Earn cash by gardening

That’s not a misprint. Thanks to our sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N., and Project PolliNation, cash awards will be given to the three village associations with the most points earned in the Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. First place will be awarded $750, second place $500 and third place $250. These funds support village association scholarship programs. Simply put, your garden can grow money.  

Since the Village Challenge began in June 2020, residents have reached out to learn more about the program. We’re answering your most asked questions below. 

What is the Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge?  

This community challenge, created by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department, encourages residents to support pollinators by providing food, shelter and a space free of harmful chemicals. Residents register their garden and share actions they’ve taken to provide a habitat for bees, butterflies, moths and more.   

Just like the Water-Wise and Recycling Village Challenges, residents earn points which equal cash for scholarships. Registrations submitted June 1 through December 1, 2020 earn a point for the village where the garden is located.  

The Challenge is part of the Plant for Pollinators Program, which supports Township-wide efforts to support and increase our pollinator populations. On-going efforts include distribution of milkweed to the public, installation of pollinator gardens in parks and schools, and educational outreach. 

I’m not a fan of insects. Why would I want to attract them to my yard? 

Pollinator gardens attract bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, and even hummingbirds. These beneficial insects go to work in your garden pollinating flowers, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Did you know that we rely on pollinators for roughly one third of the food that we eat? Our natural environment is even more reliant on their services.  

Maybe you’re having trouble with nuisance insects in your yard. Pollinator gardening can help. The native plants you add will attract birds and bats to control those unwanted pests. They’ll increase your biodiversity so that no single pest takes over. And, you’ll love the year-round flowers. 

I’ve never gardened before. Where do I start? 

We suggest starting with the Plant for Pollinators Garden Registration Form.  Each section (Shelter, Nectar Plants, Host Plants, Water Source) highlights essential elements for a pollinator garden. You likely have many of these in your yard already. For example, a loblolly pine tree is a host plant for elfin butterflies. Your wooden fence provides covered space for a caterpillar to form a chrysalis. Bare ground serves as a nesting site for native bees. And your fountain, provided its chemical-free, is an excellent source of water.  

Determine how much space you want to dedicate to your garden, how much sun that area receives and how what the soil is like. Is it sandy, full of clay or a mix of both? Does it stay moist or dry quickly? This is all important information to lead you to your next step – plant selection. 

To attract a specific pollinator to your yard, find out what plants they need or are most drawn to. Monarch butterflies enjoy nectar from many plants but only lay their eggs on milkweed. The color red attracts hummingbirds and bees are drawn to a variety of flowers, especially blue, purple, white and yellow.  

 Make a list and then head out to a local garden center or nursery.  A few things to keep in mind:  

  • Plant flowers in groups. Pollinators are drawn to bunches of flowering plants; much easier than  searching through the garden for a single plant.   
  • Provide flowering plants for each season. Some pollinators do migrate, so you may only see them once or twice a year as they pass through. However, there are plenty of pollinators that will visit year-round in search of food. As flowers die back in spring, add plants that will bloom throughout the summer, and so on. 

Start simple. Do you have plants that provide pollen and nectar? Does your yard provide shelter and water? Is your garden safe from harsh chemicals? Great! Sounds like you’ve started a pollinator garden.   

I live in an apartment or condo. How can I help pollinators?  

Good news! While bigger is better, small spaces can still provide value for pollinators. Container gardens work well on balconies and patios, especially if they are complemented by a nearby water source and wild native vegetation like oak trees and beautyberry. And they count towards the Village Challenge, too – don’t forget to register!  

I registered my garden before June 1, 2020. Do I need to register it again? 

No need to register again. While the Village Challenge officially kicked off on June 1, 2020, nearly 40 residents had already registered their gardens. Those registrations have been counted towards the 2020 Village Challenge. However, if you’ve made improvements to your pollinator garden since you registered, we would love to hear about it. Send us an email, or better yet, share a photo with us at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

As of August 1, more than 100 residents have registered their pollinator gardens as part of the village challenge. Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer

How do I register my garden 

There are two options. You can submit your registration online, or you can download the form here and then send your completed registration to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.  Be sure to submit your garden registration by December 1, 2020 to be included in this year’s Village Challenge.   

So, register today, earn a point for your village and support pollinators. There are cash prizes on the line along with bragging rights for your village. Most importantly, you’ll be rewarded with a garden buzzing with activity you can enjoy year-round.   

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

Native Plant Focus: Heat Loving Perennials

Imagine a garden in full bloom. Every color you can think of exists as a delicate flower, their sweet scent drifting on a slight breeze. Bees and butterflies visit daily. Hummingbirds stop by in the evening. And that bit of rain last week means you don’t have to water for a few more days. You have a thriving, low maintenance garden and it’s the middle of summer in Texas. Sound impossible?  Not when you add native, heat-tolerant perennials to your garden. Check out this list of five plants that are low maintenance, attract wildlife and bloom all summer long.  

1. Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides)

  • Hearty perennial. Deciduous shrub. 
  • Height of 3-6′ and spread up to 5’ wide. 
  • Flower: red, orange and yellow tubular flowers in dense, rounded clusters. 
  • Produces round, fleshy, dark blue to black fruits. Berries are toxic to humans and most mammals. 
  • Bloom Time: April – October 
  • Water Use: Low 
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: Well-drained soils 
  • Maintenance: Low. Prune down to ground in winter to control spread. 
  • Use Wildlife: Attracts bees and birds, including hummingbirds and butterflies. Deer resistant. 

2. Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea) 

  • Tender perennial that reseeds easily. 
  • Height of 1-3′ and spread up to 2’ wide 
  • Flower: Florescent red tubular flowers 
  • Bloom Time: February – October 
  • Water Use: Medium 
  • Light Requirement: Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: sandy to gravelly soil 
  • Maintenance: Low. Deadhead and trim periodically to create bushier shape. 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Deer resistant. 

3. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

  • Bushy perennial 
  • Height of 2′ and spread up to 2’ wide 
  • Flower: large clusters of bright orange flowers 
  • Bloom Time: May – September 
  • Water Use:  Low 
  • Light Requirement:  Full sun 
  • Soil Description: well-drained, sandy soil 
  • Maintenance: Medium. May attract aphids, which you can leave for ladybugs to eat or spray off by blasting the plant with a high pressure stream of water. 
  • Use Wildlife: Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Larval host for Grey Hairstreak, Monarch and Queen butterflies. Deer resistant. 
     

4. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

  • A shrubby, well branched plant. 
  • Height of 2-5′ and spread up to 2-3’ wide. 
  • Flower: Lavender flowers with domed, purplish-brown, spiny centers. 
  • Bloom Time: April – September 
  • Water Use: Medium 
  • Light Requirement: Sun; Partial Shade 
  • Soil Description: well-drained, sandy or richer soils 
  • Maintenance: Low 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Dead flower heads left standing in winter will attract birds who feed on the remaining seeds. 
     

5. Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis) 

  • Upright, herbaceous perennial that exudes a milky sap when cut. Can cause skin irritation. 
  • Height of 2′ and spread up to 2’ wide. 
  • Flower: white clusters of flowers. Some may have a pink, purple or greenish tint in the center of the flower. 
  • Bloom Time: April – September 
  • Water Use: Low 
  • Light Requirement: Sun 
  • Soil Description: well-drained soil.  Does well in poor to rich soil conditions. 
  • Maintenance: Low 
  • Use Wildlife:  Attracts butterflies. Larval host plant for Monarch and Queen butterflies. Deer resistant. 
     
Photo courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, credit: Sandy Smith

These five featured plants are perfect for Texas summers. Native plants, like these, not only add beauty to a garden but require less water, fertilizer and pesticides because they evolved to survive in these tough conditions. Consider adding a few to the garden this summer. Be sure to keep them well-watered until they have established deep roots. You’ll soon be rewarded with a low maintenance garden full of blooms.

These plants qualify for a native plant rebate from Woodlands Water Agency. If you are a Woodlands resident and live in Montgomery County, be sure to check out the complete list of rebates available here.

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


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New Village Challenge

Residents are encouraged to support pollinators by registering their garden or yard in the newest Village Challenge. The Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge aims to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and how habitat creation can support pollinator populations. Many pollinators, including monarch butterflies, have seen a significant decline in the last few decades due to overuse of pesticides and herbicides and loss of habitat. Take action today to protect bees, butterflies, moths and many more pollinators.  

Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo Credit: Andy
Native plants provide food and shelter in a small backyard garden
Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer
The pollinator perimeter at the Veggie Village garden, located at the Alden Bridge Sports Complex, provides a variety of native and adapted plants for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to enjoy
Local pollinator garden highlight
Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer
This well designed front yard blooms year round, inviting many pollinators to visit

Registered gardens provide the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical free zone. The garden registration form highlights the many ways you can help pollinators, like offering nectar-producing plants for every season, leaving bare ground for burrowing insects and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. The form is a great guide for those looking to start a pollinator garden offering many options including native plant lists, shelter ideas and water sources. 

Registrations received from June 1, 2020 through December 1, 2020 will count towards the 2020 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your Village Association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. and Project PolliNation, will contribute scholarship money to the three Village Associations with the most points. When you register your garden, you will receive a Plant for Pollinators window cling in appreciation. Find the garden registration form at www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/plantforpollinators.

Check out these past articles to learn more about local pollinators:

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

Every Yard is an Ecosystem

How well is yours functioning?

Back in November, Andy, a resident of The Woodlands Township, told me he’d made a conscious effort to reduce water consumption in his yard some time ago. He was adding more and more natives to save on water usage and to create habitat at the same time. I wondered how successful he had been, so I inquired about the status of his burgeoning ecosystem. Here’s the update:

  1. Andy has only a small area of turf grass, specifically Zoysia. This is a grass species that doesn’t tolerate a lot of shade, but is otherwise a good choice for our weather. It tends to stay lower growing and needs far less water than the traditional St. Augustine.
  2. Although a few non-native plants and shrubs remain in Andy’s yard, lots of native vegetation has been added. To support pollinators, native flowering plants were added in bunches so bees and butterflies can easily find them, and host plants were mixed in so that caterpillars (future butterflies) have a food source. Andy’s observed a significant increase in pollinators and birds this last year.
  3. Andy converted much of his sprinkler system to drip irrigation, assuring his plants and grasses don’t get over watered. And he can easily avoid watering areas that consist solely of native plants – they don’t need it.
  4. Andy subscribes to Weekly Watering Recommendation emails from Woodlands Water (formerly Woodlands Joint Powers Agency – WJPA) to tell him just how much, if any, water his lawn needs each week. When he does water his lawn he does it in three-minute cycles with breaks in between. This allows the water to soak into the soil, avoiding run-off.
  5. Andy told me he avoids chemicals in his landscape, except on occasion when the nut-sedges try to take over his Zoysia. Otherwise, he’s careful to avoid anything that could be harmful to the pollinators and birds that visit. Twice-a-year applications of mulch to his beds help maintain the moisture level, reducing the need for watering while also deterring weeds. He noted that he sees few insect pests thanks to the many beneficial insects that now live in his gardens.
Andy’s template for native plants in his yard

Andy reduced his water consumption by 11,000 gallons a year by implementing these changes. And, he hasn’t stopped there. He’s been finding ways to avoid water waste inside the home, as well. By installing simple low-flow faucet aerators, fixing leaky toilets, reducing shower time and minimizing waste water in the kitchen, his two-person household  now uses less than 60 gallons-a-day, on average. Compare that to the national average of 180 gallons a day!

Considering trying some of Andy’s ideas and transforming your yard into an ecosystem? Here are some things to know:

Benefits of Native Grasses

Our native grasses provide great “texture” in a habitat for birds and butterflies. Providing grasses in multiple heights and native varieties creates resting places, nesting places, and shelter from predators.  More than a simple food source, grasses provide a safe space for wildlife.

The Zoysia grass in Andy’s yard receives controlled amounts of water by hand. Overwatering is avoided encouraging the roots to grow deeper in to the soil in search of nutrients. As a result, the grass is greener and more resistant to disease.Native grasses not only require less water but support healthier waterways, too.  As rainwater runs across your yard, the grass filters out debris on its way to the storm drain.  Keep in mind that any chemicals used in your yard will also wash into the storm drain. Use compost and mulch instead of fertilizers and weed killers to reduce chemical runoff.

Andy’s yard looks healthy year round, even in Winter!

Reducing Chemical Use

Pollinators and other beneficial insects don’t do well in landscapes where chemicals are present. Research shows that many of the commonly used chemicals persist longer than originally believed. More than 90% of pollen samples from bee hives in this study were contaminated with multiple pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified a number of effective alternatives to pesticides and herbicides. Check here for a list of resources.

Tools and Resources

The Woodlands Township has a variety of water saving and native plant resources to help you transform your yard, just like Andy. Now is the time to plant trees, before the warmth of spring and new blooms appear. The best time to integrate native plants into your yard is during the spring and fall.

Simple tools, like a rain gauge, are great for ensuring your grass is getting the right amount of water. Stop by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department’s office (8203 Millennium Forest Drive) to pick one up for FREE. We’re open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Don’t forget that The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department has a full schedule of FREE programs and classes this spring that can help you transform your yard into your very own flourishing ecosystem. From drip irrigation and invasive plant removal to pest management and organic vegetable gardening, if you are inspired by Andy’s story to change your yard, let us help!

Native plants in Andy’s yard offer food, shelter and nesting materials for a variety of wildlife

Thanks to Andy for letting me tell his story! If you would like to comment, or wish to contact Teri MacArthur, the Water Conservation Specialist for the Township, with your story, email to: tmacarthur@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3928.


Register here for the upcoming, FREE workshop on Drip Irrigation

Milkweed for Monarchs

On the move

It’s peak migration season in Texas.  Millions of monarchs have made their way along the Eastern United States, funneling into Texas, on the way to their winter site in central Mexico.  This migratory generation will be making stops all across the Houston area in search of food and shelter over the next few weeks.  Guided by an internal compass, monarchs are on a mission to reach their small mountain side retreat by early November.

In early October, monarchs made national news as they rode a cold front through Oklahoma City in numbers large enough to be captured by the National Weather Service Doppler radar.

Good news!

Researchers tracking the monarch population in Mexico recorded a 144% increase in numbers during the 2018-2019 wintering season. Many reports this year are already boasting record numbers, as well. Encouraging news, as monarchs have seen an overwhelming decline in the past two decades. Most information is recorded through citizen science efforts like Monarch Watch. Increased efforts to protect and restore habitats have played a large role in the population growth and offer simple ways for everyone to help.

Data collected by personnel of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas in Mexico.

For more information on the fall migration, be sure to read The Environmental Services Blog: ‘A Wonderous Journey’.

How to help

Cut back tropical milkweed

Tropical milkweed is a popular choice for many gardeners. With a long bloom season, adaptability to our region and availability in nurseries around town, it is an easy-to-maintain, monarch-friendly plant. This Mexican native can be a much-needed resource for monarchs to lay their eggs. However, there are also concerns with this plant.

Given the ability to grow year-round, tropical milkweed may interfere with the monarch migration causing more butterflies to linger later in the season when they should be on the way to their wintering sites. If butterflies delay travel plans for too long, they will run into temperatures too cold for them to survive. In addition to delaying monarchs late in the season, tropical milkweed may increase the risk of infecting monarchs with the OE protozoan pathogen. OE, ophryocystis elektroscirrha, is a protozoan parasite that is ingested by caterpillars.  The disease affects the development of a caterpillar during its transformation into an adult butterfly.  When adults emerge, they are often too weak to fly.  A mild winter without a freeze, results in tropical milkweed that is unlikely to die back. This allows infected plants to continue to grow and be available year-round for caterpillars to ingest; continuing the spread the OE parasite. The best thing for a strong migration and disease-free plants is to cut back your tropical milkweed and watch healthy monarchs continue south.

Cut back tropical milkweed plants to within four to six inches off the ground each October

Plant for spring. Plant natives.

If you don’t have milkweed in your garden, tropical or native, now is the time to plant for spring. Milkweed is the only plant that monarchs will lay eggs on and the only food source for their caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars can eat an entire plant in one day so be sure to plant at least 4-5 milkweed plants to provide adequate food next spring and summer. The Native Plant Society of Texas has a great article on native milkweed varieties for reference.

Not sure where to find native milkweed?  The Woodlands Township has milkweed seedlings to give away this fall.  In partnership with Nature’s Way Resources and the Heartwood Chapter of Master Naturalists, more than 13,000 milkweed seedlings were propagated over the summer.  Many residents, churches, schools and community organizations have already picked up milkweed to plant in gardens across the community.  If you are interested in receiving free milkweed, you are in luck.  4” pots of orange, common and green milkweed are still available at Nature’s Way Resources. These seedlings need to be planted by mid-November so be sure to pick some up before it’s too late!

In addition to planting milkweed, native nectar-rich plants are a much-needed food source for adult monarchs. Monarchs will travel North, through Texas from March to May looking for nutrients along the way. Planting in the fall allows native plants to establish a strong root system over winter, creating a more drought tolerant and robust plant for monarchs and other pollinators to visit the following year. 

Whatever plants you decide to add to your garden, be aware that insecticides and herbicides can be harmful to monarchs.  Plants can absorb chemicals providing leaves and nectar that is toxic to pollinators. Help protect monarchs and other pollinators by avoiding the use of chemicals in and around your garden.

For more information on Plant for Pollinators and the Milkweed for Monarchs programs, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov