Our forest needs our help. 3 ways you can lend a hand.

Thanks to the environmentally minded planners, natural areas are seemingly ubiquitous in The Woodlands with nearly 8,000 of The Woodlands’ 28,000 acres preserved as open space. Take pride – this fact sets us apart from most common communities in North America. However, our forest areas represent just a portion of the native forest expanse (what existed here pre-development). This presents a challenge as our forests do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to cleaning the air and water, capturing and storing carbon, and providing wildlife habitat.

Cue our residential landscapes to the rescue! They offer tremendous potential for supplementing those critical forest services, provided we’re mindful in how we tend them. Some basic considerations regarding what we put into our landscape and what we allow to flow off it carry a lot of weight.

Read on to find out how easy it is to turn your landscape into a resource for the environment and all of us who depend on it.

Encourage soil health

In healthy soil fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates work constantly at breaking down nutrients, making them available for uptake by trees, grasses, and shrubs. There are many critical functions of healthy soil and this is one of the biggest.

When we apply chemicals to our landscape we sever these microscopic relationships, stemming the production of soil nutrients. Organic lawn care methods, as opposed to chemical methods, support these relationships, promoting healthier soil which is the foundation of all healthy ecosystems.

Composted organic material – leaves, grass clippings, etc. – is chock-full of beneficial soil microbes. When you leave cut grass and leaves on your lawn or apply a layer of compost to it, you’re automatically introducing soil microbes which get right to work producing nutrients and building healthy soil! Composting is an easy yet powerful way to ramp up your landscape’s ecosystem value AND it’s a lot cheaper than chemical applications.

Give your lawn what it really wants

Warm season native grasses such as St. Augustine, which comprises most lawns in The Woodlands, depends on fungal soil networks to supply their nutrients. Compost, not chemicals, helps build those networks. The more roots interact with their fungal friends, the stronger they get, which then allows more energy to funnel to the leaves resulting in, you guessed it, that lush, green look we all love.

A healthy lawn needs, and wants, far less water. If you “set and forget” your sprinkler system you’re apt to overwater and harm the microbes. Use a moisture meter to avoid overwatering (they’re available at any home and garden store for a few bucks). Or make things even easier for yourself and subscribe to the weekly water recommendation email from Woodlands Water Agency – let the experts tell you when and when not to water. Installing a rain sensor on your irrigation system is another easy way to avoid overwatering by automatically shutting off your system during a rain event. Did you know you can install a rain sensor yourself in about 15 minutes?

Healthy lawns to the rescue! They add oxygen to our air, capture carbon in the soil and nourish plants and trees. You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood, to boot.

The most important thing of all

Multiply your impact – spread the word! When you make smarter choices in your landscape you become a model for environmental sustainability. Share your knowledge with others and encourage them to do the same.

If you’d like to learn more and take your impact to the next level, attend the online Smarter Choices Seminar on October 2, 2021 from 9 a.m. to noon. We’ll look at simple, practical steps for developing your landscape’s ecosystem value plus you’ll get an update on the new “smart” water meters Woodlands Water Agency installed across the community this past year. Learn how to track your water use and reduce waste right from your phone – remarkable!

This is a free presentation, sponsored by Woodlands Water Agency, The Woodlands GREEN, Chevron Phillips, HEB, and Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware.

Registration is required to receive the link to the Zoom presentation. Register using the button below.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Create a Totally Rad(ish) Fall Vegetable Garden

Opening the week’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery is always an exciting experience. What delicious vegetables await?! Well, this round certainly didn’t disappoint. I opened the box to find something completely new – a round white root vegetable with light green shoulders and dark green stems and leaves. Of course, I had to cut into it right away and what a splendid sight was revealed: beautiful, dark pink concentric circles with a light green outer edge, like a tiny watermelon!

I cut a few slices and chomped away. The pink flesh was crisp and sweet with a mild, peppery taste; the exterior a bit spicier. It was a watermelon radish. And it was delicious! 

Watermelon radishes (raphanus sativus) are in the brassica (mustard) family and are related to Napa cabbage, bok choy, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower and kale. It is an heirloom variety of the daikon radish.  

Originating in Asia, watermelon radishes have grown in popularity and are now available in our high-end groceries year-round. You might also encounter them at a farmer’s market in late fall and winter – prime growing season in Texas. They can be grown during warmer months though higher temperatures tend to soften their texture and bitter their taste. 

When shopping for watermelon radishes, choose ones with roots, stems and leaves intact. The roots should be pink, indicating a dark pink, tasty interior. Look for crisp, lively leaves, smooth shiny skin, no blemishes on the bulb and firmness when squeezed. 

Watermelon radishes are extremely hydrating – almost 90% water – and a good source of fiber, vitamins B and C, calcium and phosphorus. And just 16 calories per 100 grams! 

But why buy these beauties when you can grow them right at home – an ideal addition to your fall and winter vegetable garden. Plant them from September to mid-November and again from February to mid-March.  

Source your seeds from online seed catalogs or high-end plant retailers. Consider that they might be labeled by one of their many alternative names: Beauty Heart, Rose Heart, Shinrimei, Misato, Asian Red Meat and Zin Li Mei radish. Shop the “specialty” daikon or Korean radish categories. 

Once planted, be sure to use your drip irrigation – maintaining a consistent soil moisture level is important. Too little moisture and your radishes will turn out pithy and hollow, while too much water can cause splitting.

For the best flavor harvest your watermelon radishes about 45 days after planting. They should be about the size of a golf ball at this point. If you can stand waiting another 20 days you’ll produce a crunchier radish with milder flavor. 

Radish bulbs should be wrapped and stored separately with leaves and stems removed. The bulbs will keep refrigerated for about two weeks. You’ll need to use the stems and leaves quickly, within 2-3 days. 

Beauty and flavor combined make cooking with watermelon radishes a delight. Although, cooking isn’t really needed since their full flavor is best achieved raw. Take this buddha bowl for example – as tasty as it is lovely.

To prepare your radishes, scrub under cold water and trim the root just before using. If crispy radishes entice you, start by soaking the bulb in ice water for 1-2 hours. Their mild, peppery taste pairs well with citrus and slightly bitter greens such as arugula. The striking color accents any dish. I especially love paring them with root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, purple potatoes and rainbow carrots. And they’re perfect for pickling.

Don’t forget about the greens. Fold them into your favorite salad for a little extra spice or sauté them just as you would spinach or collard greens.


The Woodlands Township’s online Fall Sustainable Organic Vegetable Gardening Class is a great opportunity to learn more about growing watermelon radishes and other cool season vegetables. Questions about how to time planting, prepare soil, and care for your fall garden will be answered by an expert horticulturist. This FREE class happens Saturday, August 21, 2021 from 9 a.m. to noon. Register now using the button below. We’re excited to see you in class! 

More green plants don’t equal more fish in our waterways – here’s why

Aquatic plants supply food, shelter and oxygen for the fish and other aquatic life that share their environment. Pretty important stuff. So, logically, the more plants in the pond the better, right? Well, sort of.

While native aquatic plants are certainly a good thing, there’s a growing contingent of non-native interlopers in these parts. At least 10 species in The Woodlands water bodies appear on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s prohibited species list. These invasive species are illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess, or introduce into Texas waters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has identified several plants as illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess or introduce into Texas waters. Some plants on the above list are not yet prohibited but are known invasive plants in The Woodlands.

The problem starts with the unfair advantage that non-native invasive plants enjoy: fewer natural controls than their native counterparts. This allows them to spread easily and choke out the natives. And as native plants disappear, so do many of our native fish species and other life who simply can’t adapt.

These invasives don’t need any help. Yet, we give them plenty by turbocharging their growth with lawn chemicals. Rain and irrigation readily carry chemicals from lawn to storm drain to local waterway. There they fertilize aquatic plants just as they do your grass. All the excessive growth that results eventually dies and decomposes, consuming oxygen in the process – A LOT of it. So much in fact that oxygen-depleted dead zones result – not good if you’re an aquatic organism. If you’ve ever seen fish floating at the top of a pond, particularly in the summer, this is a likely reason.

In short, invasive aquatic plants bring a slew of bad news.

BUT there’s good news, too! With a couple of simple steps, you can help turn the tide. In fact, more and more residents across The Woodlands are doing exactly that.

Step 1 – Remove all non-native plants from your landscape. Even if they aren’t an aquatic species, they still risk escaping into natural areas. Remember, plants don’t have to grow their way to new areas; seeds are great at dispersing by wind or bird.

Step 2 – Reduce, or even better, eliminate chemical use in your yard. Substitute organic products in their place. Did you know organic compost is probably the single best amendment for your yard?

Support your local fish populations, and all the other critters that depend on clean, healthy water. Remember to: Remove, Plant, Repeat! Remove invasive species, plant natives and repeat the process.

Learn more during Watershed Project: Aquatic Invasive Species, an online workshop scheduled for June 5, 2021, from 9 to 11 a.m. The workshop is FREE, but registration is required. Click the button below to register.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


Get the latest articles delivered right to your inbox!

Smarter About Sustainability Seminar

What a turnout for our two-part seminar on Saturday! Our presenters provided some great resources for residents to save water, support pollinators and be better environmental stewards. You can find these below.  

Please don’t hesitate to contact Bob or Lauren with questions or let them know if you enjoyed their presentation by taking this 3-minute survey.  

Your New Smart Water Meter 

Bob Dailey guided residents through using the WaterSmart Customer Portal. This website allows customers of the Woodlands Water Agency to view their water usage and bill, identify potential leaks, set notifications for excess use and get alerts about freezes or other weather events that may impact your water use. An app is in development and until it’s ready, the WaterSmart Customer Portal can be easily viewed on your phone, desktop or tablet.  

Quick links for Woodlands Water Agency water-saving resources: 

Missed the presentation? View the recorded seminar on our YouTube channel.


Creating a Pollinator Paradise Your Neighbors Will Love 

Lauren has spent her spare time transforming her Houston home gardens into a pollinator-friendly habitat that is beautiful, beneficial to local wildlife AND blends well with her suburban neighborhood. In this presentation, Lauren shared easy steps for creating a pollinator paradise at home that your family can enjoy and will please your neighbors too! 

 

Lauren highlighted the following invasive plants commonly found in our landscapes and  encouraged all of us to remove and replace with natives when creating your pollinator paradise.   

  • Chinese Tallow 
  • Elephant Ears 
  • Nandina (heavenly bamboo) 
  • Bradford Pear 
  • Ligustrum 
  • Pampas Grass 
  • Japanese Honeysuckle 
  • Chinese Privet 

Texasinvasives.org offers a wealth of helpful information on invasive species in our state and region. Learn how to identify key invasives in our area and take action today. 

Missed the presentation? View the recorded seminar on our YouTube channel.


After you’ve created your pollinator paradise, be sure to register your garden. The annual Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge kicks off June 1, 2021.  Register your garden before December 1, 2021 and support your Village Association Scholarship Fund. For more details and to register, visit the Plant for Pollinators webpage. 

Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


Want the latest articles delivered right to your inbox?

Subscribe to our blog below.

Learn a thing, share a thing!

Looking for an easy way to save lots of water? Properly manage your sprinkler system. It’s a great way to keep your lawn healthy, too. Then share your knowledge with neighbors to multiply your impact.  

Without good information, it’s easy to overwater your lawn. Raise your hand if weeds and pests are staking a little too much claim these days. Does your water bill seem a bit high and you’re not sure why? Have you spent too many mornings hoping the neighbors don’t notice you watered the sidewalk all night? Its ok, you’re not alone.  

Anyone with an automatic sprinkler system has dealt with these issues from time to time. They’re signs that your sprinkler system is due for its regular tune-up. The good news, it’s easy – as long as you have the right information. Even better news, these small fixes result in big water savings. That’s good for the environment, your lawn, and your pocketbook. Double the positive impact by sharing your new-found knowledge with a neighbor.  

Controlling irrigation relies on these simple steps:

  • Check sprinkler heads for misalignment; don’t water the driveway 
  • Set your controller on manual so it doesn’t automatically run, rain or shine 
  • Check and re-set your controller after power outages; don’t water the wrong amount

Step 1: Before you start adjusting things, first determine how much water your lawn needs. St. Augustine lawns require no more than 1” a week (including rain), spring through fall. Woodlands Water Agency makes it easy to gauge your water needs with their weekly Irrigation Recommendation emails. The recommendations are based on real-time scientific data – precipitation and evapotranspiration rates – correlated with the amount of water St. Augustin lawns require. Check the weekly email and adjust your sprinkler system accordingly. It’s that simple. Sign up for your weekly recommendation email here: https://www.woodlandswater.org/ (enter your address under “RECEIVE UPDATES”). 

Step 2: Audit your sprinkler system regularly. Sprinkler systems loosen up and misalign over time. A regular adjustment ensures you’re putting out the right amount of water and putting it where it needs to be – not in the street. It’s easier and quicker than it sounds. The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department can help! 

Attend a how-to class right from your kitchen table. The Spring Sprinkler Check-up and Audit Class on Saturday, March 13, 2021 from 10 to 11 a.m., demonstrates step-by-step how to assess your sprinkler system and make any needed adjustments. Sprinkler audits take less than 30 minutes once you have the basics down – this class lays them out for you.  

Step 3: Share your knowledge. Put your insights to work by helping a neighbor perform their own audits. You’ll double your water conserving impact. And it will likely grow from there as they share it down the line.  


The Spring Sprinkler Check-Up and Class is FREE, but REGISTRATION is required. Do it now while you’re thinking about it. And why not get a neighbor to join you!

To learn about more Environmental Services classes, workshops, and events, sign up for our BLOG or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov