Spice up your pollinator garden

Who doesn’t love festooning a homemade pizza with just-picked basil? Or muddling fresh mint into a glass of tea? If you’re like me, you cherish your herb garden. What’s more, these culinary caches, big or small, can serve more than the chef. They can double as a dinner table for visiting pollinators, too! Many herbs provide nectar or serve as host plants for caterpillars. Support your local bees, butterflies and moths by adding these six herbs to your garden or patio

  1. Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

A fast-growing plant that adds a touch of delicacy and height to flowerbeds. This perennial herb produces yellow flowers and grows up to 5 feet tall. Avoid planting fennel next to dill, caraway, or coriander (included on this list below) as it can cross-pollinate, likely reducing its seed production. Plant in full sunlight.

Attracts : Black and Anise Swallowtails for both nectar and as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Use it in the kitchen: Fennel’s anise flavor works well in both savory and sweet recipes. A popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, add the feathery fronds to salads and soups for a delicate flavor.

2. Caraway  Carum carvi 

This biennial herb can grow up to two feet tall. Enjoy its carrot-like foliage during the first growing season. Clusters of tiny white and pinkish flowers resembling Queen Anne’s lace appear in its second year which will attract a number of pollinators. All parts of the caraway herb are edible, and seeds can be harvested once flowers fade in the fall. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Yellow sulphurs and metalmark butterflies enjoy the nectar. Black swallowtails use caraway as a host plant.  

Use it in the kitchen: Add caraway seed to soups and stews for an earthy flavor with a hint of citrus and pepper.  

3. Cumin  Cuminum cyminum 

Dainty white flowers attract small butterflies from this low growing plant. Reaching a height around 15 inches, cumin’s slender branches resemble many of the other herbs listed below. A member of the parsley family, cumin requires the same growing requirements as carrots, cilantro and parsley. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Blues, hairstreaks, sulphurs and many other small to medium-sized butterflies. 

Use it in the kitchen: A key ingredient in Mexican, Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines. An intensely warm, earthy, and also sweet flavor perfect for both savory and dessert dishes. 

4. Anise  Pimpinella anisum 

Anise is a low spreading, bright green bush herb that grows about two feet tall and wide. These feathery plants add an airy presence in the garden and are blanketed in snowy white clusters. Both seeds and leaves are edible. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Swallowtails, including the two-tailed and pipevine. Black and anise swallowtails use as a host plant. 

Use it in the kitchen: Reminiscent of licorice, add anise seeds to breads, cookies, and candy. Leaves make a garnish or crush the leaves and add to any number of recipes. 

5. Dill  Anethum graveolens 

Add contrast and color to your flowerbed with dill. Although delicate looking, dill is a fairly hardy annual that grows quickly and produces showy yellow flowers. This annual herb can grow as tall as five feet and as wide as three feet. Plant in full sun or a location that receives just a bit of afternoon shade during our intense summer days.  

Attracts: Anglewings, tortoiseshells and sulphurs. Host plant to black swallowtails.  

Use it in the kitchen: Dill’s flavor is a cross between celery and fennel. Commonly used in the pickling process, it can also be used to season a variety of dishes like potatoes, bread, fish, and lamb. You can harvest both the seeds and leaves for cooking. 

6. Coriander  Coriandrum sativum 

Get two herbs for the price of one! Coriander are the seeds from a cilantro plant. Allow your cilantro plant to flower and you’ll soon have clusters of delicate white, pinkish or pale lavender flowers. This annual herb can reach a height of two feet. Plant in part shade as it’s delicate leaves can be scorched by direct sunlight.  

Attracts: Small to medium-sized butterflies like sulphurs, metalmarks, blues and hairstreaks. 

Use it in the kitchen: Fresh cilantro is often present in Mexican dishes, but pairs well with many recipes. Remove leaves and add to casseroles, sandwiches, and sauces. Coriander seeds are a great addition to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. Collect seeds for cooking or to plant more cilantro. 

These plants will make an irresistible herb garden, for you and the pollinators. Just be sure to plant enough; three or more of each plant is recommended. Be careful not to over harvest and don’t be alarmed when you find some midnight snacking has occurred. After all, that’s one of the reasons you planted these beauties. Your herbs will grow back (they’ve evolved to deal with bug predation) and you’ll soon be rewarded with wonderful butterflies and a healthier environment.  

Last, but certainly not least, for the health of pollinators and your family, avoid applying chemicals to your herbs. In fact, forgo pesticides and herbicides throughout your landscape; it’s one of the most important steps you can take to protect all those good bugs out there. Want to learn more about natural pest control? Check out this recent Environmental Services blog.  

If you’re looking for more ways to attract pollinators to your garden, check out the Plant for Pollinators website or contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department – email below. 


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


Want the latest articles delivered right to your inbox?

Subscribe to our blog below.

Pest Prevention By Design

Come on a design journey with us to craft your landscape into an inviting sanctuary – one that fits your goals and doesn’t take all weekend to maintain. This is Part Two of a series to make your space your favorite place in The Woodlands. 

Are pests part of your garden design?  

No? Make sure you aren’t rolling out the welcome mat by following these 4 tenants to prevent problems right at the source. Good design sets the stage to sit back and let nature do most of the work!  

1] Birds the word 

Pest management CAN be beautiful, melodious, even therapeutic! Get these insect-eaters on board and they will reward you with natural pest control at every level: robins rooting through ground cover, wrens in the underbrush, and woodpeckers up in the canopy. Bluebirds especially are insect-eating powerhouses worth welcoming with pocket prairies to forage in close to the safety of denser canopy, which can also be a source of their favored berries.  

Designing to draw in these avian allies starts with providing a many-layered structure: roots at the foundation, followed by groundcover, perennials, shrubs, vines, understory trees, and canopy trees. In The Woodlands you likely have tall native trees. What other layers are missing or need beefing up? What plants can you add that provide multiple functions – filling a missing level while also providing seeds, fruits, or shade?  

Birds thrive in these multi-faceted environments. By bringing in more layers you not only diversity habitat for wildlife, you increase the beneficial interactions between plants and animals, luring in natural insect predators, large and small. 

2Mix it up! 

Flowers vary in shape, composition, and seasonality of bloom. Take advantage of their diversity. Have a mix of blooms and ensure they overlap so that something is always blooming. This will help you invite the diversity of insects that you DO want. We call these the three P’s: pollinators, predators, and parasitoids. All benefit from layered perennial beds that have a variety of textures, sizes, and colors so there is always “room at the buffet.” 

Let’s focus on predators. In many cases the juveniles are the pest-eating machines, while the adults feed on nectar. So, encouraging a momma ladybeetle to stop for a sip of yarrow nectar and lay eggs is like inviting in a commander for a small army of aphid destroyers. Their small mouthparts need small flowers with short nectaries. Think dill, parsley, cilantro, coreopsis and alyssum to name a few. If you’re concerned about which bug is which, stay tuned. We’ll delve into how to tell good bugs from bad in three more installments. Just know that if you plant it, they will come. 

3Make plants feel at home 

It might seem obvious, but plants thrive in the same conditions they originated from. Are you planting something native to a hot, dry area, or a hot, wet area? Fortunately, you don’t have to check passports; it doesn’t take much digging to get at the light and moisture needs of your chosen plants. Check out the list of resources at the end for some reputable sources. 

To be successful, group your plants based on water needs as well as sun. If not, you’re likely to overwater some while underwatering others, causing stress for all. Consider trees in this equation, too. Planting water-needy perennials at the base of a drought-tolerant tree is a recipe for problems later on. Do yourself a favor and get thirsty plants conveniently close to the hose, or better yet a downspout, depression, or perpetually wet area. If your planting area sits outside the reaches of your irrigation system and hefting watering cans all summer doesn’t sound fun, go with drought-tolerant varieties.  

Now, let’s be honest about sun. We’ve all done it – tried to force fit a sun-lover into part shade. Avoid this temptation and save yourself the disappointment. Just as with water, mismatched sun conditions will cause the plant to stress, making it a prime target for a secondary disease and pest invasions. 

And sometimes you just need to throw in the “trowel”. If you’re faced with a recurring pest or disease, don’t fight it, make a change. As famed “Lazy Gardener” Brenda Beust Smith puts it, “if a plant has an insect or disease problem, don’t treat! Replace that plant with one that doesn’t have insect or disease problems in your area!”

4] Build natural antibiotics 

Now that your plants are in their preferred spot, feed them! Where does a plant take up most nutrients? The soil. Specifically, through the interdependent relationship between roots, soil microbes, and fungi that pull nutrients in from a much wider area than plant roots can reach on their own. So, loading the soil with a diverse and abundant mix of organisms directly promotes plant health. What’s rocket fuel for these organisms? Organic matter! And the best way to add that? Compost, more compost, living mulches, and natural mulches. Conversely, avoid any “-cides” (herbicides, fungicides, etc.) that by their definition kill life. Did you know that antibiotics used today come from soil-dwelling fungi and bacteria? Good soil life and the practices that promote it inoculates plants from soil-borne diseases through the natural ecology of the earth beneath our feet.  

Whether you start at the treetops and work down or build on the soil and work up, these four design elements are essential to a healthy structure, one where natural predators thrive and pests are managed by nature and not you! 

Next, we’ll meet some of the beneficial insects we encourage to patrol our gardens, how to tell them apart from the pests they are stalking, and what small changes we can make to roll out the red carpet for these garden superstars.  

Until then, hear the story of momma hoverfly from Paul Zimmerman for a sneak peak of where we’re headed…

If you missed Part One checkout these 5 Design Elements Your Yard Might be Missing 

Resources to find plant sun and water needs: 

Native Plants

Cultivars and some natives

Or search for the plant on the wholesaler’s database, such as Monrovia.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


Want the latest articles delivered right to your inbox?

Subscribe to our blog below.

5 Design Elements Your Yard Might Be Missing

Welcome! Come on a design journey with us to turn your landscape into an inviting sanctuary that fits your goals and doesn’t take all weekend to maintain. This is Part One of a series to make your space your favorite place in The Woodlands. Let’s get started. 

Great design pairs what you want to do in your yard within the constraints of the space you are dealing with, without it feeling forced or out of place. Here are 5 design elements that help everything flow and really deliver the wow-factor.

Purposeful Paths

Are you looking to infuse some character or intriguing elements into your landscape? Would you like it to seem larger? How about improving flow and tying separate spaces together? Consider installing a path.  

Purposeful paths can provide an important foundation for your landscape design. As you consider their potential role, ask yourself: What areas get the most use? Could underused areas be transformed into a destination, boosting their appeal? And note where you have to maintain access to easements, that big green box in the back corner or other rights of way for utilities – these routes could be incorporated into pathways. Think about how people could wander through the space. Meandering paths that reveal new views help make use of the full depth and width of your lot – making it seem larger.

Installing paths is fun, but they can also be disruptive. Make life easier by tackling them before you start building and planting your beds. Bonus points for paths that allow water to percolate through. This helps to manage rainfall and provides tree roots with better access to moisture. Think decomposed granite, pavers, woodchips, or an artful mosaic.  

Rooms with a View 

Which window do you look out from the most? Is it an inspiring sight? For many, it’s the kitchen sink or a favorite reading chair. How could you enhance the experience by bringing the outside in? Note any sightlines that need screening, and opportunities to borrow a view from farther vistas. A beautiful glazed pot, stunning statue, or dramatic pop of color could make doing the dishes that much more pleasant.

Places to Plant the Rain 

Rainwater is a mineral-rich drench for the landscape. Harness this abundant, free resource by directing downspouts to plantings that rely on a good soaking to set deep roots and lush growth.  Our area is gifted with 50 inches of rain a year, but often we are too eager to direct it off our properties, allowing soils to quickly dry out. During the next cloudburst, get out in the yard with muckboots and an umbrella for a practical education about stormwater on your site. Do you have an area that stays wet for more than 3 days? This could become a rain garden. Where is water eroding the soil? This is an opportunity to slow down the flow with some well-placed rocks or a slight change in slope. Don’t let this valuable resource run away; encourage it to spread out and sink into the ground.  

Better yet, save some water for the sunny days ahead with a rain barrel.  Easy to install, Ivy rain barrels qualify for a rebate from Woodlands Water and proceeds support The Woodlands GREEN scholarship program. Order online and pick up at Environmental Services. Stay tuned for an entire post devoted to harvesting and managing rainwater; until then get inspired by Brad Lancaster.  

Grow Up! 

There are so many creative ways to use vertical space in the garden – vines on trellises immediately come to mind. But a quick search will reveal all kinds of possibilities: wall planters, obelisks, re-purposed pallets, yard art, plant towers, plant pockets, nested gutters, the list goes on. Growing up and even over has the benefit of creating a sense of enclosure around outdoor spaces that leads to a big “reveal” on the other side. This interplay of intimacy and openness adds a little drama to a space instead of seeing everything at once.

Solar Reality Check 

Finally, it’s time to take an honest look at the sun in your yard. We’ve all been there – brought home a beautiful, sun-loving plant at the nursery and watched it struggle in the place we want to put it. Or lamented ferns frying in some unexpected late-afternoon sun.  

Note the way the light moves over the landscape throughout the season as trees leaf out and the sun’s angle changes. Pictures or video can be great references for when the shadows are long but the memory is short. The plants you have may already give some indication of sun and shade. Having problems growing grass under the trees? Our St. Augustine struggles if given less than 6 hours of direct sun, leading to bare patches which invite weeds. Save yourself the heartache and use a shade-loving ground cover for lush, low-maintenance alternative. 

Other sun-lovers are vegetable gardens and most fruit trees. If one of these is a priority, then you may find yourself planting a lemon in the front yard, or putting veggies in pots on the deck to get these plants the light they need. Being realistic about the amount of sun each area gets will help steer you towards a successful plant pallet for that space. 

You still have plenty of options for shadier spots. Veggie gardeners will want to focus on crops grown for their roots and shoots over fruits, which take much more time in the sun to develop and ripen. If flowers and shrubs are more to your liking, there are plenty o great options that thrive under the tall canopy of the Pineywoods. Check out the table below for some surefire options.

Perhaps you’d like to bring more shade into your landscape. Trees and umbrellas are standard go-to’s for creating a hot summer oasis. But have you considered some well-placed vines and trellises (grow up!), pergolas with slatted roofs or sling canopies? Shade sails can also be hung as the heat ramps up and are easily adjusted as sun angles change throughout the season. Retractable awnings are a larger investment but they’ll shelter you from the rain, too.  

Check out Alexandra from The Middle-Sized Garden as she tackles a difficult shady corner of her yard. Even though she gardens in the UK, the way she comes to her decision is a wonderful exercise in assessing design options.  

Design is an iterative, incremental process. Start with what you want, what you have, and identify your major constraints. Often it is through design challenges that we find our most creative successes. 

Up next… 

Stay tuned for Part Two where we get into some of the “right ways” to garden in the context of where we live – the humid south – to help you make the best choices for a successful, easy oasis.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


Want the latest articles delivered right to your inbox?

Subscribe to our blog below.

Grow a lot in a little space: edible container gardening

Has your desire to grow your own food been stymied by a lack of space or sun? You’re not alone – it’s a common scenario in our heavily wooded community. But don’t despair, containers might be your answer. With a bit of planning and minimal investment, you’ll amaze yourself with the bevy of edibles you can grow in just one pot, bucket, crate or barrel. And you’ll add beauty and interest to any landscape, balcony or patio. 

Where to start

Begin your plan with a list of vegetables you most enjoy. Then consider the season and planting time. The Montgomery County Master Gardeners’ Vegetable Planting Chart makes an excellent guide.  

Creating a beautiful edible container is as simple as following a recipe. When planting multiple varieties into one container, make the most of the space by including a: 

  • Thriller—a tall, showy  plant (perhaps your favorite variety of pepper) 
  • Spiller—a trailing/vining  plant (try your favorite squash—the flowers are also edible) 
  • Filler—smaller edibles to add color and texture (purple ruffle basil, bunching onions, oregano) 

Vegetables and herbs make fantastic companions. Basil and tomatoes, for example, complement each other just as well in a container as they do in a sauce. Learn more about growing herbs in Texas here.

Look for the largest possible plants to give your edible container a great start. Check with plant retailers, nurseries, and home improvement stores. Many groceries stock potted vegetables and herbs, as well. 

Gather supplies

As for containers, almost any type of material will do: terra cotta, fiberglass, wood, plastic or metal. Err on the side of a larger container to give your plants room to grow. In our hot climate, larger containers also do a better job of keeping roots moist. And make certain it has a drainage hole.

Spring for high quality potting soil. You’ll thank yourself – good soil is key to growing successful edibles. And spend a few extra dollars on quality fertilizer. Whether your gardening preference is organic or conventional, be sure to look for one labelled ‘slow release’ .

Vegetables need 6-8 hours of full sun. Walk around your yard at different times during the day to find the location that receives enough light. Once you’ve found the right space and gathered your supplies, it’s time to start planting. 

Plant and enjoy

Place your new edible container garden in the sunny location you selected and add soil. Gently transplant the plants from the nursery pots to the prepared large pot. Place the “thriller” plant in the center of the container. Add the “spiller plant(s) near the edge of the pot. Fill in with the “filler” plants. Fertilize using the label directions. Water thoroughly. Your edible garden is complete! Container gardens require early morning or late evening watering daily in the southeast Texas climate, unless rain occurs.

Enjoy these additional resources: 

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

Happy 50th Birthday, Earth Day!

Tips for celebrating at home

April 22, 2020 marks 50 years of celebrating Earth Day and the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Although a monumental day such as this is usually celebrated with festivals and mass gatherings, there are still plenty of ways to recognize this milestone and do good for the planet. 

Discover the natural world in your own backyard.

Become a Citizen Scientist by observing wildlife and logging pictures using iNaturalist. Download the app, snap a picture, receive help identifying species and help scientists conducting global research. 

Start a garden to grow your own vegetables or to support pollinators

  • Keep organic waste out of landfills and create rich additive for your garden by starting a compost pile with green food scraps and yard waste. 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Right 

  • Reduce the amount of waste you generate by choosing reusable alternatives and purchasing items with less packaging. 
  • Extend the life of products by reusing them; get creative by turning trash into treasure. 
  • Recycle right. Check with your local government about current recycling practices. Remember not to bag your recyclables and only put the specified items in your recycle bin.  

Watch a new documentary, webinar or presentation to learn more about our environment and how to preserve it for future generations. 

Stay Connected  

  • Think globally by subscribing to national and world-wide environmental organizations. This website has compiled a list of several groups that educate on important causes around the world, making it simple to learn how you can support their efforts.  
  • Act locally. Subscribe to The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Blog for ways to get involved in our community. Input your email at the top right of this screen and click the link in the confirmation sent to your email from Wordpress.  

Make Earth Day every day by continuing to practice environmentally friendly habits. If you would like more information on how to be green in the spirit of Earth Day or opportunities to get involved in our community, contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department at 281.210.3800 or enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.