these and are a resident of The Woodlands with curbside trash service, you may recycle these items through the Simple Recycling Program. Simply put unusable textiles in the designated orange bag and put them beside your carts for collection on your designated service day.

simple recycling bags

For items that can’t be donated, but can be recycled, consult the Recycle More Guide. Here you’ll find all local recycling opportunities for items such as electronics, paints, batteries, appliances, household chemicals, plastic bags and film, Styrofoam and more. Please note that these items can be recycled through these special collections, not the yellow lid curbside carts.

To learn more about recycling, visit the  Recycling page on the Township website.

 

In with the new, out with the old

Refer to these guidelines and reminders to help you sort through your holiday throwaways.

Trash and recycling curbside service

There will be no trash or recycling service on Tuesday, December 25 or Tuesday,
January 1. All services are affected—trash, recycling, yard trimmings, bulk pick-up, and Simple Recycling (orange textile bags).

Holiday trash day

Regular pick-up schedule will resume Monday, January 7.

The holidays can push your recycle bin to its limit. Put your extra recyclables in a cardboard box or paper bag and set it out with your recycle bin. They’ll be picked-up on the the service day immediately following Christmas.

Follow these guidelines with your recyclables to ensure service:

  • Break down boxes to consolidate into one box.
  • Put extra paper wrappings in a paper bag or small box.
  • Place bags and boxes at the curb next to the recycling cart.
  • Remember, these items are NOT recyclable:

Plastic bags
Styrofoam™
Bubble wrap
Ribbons, decorations, Christmas lights or other tanglers.

Cut, unflocked tree recycling

  • Remove all decorations and lights from tree.
  • Remove tree stand.
  • Place the tree at the curb on your regular service day.
  • Green trees will be picked up by the yard trimming truck as part of your regularly scheduled services.
  • Another Option: Natural trees can be dropped off at The Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park, 6464 Creekside Forest Drive, between December 26, 2018, and January 7, 2019. Please deposit trees in the Christmas Tree Corral in the parking lot at any time of day.

Flocked tree disposal

  • Schedule as bulk/heavy pick up by calling Waste Management Customer Service at 800-800-5804.
  • Call at least two working days before your regular service day.
  • Flocked Christmas trees are destined for the landfill.

Extra trash

  • Requires purchase of a pink extra service tag for $1.75 per tag.
  • Purchase tags from The Woodlands Township offices, Kroger (Cochran’s Crossing, Alden Bridge and Sterling Ridge) and Randalls (Grogan’s Mill and Panther Creek).
  • Attach one tag per bag.
  • Each bag must weigh less than 40 pounds.

The Woodlands Recycling Center

The Woodlands Recycling Center on Research Forest Drive is not affected by the holiday and is open every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To report missed pick-ups, please call Waste Management Customer Service
at 800-800-5804.

The power of numbers

What do you get when a bunch of Woodlands residents join forces with 3R Bazaar and recycle? Tons of fun. And TONS of material for recycling, diverting it from landfills. Over six and a half tons, to be precise.

Over 13,358 pounds of recyclable items were collected at the 2018 3R Bazaar last month.

Over 800 Woodlands residents braved the chilly weather to reduce, reuse, and recycle at this year’s 3R Bazaar on November 10th, 2018. A big, warm “Thanks!” goes out to  everyone who attended this event at its new location, The Woodlands Farmer’s Market. Attendance and participation this year was record-breaking!

Lorax and drums

Let Them Drum joined forces with Waste Management and The Lorax to sound off for recycling.

And another huge “Thanks!” goes out to the team of volunteers who helped empower visitors with knowledge and tips for recycling successfully in our community.

The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department would also like to thank  the generosity of its sponsors: Waste Management, Gullo Dealerships, Southern Shred and WJPA.

Take a look at what was collected:

3R Bazaar Collection graphic

In addition to this, $1,226.21 and 551 pounds of canned food items were collected for the Interfaith Food Pantry.

The Village Challenge battery collection resulted in a total of  $4,600 donated to the Villages’ scholarship funds by The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. through the generosity of HEB, WJPA and Woodlands Development Company.

3R bags

Reusable bags are a shopping essential. Remember to bring your own when you shop.

A tip for the new year…

By properly disposing of and keeping batteries out of the landfill, we prevent toxins from leaching into the surrounding water table. Consider investing in rechargeable batteries. They may cost more initially, but each rechargeable battery can substitute for hundreds of single-use batteries. Rechargeables can also be recycled when they’ve outlived their usefulness, preventing unnecessary landfill usage and toxicity to the environment.

Didn’t make it to 3R Bazaar? That’s ok! The Precinct 3 Recycling Center (1122 Pruitt Road in Spring), Home Depot, Lowes, Batteries Plus, Best Buy, and some Walmarts accept batteries all year. Call ahead for specifics and possible fees.

 

Megan Atom and Taylor

Festival mascots reminded the crowd to recycle cans, minimize use of single-use shopping bags, and keep plastic wrap and tanglers out of the recycle bin. Instead, recycle them at your grocery store along with plastic bags.

For a comprehensive list of local recycling opportunities of other oddities such as electronics, light bulbs, paints, pharmaceuticals, and more check out the Recycle More Guide.

Get to know soil

May we never refer to it as dirt again…

There are a couple ways to look at soil: one is as a static, inert growing medium and the other is as a dynamic, living environment of its own that affects the environment above ground. It is the latter context that scientists use mostly today. Understanding soil basics first facilitates better understanding of this much grander context.

World Soil Day is December 5, 2018

What is soil?

Unweathered geological material, mineral, or organic matter is the original source of soil, referred to as its “parent” material. Over time, and with the effects of climate and biological activity, the parent material breaks down to make up about half of the total mass of soil. The other half is made up of varying proportions of air and water. The specific qualities of a given soil—along with climate and surface features (slope or rock, for example)—determine what thrives in it.

It can take up to 200 years to produce
1 cm of soil.

According to the National Resources Conservation Service, there are over 1300 different soil types in Texas, and they vary widely throughout the state.

Capture

The General Soil Map of Texas  shown above, is the go-to for an overview of soil types. The Woodlands, for the most part, sits in area 51, which is a small portion of the Western Coastal Plain and Flatwoods region. This area covers about 16.1 million acres, dissected by many streams. It has many kinds of upland soils, which tend to be deep, light-colored, acid sands and loams over loamy and clayey subsoils that support pine-hardwood vegetation characterized by the ubiquitous loblolly pine.

Breaking it down

By simple observation, many clues can be gleaned about a particular soil’s properties.

Color. A soil’s color helps determine how much organic material it has, the various minerals present, and its ability to drain. The darker the soil, the more organic material it has. Darkness can also indicate slower drainage. Conversely, lighter soil is an indication that it’s lower in organic content and more highly leached.

Color can also give clues to the soil’s mineral content. Iron minerals are by far the greatest contributor to soil color variation, creating yellow, red, grey, black or brown hues.

Texture. Soil texture is important because it determines how well (or not) water drains through it and if it creates pockets of air. Texture is defined by the relative mix of three components:

  • sand, being coarse;
  • silt, being fine; and
  • clay, being finest.

The degree of coarseness or fineness provides clues to soil’s productivity. The coarser the soil:

  • the faster it drains;
  • the less water and more air it holds;
  • the faster it warms; and
  • the more easily it can be worked or penetrated by roots.

Depth. More can be learned from the soil’s “horizons.” Horizons are simply layers of differing composition. If there are key things to note about horizons, it’s that the A horizon, or surface, is the most fertile and has the best structure of all the other horizons., making it vital for plant life. Its depth can vary between just 2 inches to more than 12 inches thick. The B horizon, or subsoil, dictates how well water drains. Its depth too, varies between 2 and 12 inches. A subsoil of mostly clay will impair drainage and root growth. And these issues only increase the more shallow the surface soil is above it.

Soil Horizons

If there’s good news for the gardener who has less-than-ideal conditions in surface soil and subsoil horizons, it’s that improvements can be made by adding organic material, especially compost.

The value of loam

The relative proportion of sand, silt and clay gives soil what is referred to as its class. If there is a “perfect” soil class, it would be what’s called loam. Generally, loam is made up of equal parts sand, silt, and clay.

The best soil texture for growing plants is
what is called “loam.”

Loam = (<52% sand) + (28-50% silt) + ( 7-27% clay)

Loam soils are best for plant growth because the different-sized particles leave spaces in the soil for air and water to flow and roots to penetrate. The roots then can feed on the minerals in the suspended water. It retains enough water to keep the soil moist, but its texture is porous, allowing water to flow through slowly enough for the plants to access it, but fast enough to keep soil from getting waterlogged.

Tiny air pockets in soil are critical to support the animals that live in the soil, like worms and many types of bacteria. And one of the ways that plants get air is by absorbing it through their roots. Without air at a plant’s roots it would suffocate.

Deep sands do not hold moisture well and are often infertile. Clay holds moisture better than sands and may be more fertile, but they tend to swell when they get wet, which may limit the movement of water and roots. Clay cracks when they dry and the clods become very hard and difficult to penetrate.

Soil is alive

The key to understating soil’s properties is that they can determine the life it holds. Soil is a dynamic, interconnected, living thing—there’s a whole universe of life underneath our feet. It’s a web of energy conversions that fuels and makes possible life above ground. How big and diverse that universe is, is an easy measurement of how healthy the soil is.

As a living thing, soil quality is referred to as its “health.” The healthier the soil, the more it can:

  • Sustain plant and animal productivity and biodiversity;
  • Maintain or improve air and water quality; and
  • Support human health and habitation.

Healthy soil teams with life and supports its own food web as shown in the chart and illustration below, both from Soil Biology Primer, by Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Soil organisms

The Soil Food Web

Billions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that live within soil are the foundation of an elegant symbiotic ecosystem.  Healthy soil makes possible clean air and water, bountiful crops and forests, productive grazing land, diverse wildlife and beautiful landscapes.

Keep soil alive with organic material

Organic material in soil not only greatly improves its structural qualities it also helps create the right conditions for the life it supports. By helping maintain favorable temperature and moisture in the soil, earthworms, insects, bacteria, fungi and other organisms thrive. These in turn, break down the organic material into nutrients that make plant life flourish.

Up to half our household waste could be composted to nurture the soil.

Tips for maintaining healthy soil:

  • Disturb it less
  • Minimize compaction
  • Diversify soil biota with plant diversity
  • Keep roots growing in it year-round
  • Keep it covered
  • Compost, compost, compost

To learn more about soil, check out these great resources:

Healthy Soils Are… PDF series of fact sheets

Soil Biology Primer, by Soil and Water Conservation Society