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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Want to save pollinators? There’s an app for that.

Attention outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and wildlife champions! Don’t miss the chance to participate in a community-wide, virtual event that brings you closer to the outdoors right in your own backyard. 

The Township is hosting a week-long “bioblitz” – a community effort to identify as many species as possible during National Pollinator Week. This effort provides an informal, fun opportunity for the public to learn together and share their enthusiasm for nature. And the information collected contributes to a genuine scientific survey. Anyone can participate regardless of age or knowledge level.  

This community-wide, virtual event coincides with National Pollinator Week, June 22-28, 2020. Created by Pollinator.org, this world-wide celebration is also a call to action to save the bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and other pollinators who need our help.  

The Woodlands Township is celebrating National Pollinator Week by hosting a week-long BioBlitz. Participants are encouraged to seek out pollinators, in particular,when making observations. iNaturalist will automatically identify and track your observations and share the data with scientific organizations. Now you are participating in a world-wide citizen-science effort to help populations in need, like pollinators. 

How to participate 

  • Download the iNaturalist app onto your phone, tablet or computer.  
  • Before the Bioblitz officially begins, familiarize yourself with the app. 
  • Watch a short, simple tutorial at iNaturalist.org.  
  • Head outside with your phone and photograph the insects, critters and plants you encounter. 
  • Upload the photos to iNaturalist via the app or website. iNaturalist will help identify your picture. Just click ‘What did you see?’ on your phone, or the ‘Species name’ section under the photo you shared.  

To join The Woodlands Bioblitz, log into your iNaturalist account 

Cell Phones 

  • Select ‘Projects’ in the top left corner. 
  • Use the ‘Search’ magnifying glass in the top right corner. Type ‘The Woodlands Township BioBlitz June 2020’. 
  • Select ‘Join’. 

Computers 

  • Select ‘Community’ at the top of the page.  
  • Use the drop-down menu and select ‘Projects’. 
  • Use the search bar, located below the featured project. Type in ‘The Woodlands Township BioBlitz June 2020’. 
  • Click on the event to be directed to the project page. 
  • Select ‘Join’ in the upper right corner. 

Observations made during National Pollinator Week will be tallied at the end of the week. Results will be shared with our community.  You can make as many or as few observations as you like and from any area you wish – backyard, park or forest. However much you participate, you will find that you learn something new, contribute to important scientific efforts including pollinator conservation, and have fun being outdoors. Sign up today! 

For more information on how you can celebrate National Pollinator Week, visit www.pollinator.org or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

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 

Home Pollinator Gardening Class

If you weren’t able to join us for a Pollinator Garden Class at Woodlands Landscaping Solutions last month, don’t worry! Lauren Simpson, area pollinator gardening expert, is coming back this month and is offering a deep dive into how she transformed her own yard into a beautiful space for pollinators. 

Lauren is passionate about educating on pollinators, their conservation and the urban wildscapes that support them. Her own pollinator garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a Monarch Waystation, and a Certified Butterfly Garden. Lauren has observed 48 species of butterfly, 20 species of syrphid fly and around 30 species each of bees and wasps within her home garden. 

Through the success of her garden, Lauren helped create the St. Julian’s Crossing – wildlife habitat, and has received much recognition around the Houston area for her efforts in pollinator conservation. For more information and to see Lauren’s home garden, check out the St. Julian’s Crossing Facebook page.

Register online here. Registration is required. For a complete list of upcoming Environmental Services programs, check out our calendar of events here.

Air BeeNBee

Are you looking to purchase new property with a small footprint but a big return on investment? Nervous that you might not find the right renters or worried about the upkeep on another home?

What if you could build the house for pennies, be guaranteed several long-term renters and get your return on investment almost immediately?

Then it’s time to build a bee house!

Meet The Renters

Native Solitary Bees, also known as pollen bees, account for approximately 90% of bee species native to Texas. Because these bees are not honey producers and don’t have the ‘job’ of protecting and providing for a hive, they are not aggressive and are fine around children and pets. Most solitary bees will only sting when provoked (i.e. smashed or squished) and are safe to observe in the garden.

The most common bees to take up residency are mason bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees. A couple hundred of these friendly neighbors can pollinate as many flowers as a thousand honeybees!

In Spring and Summer, females will select a cavity or ‘room’ in your bee house and fill it with food, lay eggs, seal the room shut and then move on to her next nest. She won’t revisit or defend the nest. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the stored food, winter inside the nest and then emerge in the spring to start the cycle all over again, providing you an endless stream of renters and pollinators!

Hard Hats Required: Construction Zone

Bee houses can be any shape or size, though the size of a birdhouse, roughly 8” x 12” is common for most urban landscapes.  Make sure the depth of the bee house is at least 6 to 8 inches to allow plenty of room for bees to nest.

When building a frame, make sure that the back is closed and the front is open.  A roof will help keep rain out and should extend 2 inches over the front of the house. 

When choosing wood, be sure to avoid pressure-treated wood as the chemicals used will deter bees.  If you want to up the curb appeal of your bee house and add a coat of paint, be aware that the paint and sealant will deter bees for a few weeks until the smell wears away.

For the “rooms” of the house, provide a variety of sizes for bees to choose from.  There are many materials that can provide dark tunnels perfect for nesting:  bamboo, hollow reeds, cardboard tubes, small logs or tree branches.  Whatever material you choose, make sure they are all cut to fit the depth of your bee house.  If drilling holes, be sure to provide a range of sizes from 1/8” to ½” in diameter and use sandpaper to smooth any rough edges caused by the drill.

Several companies now offer premanufactured nesting tubes or blocks to insert into your frame.  These tubes allow for pieces to be removed if any damage, rot or disease occurs.  If interested in harvesting and storing bee cocoons, these removable options are great.  To learn more about harvesting solitary bees, check out this video by Bee Built below.

After collecting your materials, fill the frame with the various sized rooms and add in some bits of nature (pine cones, branches, foliage) to make the bees feel at home.  If concerned about birds or other predators, cover the front of the house with chicken wire

Room With A View

Find an area in your yard that is near where the bees will forage for food. A radius of 300 feet is ideal. Place the house on the South side of a building, fence post or tree that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.   The higher the better: place the house a minimum of 3 feet from the ground. 

Avoid hanging your house from a pole or hook; it will swing too much to be considered a safe home by bees.  Best to have the back of the house flush with a sturdy object. Once your house has residents, DO NOT MOVE!   If you must relocate, wait until November when most of the tubes will be filled with eggs waiting to hatch and emerge in the spring.

Upkeep

Bee houses require  little maintenance; however check periodically that the house remains dry and no mold or mildew is occurring.   Look for signs of pollen mites, chalkbrood, and parasitic wasps.  All are threats to your bee house. 

Harvesting cocoons each winter will decrease the chance for larvae to become a victim to pests or disease.  If not harvesting, consider replacing tubes every few years to reduce potential disease or infestations that are harmful to your bees.

To provide a long term housing option, remember to NOT spray insecticides on or around the bee house.

The best way to keep up with your bee house is to become familiar with who your neighbors are.  Identifying the types of bees and addressing their needs and common concerns will be very helpful in providing the best home for these pollinators.  Check out the free iNaturalist app for help in identifying and documenting the activity in your yard.

Once your bee house is buzzing with renters, sit back and enjoy your new neighbors!