It’s Pollinator Week!

Celebrate the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles during National Pollinator Week, June 20-26 2022. 

A celebration of pollination 

When pollen is moved within a flower, or carried from one flower to another, it leads to fertilization, an essential step in reproducing flowers, fruit, and plants. The vast majority of flowering plants depend on insects and animals for pollination, including 35% of the world’s food crops like almonds, coffee, avocados and so much more. 

More than 99% of pollinators are beneficial insects – flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths and bees. Unfortunately, pollinator populations are in decline, mostly due to pesticides and the loss of feeding and nesting habitat.  

Ten Things You Can Do in Your Yard to Encourage Pollinators 

1. Plant a pollinator garden—provide nectar and feeding plants (flowers and herbs). Visit our website for more information on planting a pollinator garden or register your existing garden. 

2. Provide a water source—place shallow dishes of water in sunny areas or create a muddy spot. 

3. Provide shelter and overwintering habitat (bee boxes, undisturbed soil areas, and piles of woody debris). 

4. Stop using pesticides. Use natural alternatives

5. Provide sunny areas out of the wind – a sun drenched stone near a shrub is a perfect place to rest and recharge. 

6. Plant native species. Mimic local natural areas by selecting native plants. Bluebonnets and black-eyed susans aren’t just roadside beauties. Make your pollinator garden a showstopper with native plants and wildflowers for your neighbors and pollinators to enjoy.   

7. Grow flowers throughout the seasons. Provide a variety of colors and shapes. 

8. Plant in clumps and layers. Use trees, shrub layers, with some low growing perennials and vines—intermix with flowering annuals. 

9. Use compost instead of commercial fertilizers. 

10. Look but do not touch. More than being mindful of a potential sting, pollinators are delicate insects easily harmed if handled. Take a photo instead! 


Come celebrate pollinators, and more of our natural world, on Saturday, June 25. Join the Environmental Services Department and nature specialists at our annual BioBlitz. Learn about our migrating bird populations, try your hand at insect identification, explore the weird world of mushrooms and investigate what’s living in our waterways.  

Stop by the Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park with the whole family between 8 – 11 a.m. Bring your mobile device to access the iNaturalist app and make as many observations as you can while exploring the recreation campus and the nearby George Mitchell Nature Preserve. Staff will be available to assist with iNaturalist. 

Click the button below for more information on this free event. 

Attract Hummingbirds All Summer with Texas Red Yucca

Hesperaloe parviflora

More effective at attracting hummingbirds than a feeder, the Texas Red Yucca is also a nectar source for butterflies and native bees.  A member of the Century Plant family, the Texas Red Yucca thrives in our hot Texas summer, though it’s cold tolerant enough to survive freezing temperatures.

With low watering requirements after establishment, this striking perennial evergreen shrub produces dramatic 3-4 foot spikes of pink, coral or red tubular flowers. These beautiful flower spikes provide focal interest in landscape beds, large containers, rock gardens or as a single specimen plant. Each bloom produces a seed capsule which dries to offer winter interest in the landscape. The evergreen leaves turn a deep shade of purple in cold weather, further enhancing the garden.

Thriving in full sun to part shade and needing only natural rainfall, this plant is adaptable to any soil. Maintenance is minimal requiring optional removal of the dried flower spike before spring begins. Planting this succulent in your landscape or a large container will provide beautiful blooms from May through October. Texas Red Yucca is readily available in most local plant nurseries as well as those specializing in Texas natives. Enjoy this easy to grow plant along with the hummingbirds and other pollinators it will draw into your garden.

Looking for more native and pollinator plants for your landscape?

Air BeeNBee

Looking to purchase new property with a small footprint and a big return on investment?

What if you could build a house for pennies and fill it with tenants who get right to work improving the house and the whole neighborhood?

Sound good? Then it’s time to invest 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’re not aggressive and are fine around children and pets. Most solitary bees only sting when provoked (smashed, swatted or sprayed) and they’re safe to have 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, a female bee will select a cavity or ‘room’ in your bee house, 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 come in many shapes and sizes; something roughly the size of a birdhouse is common for most urban landscapes. Whether purchasing a pre-made one or building on your own, consider the following:

Be sure to avoid pressure-treated wood – the chemicals deter would-be inhabitants. If you want to up the curb appeal you can paint the roof and sides; just allow a few weeks for the smell to wear off before bees will move in.

Provide a variety of “room” sizes for bees to choose from – about 1/8″ to 1/2″. A variety of materials provide dark tunnels perfect for nesting: bamboo, hollow reeds, cardboard tubes, small logs or tree branches. Commercial premade nesting tubes or blocks are also available. Whatever material you choose, make sure the tubes are all cut 6″ to 8″ deep, allowing plenty of room for bees to nest. Use sandpaper to smooth any rough edges at the ends. Make (or purchase) extra tubes so you can change out rotten or damaged ones over time.

The back of the house should be closed and the front open. A roof will help keep rain out and should extend 2″ over the front.

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

Room With A View

Find a spot in your yard within 300 fee of plants that flower, aka bee food. Distance is important as some native bees don’t travel very far to find food. 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′ 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 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. 

Your bees may be fine on their own, but the best way to prevent the spread of parasites and disease is to “harvest” your cocoons at the end of the season, or around mid-November. To do this, simply open the nesting tubes and remove the contents. Separate the cocoons from any debris and wash them off in a bowl of cool water. Then place into a container, such as a Tupperware with air holes, in the fridge. Store your cocoons through the winter until temperatures break 50 degrees consistently. At that point, they can be placed in an open container, outside near their nest.

To learn more about harvesting solitary bees, check out this video by Bee Built.

If not harvesting, consider replacing the tubes every few years to reduce potential disease or infestations that are harmful to your bees.

To provide the best long-term housing option, AVOID PESTICIDES in your landscape, certainly around the bee house.

Identifying the types of bees in your neighborhood and meeting their specific needs will help you become the best landlord you can be. Check out the free iNaturalist app for help in identifying and documenting the activity in your yard.

Get your bee house buzzing with activity then sit back and enjoy your new neighbors!

These pollinators aren’t winning any beauty contests

Bees and butterflies – the beauty queens of bugs – have reached celebrity status in the world of pollination. But, while they get the limelight, they’re only a small portion of the over 200,000 species that help produce our crops.  These less adorable species include beetles, ants, moths, wasps and even flies. More than 80% of all flowering plants in the world require the service of pollinators, along with more than 1,200 commercial crops. Without pollinators, we lose 1 out of every 3 bites of food and more than $20 billion of the US economy.

Awareness of the decline of the monarch butterfly and the honeybee has spurred communities across the country into action to ensure their survival.  But what about the less celebrated? 

Let’s take a look at some of these unsung garden heroes.


Hover Flies

Hover Flies, also known as Syrphid Flies, are a large group of medium to large flies with black or brown bodies, yellow banded abdomens and two wings.  Resembling a bee or wasp, adults can be seen hovering above flowers, feeding on their nectar. They can’t bite or sting but may try to steal some of your salty sweat from time to time. The larvae play a beneficial role in gardens, consuming up to 30 aphids per day – a great natural pest control. Hover flies feed on the same flowers preferred by bees, such as purple coneflowers, blanketflowers and sunflowers.

Black and yellow stripes don’t always belong to bees. Hover flies can easily be mistaken for bees but these petite pollinators don’t have stingers.

Hawk Moths

Experts at finding sweet-smelling flowers at night, hawk moths have the longest tongues of any moth or butterfly  – some up to 14” long!  These acrobatic fliers include sphinx and hummingbird moths, built with stout bullet-shaped bodies and long, narrow wings.  See them mostly at night hovering in place enjoying nectar from heavily fragranced flowers. While many tomato gardeners, admittedly, fear the larvae of the hawk moth (a.k.a. green hornworms), the adults are excellent pollinators for your garden.

Hawk moths, including this Hummingbird Moth, have long tongues, or proboscis, to suck nectar from flowers, similar to a straw.

Soldier Beetles

Beetles present the greatest diversity of insects and pollinators, with more than 450,000 known species.  Regular flower visitors like the soldier beetle feed on pollen and even chew on flowers.  Solider beetles are one type of “mess and soil” pollinators, as they will defecate within flowers in the process of carrying pollen from one flower to another.  Soldier Beetles are commonly seen on flowers that are strongly fruity and open during the day such as marigolds, magnolias and many flowering herbs.    

Beetles have been pollinators for millions of years.  Based on fossil records, they were among the first insects to visit flowering plants as far back as 150 million years ago.

Ten Things You Can Do in Your Yard to Encourage Pollinators

1. Plant a pollinator garden—provide nectar and feeding plants (flowers and herbs).  Visit our website for more information on planting a pollinator garden or register your existing garden.

2. Provide a water source—place shallow dishes of water in sunny areas or create a muddy spot.

 3. Provide shelter and overwintering habitat (bee boxes, undisturbed soil areas, and piles of woody debris).

4. Stop using insecticides and reduce other pesticides.

5. Provide sunny areas out of the wind.

6. Use native plant species whenever possible—mimic local natural areas.

7. Grow flowers throughout season. Provide a variety of colors and shapes.

 8. Plant in clumps and layers. Use trees, shrub layers, with some low growing perennials and vines—intermix with flowering annuals.

9. Use compost instead of commercial fertilizers.

 10. Look but do not touch.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

5 beautiful, pollinator-friendly grasses for spectacular fall interest

Texas grasses are a striking addition to the landscape, asking very little of us in return to look their best. Bunch grasses keep a tidy, columnar shape with texture and movement that provides year-round interest. Low on upkeep and water need, they really shine in fall and winter when other plants are past their prime. Unlike your lawn, these no-mow beauties offer a special bonus for native bees, birds and butterflies.  

How do Texas grasses help bees and butterflies? 

Even though grasses don’t provide nectar, they’re vital to the lifecycle of many pollinators and other beneficial insects. Native bunch grasses give ground-nesting bumble bee queens protected sites to overwinter. Over 70% of native bees nest in the ground; adding grasses is one way to ensure more pollinators survive to emerge in the spring. Discover even more elements to help pollinators and other beneficial insects make it through the winter from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. 

Many species of skipper caterpillars develop only on Big and Little Bluestem grasses. Just like monarchs are tied to milkweed, skippers rely on these specific grasses to complete their lifecycle.  And the seed heads last through the cool months, feeding birds and squirrels, too.

Side-oats grama: the state grass of Texas 

Staying short in the spring, this grass mixes well with early wildflowers. Purple oat-like flowers with orange accents fall from one side of graceful arching stems. Blue-green growth turns pale yellow in the fall, with the basal leaves often taking on hues of red and purple. Makes a nice compliment to Little Bluestem but doesn’t compete well with taller grasses.  

Host plant for: 14 species of butterflies and moths including green and dotted skippers 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Big Bluestem: a butterfly magnet 

One of the “big four” native grasses of the Tall Grass prairies that dominated the center of the continent (along with Indiangrass, Little Bluestem and Switchgrass). Songbirds love the cover it provides, as well as cozy nesting material and tasty seeds. Blue-green blades turn russet in fall and winter. Plant this beauty where you want to make a statement or provide a backdrop for fall-blooming asters and goldenrod.  

Host plant for: 22 species including the dusted, Delaware, crossline and swarthy skippers 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Little bluestem: small and striking 

Bluish spring blades may give this grass its name, but the deep mahogany red fall color topped with white puffy seed heads are the most striking features of this 2-foot-tall grass. Planted in multiples of 5 or 7, it makes a dramatic focal point when the rest of the landscape looks drab in winter. Plants stay compact, reaching about a foot across.  

Host plant for: 8 species of skippers including the dusted, crossline and swarthy 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database. 

Indiangrass: a glorious golden accent 

This grey-green grass provides a subtle backdrop most of the year until it erupts with golden flower plumes reaching up to 6 feet by October. Leaves turn shades of orange to purple. Plant two or three together to make a dramatic statement in place of a shrub or small tree.  

Host plant for: the pepper and salt skipper 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Bushy bluestem: a grass for wet places 

Bold, feathery flower heads catch the light and add texture to autumn beds. Especially striking when backlit by the sun; plant this bunch grass where the sun will glow through the copper leaves. Bush bluestem likes to have its feet wet, so plant in a place that stays moist such as near a downspout or low area where water collects. Just be sure that it is in full sun – this grass doesn’t tolerate shade. 

Host plant for: many skippers and satyrs 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database. 

For more great Texas grasses and beautiful pictures of them in yards, check out this article from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  


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