Gardening with Children: easy strategies during social distancing

With the extra time created by social distancing, gardening is an activity that children of all ages can enjoy. Simple and exciting gardening opportunities abound in your yard and even inside your home. Here are a few tips to get you started with minimal supplies and minimal cost.

Look around. Get Creative.

Take a quick inventory of your gardening supplies. Just a few simple tools that are needed to start: a spade or trowel, hoe or small gardening rake are essential. If a tool is missing, improvise using items from your home. No trowel? Use large cooking or serving spoons. Lacking a rake? Try a large cooking fork. Plastic milk cartons make excellent watering cans and soil scoops.

Younger children can use small recycled containers as soil scoops

Small cardboard containers or cans are useful seed starting pots. Your Sunday newspaper is perfect for creating paper pots. Older children will enjoy making these seed starting pots for the family.

Shop around

When making the weekly grocery trip, add gardening supplies to your list. Most groceries are currently stocking flower and vegetable seeds and potting soil. They’ll likely have a selection of vegetable and herb starts on hand, as well. Another great option for starts are your local plant retailers. Many are now offering online purchasing with curbside pickup.

Time to plant

Flowers and vegetables can be planted in the landscape or in containers. Soil for containers can be sourced from an existing landscape bed, or commercial potting soil may be used. If your supply of planting containers is scarce, check the recycling cart. Large plastic containers can be transformed into pots simply by punching drainage holes in the bottom. Giving children the freedom to plant seeds any way they wish is a satisfying activity. The seedlings can be separated later on as a new gardening activity. When the seeds sprout, the joy is obvious!

Gardening has many benefits that nourish the body, mind and soul. Spending time learning a new skill while enjoying nature is beneficial for all ages.

Caring for a garden can become a regular part of your child’s daily routine. Even the youngest child will quickly learn how to carefully water the growing plants.

Start each day off by checking on your growing garden and watch how quickly children will embrace their new sense of purpose and responsibility

Many online resources are available to support creative gardening activities with children.  Check this list for simple, practical ideas to get you started:

The joy of gardening and the skills children learn will benefit them all of their lives. Get outside and get growing!

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

Organic Spring Vegetable Gardening Class

Now is the time plant a spring vegetable garden. Whether you’re a novice gardener unsure where to begin or you’re experienced and looking to take your garden to new heights, the Organic Spring Vegetable Gardening class on February 22 can help. Skip Richter, noted author, photographer and horticulturist, will share his vast knowledge and experience with organic vegetable gardening in Southeast Texas. Skip will breakdown crucial information into easy-to-follow guides including when to plant specific vegetables, which varieties do well in our climate, and keys to preparing your soil. Montgomery County Master Gardeners will be available to answer your most challenging garden questions. Complimentary gardening resource materials and soil testing information will be offered. 

Can’t wait for the class? Check out Skip Richter’s YouTube channel, Gardening with Skip, that has over 120 videos on gardening in Texas. Skip is also the host of the Garden Success radio show and just published a new book, Texas Month-by-Month Gardening.

Space is limited. Register here for Organic Spring Vegetable Gardening Class and join us tomorrow, Saturday, February 22, 9 a.m. to noon at The Woodlands Emergency Training Center.

Organic vegetable gardening expert, Skip Richter, will walk you through simple steps to have a successful spring vegetable garden

Integrated Pest Management in the Home Landscape

Are aphids camped out on your roses? Leaf miners munching away at your prized lemon tree? It’s enough to send you scrambling for the quickest, easiest solution. That’s understandable. Just please don’t look for that solution in the chemical aisle at the hardware store, compromising the health of your backyard “habitat” and your pocket book. Integrated pest management (IPM) offers a research-based alternative to chemicals that is economical, environmentally friendly, and it works!

Leaf miners munching on citrus leaves can be frustrating for many gardeners

Pests in the home landscape may be an insect or other arthropod, plant disease, weed or other organism that negatively affects plant health or becomes an annoyance to people or pets. IPM is an approach to managing those pests that respects the interconnection and inter-dependency of all organisms. IPM is used to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment.  

Using a combination of IPM methods, like biological, cultural, physical and chemical creates unfavorable conditions for pests. Biological control is the use of natural enemies, like a ladybug, to control pests, such as aphids. Cultural controls are practices that change the environment to remove the source of the problem, like adjusting irrigation levels, since too much water can increase root disease. Physical, or mechanical, controls trap or block pests from access to plants. Barriers or screens for birds and insects are great examples of a physical control.  The use of a chemical control, or a pesticide, is used only when needed and in combination with efforts of the above mentioned methods. If pesticides are needed, applying them so they minimize harm to people, beneficial insects and the environment is imperative.  Check out this fact sheet from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for more information on IPM.

Ladybugs provide a natural pest control by preying on aphids

With the average homeowner in need of problem-solving techniques to manage landscape pests, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department is presenting a FREE class on Integrated Pest Management in the Home Landscape.  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Specialist in IPM and board-certified entomologist, Wizzie Brown will offer practical research-based information to support implementing IPM in your own back yard.  Wizzie shares specific tools for use in the home landscape to strengthen plant health and reduce plant pests.  You’ll take home information that can immediately be put to use in your own yard or garden. 

Join Us
Saturday, January 18, 2020 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center
16135 Interstate 45 South
The Woodlands, TX 77385

Space is limited and registration required. Register here.

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

Save The Date

The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department kicks off the New Year with a packed calendar of programs and events. We are ready to plant trees, create water-saving lawns, take down invasive plants, and get our hands dirty in the garden. There is something for everyone so read on and make plans to join us at these free events.

Integrated Pest Management in the Landscape
Saturday, January 18, 2020 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Learn how to implement simple actions throughout your landscape so that your plants can withstand common garden pests. Wizzie Brown, Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Services, will address practices to prevent most pest problems, control population levels of common pests, and how to do so in an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective way.

Free workshop. Registration is required. Register here.


Arbor Day Tree Giveaway
Saturday, January 25, 2020 from 9 a.m. to noon
Northshore Park (2505 Lake Woodlands Drive)

Join The Woodlands Township, and community partner, the George Strake District of Boy Scouts of America, in celebrating the 44th annual Arbor Day Tree Giveaway.  12 varieties of native tree seedlings will be available, while supplies last.  Come early for the best selection and be sure to bring your reusable bag to fill with trees and educational resources.

Since 1977 more than 1.5 million seedlings have been given to attendees 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 to benefit our community for years to come.

For a complete list of seedlings available, visit here.


Principles of Organic Landscapes and Gardens
Saturday, February 1, 2020 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Three of Houston’s premier organic educators will teach a FREE workshop on the benefits of organic garden and landscape principles. If you are already gardening, thinking of starting a garden, or looking for a way to improve your yard, it’s time to ditch your synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides and garden with organics. Learn from the experts how to have a beautiful yard or garden free of chemicals.

Free workshop. Registration is required.  Register here.


Backyard Composting Class
Saturday, February 1, 2020 from 10 to 11 a.m.
Parks, Recreation and Environmental Services (8203 Millennium Forest Drive)

Learn how simple and easy it is to turn kitchen waste, yard trimmings and leaves into rich, handmade compost. Try out a variety of composting tools and equipment and learn how compost benefits plants, gardens and lawns.

High quality collapsible compost bins are available to purchase, at half price, to all those who attend.Regular price for a C.E. Shepard Compost Bin is $50. Class participants pay only $25.

This informal, interactive class is packed with great information and lots of fun. No registration required.


Community Tree Planting
Saturday, February 8, 2020 from 8 a.m. to noon
Creekside Park West Trailhead at the George Mitchell Nature Preserve

Volunteer today at the sixth annual Community Tree Planting. Township staff and volunteers will work side by side to help reforest a portion of the trailhead with a variety of native trees, wildflower seeds, and milkweed plants. This effort supports The Woodlands Township’s reforestation program as well as the Plant for Pollinators program that helps protect our native bees, butterflies, and moths.

All ages are welcome to volunteer and get their hands dirty. Registration is required. Register here.


Walk in the Woods: Basics of Backyard Beekeeping
Thursday, February 13, 2020 from 6 to 7 p.m.
HARC (8801 Gosling Road)

Ever wondered what it would be like to be a beekeeper? Not sure where to start, what the neighbors will think or how much work it will take? Join us for a FREE presentation, led by Woodlands residents Lisa and Andrew Miller and hear firsthand from local beekeepers.

Lisa has four hives at her home that she and her son, Andrew, manage. Lisa has a wealth of experience in urban beekeeping and bee removal. She is a board member of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association as well as a mentor to club members. Lisa and Andrew are members of Real Texas Honey, The Texas Beekeepers Association and they created The Woodlands Honey Company to sell their own local honey.

Free program. Registration required. Register here.


Invasives Task Force Training Event
Saturday, February 15, 2020 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
HARC (8801 Gosling Road)

The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department wants you to volunteer!

Non-native, invasive plants crowd out native vegetation, degrade soil health and push out critical food sources that wildlife depend on. Volunteers are needed to work on scheduled days at specific sites around town to remove invasive species such as air potato vine, Chinese privet and Japanese climbing fern.

Since the efforts began in February 2019, more than 80 volunteers have been trained on identification and proper removal of invasive plants. A total of 350 volunteer hours helped remove 2,600 gallons of invasive species from pathways in the Township.

Free training. Light lunch included. Registration required. Register here.


Spring Vegetable Gardening that Works in Location and Climate
Saturday, February 22, 2020 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Register today for the unique chance to hear from Dr. Bob Randall as he shares how to have a successful organic vegetable garden with tips and tricks specific to our climate.

Dr. Randall has a lifelong interest in sustainable food production, gardening around the world until settling in Houston in 1979. As a founding member of Urban Harvest, Dr. Randall has helped establish one of the most successful community gardening programs in the Houston area.

Dr. Randall will cover a variety of topics in this 3 hour presentation including:

  • Organic gardening
  • Spring gardening for Montgomery County
  • Garden site selection and preparation
  • Plant selection related to specific plant hardiness zone (9a)
  • Gardening techniques

Free workshop. Registration required. Register here.


We hope to see you at one of the many programs offered in the next few months. For more information or to see the full calendar of events, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment

Is your sprinkler off for the winter?

Every day more and more residents of The Woodlands Township are turning off their sprinkler systems for the winter. Letting grass “rest” for the cooler months is a trend that continues to spread. From soil scientists to turf grass specialists, all agree a “no watering” policy helps cultivate deeper roots and stronger grass while the grass goes dormant.

So, what does that mean for your yard? First off, don’t fertilize during the winter; it makes your grass lazy. By adding nutrients, your grass spends its energy staying green, rather than turning brown and concentrating on improving the root system. Secondly, don’t water your grass. Just like fertilizing, roots become lazy when they find moisture easily in shallow soil. By not watering, they reach deeper into the soil where microbes are working to recycle nutrients though decomposition and moisture is available.

There are many ways to have a beautiful yard and save money and resources. Be sure to check out Take Care of Texas, for more information

When you turn  off your sprinkler system, you will find you will not  need to water your gardens and flower beds at all, or not as often as you think. Use a manual hose-end sprinkler if your landscaped bed needs some moisture.

One resident, Andy, reported saving 11,000 gallons of water in one year by turning off the sprinkler system and using drip irrigation in its place.

Last year, nearly 700 residents took the pledge to turn off their sprinkler systems from mid-October to mid-April. Many of these water-conscious residents have reported their lawns are better than ever! Perhaps it’s time for YOU to join them. If you are a resident of The Woodlands, your pledge also becomes a point for your Village Association in the competition for scholarship funds. The benefits of turning off your system are plentiful: water savings, healthier yards, and the potential for your Village to present scholarships to college-bound students.

When you’re ready to pledge, the form is available ONLINE. And here’s a bonus: Once you pledge, pick up a free hose timer at the Environmental Services Office, located at 8203 Millennium Forest Drive, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Need more information? Contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800.