Plant A Piece Of The Universe In Your Garden

Sounds impossible? How can you plant something so infinite and so vast? Can you pluck a star out of the sky to fertilize, water and gaze upon?  Well, no. But what about a flower with a celestial name that’s as radiant as the sun: the yellow cosmos. An annual herb native to Mexico and northern regions of South America, this sunny yellow flower was favored by Spanish priests to adorn their mission gardens.

Cosmos sulphureous
The plant’s genus name (cosmos) derives from the Greek word ‘kosmos’ meaning beauty, while the species name (sulphureous) refers to the luminous yellow to orange flower.

Care and adaptability

Yellow cosmos prefer hot, dry weather and poor soil conditions. It is a perfectly adapted plant for southeast Texas gardens. Plant cosmos seeds when the soil is warm or around 65 degrees. For our region that can be as early as March and as late as September and October. Choose a location which receives 8-10 hours of full sun; too much shade reduces flower production. Cover seeds lightly with soil so they receive enough sunlight for germination. Keep the soil moist for 5-10 days after seeding. Look for sprouts in the next 7 to 21 days and soon after you will have a garden full of rays of sunshine beaming from your yellow cosmos.

Cosmos thrives on neglect!  If watered too frequently and fertilized too heavily, the plant will grow too tall, flop over and produce fewer flowers. Easy to care for cosmos can grow from 1.5 to 6 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide, forming a long taproot to reach water deep within the soil.  When other plants are struggling in 100-degree temperatures, cosmos thrive.  

Prolong the late summer to fall bloom time by removing dying flowers (deadhead) frequently. When seeds form, the plant may be cut back to encourage re-blooming. In late fall, stop deadheading to allow the plants to form seeds which attract small birds, particularly gold finches. Resistant to most pests and diseases, yellow cosmos is a valuable wildlife plant in the garden. 

The single yellow flowers are extremely attractive to butterflies, bees and beneficial insects such as lacewings and parasitic wasps which help control garden pests. Hummingbirds are attracted to the cosmos nectar while many small backyard birds love the seeds. Cosmos is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the flowering annuals most attractive to butterflies.

Beyond the garden

It is also easy to grow cosmos from seed in containers. Just remember to avoid over-fertilization and over-watering. If your garden is pesticide free, cosmos is edible and can be used as an attractive addition to salads.

Add a pop of color to your flower arrangement with some cut cosmos. When correctly harvested, cosmos arrangements can last 7-10 days. Select flowers that have just opened, cutting them early in the morning when the highest water content is contained in the stems. Immediately place the cut flowers in a container of lukewarm water and strip foliage from the stems to prevent decay. Bouquets of cosmos provide a light, airy, cheerful appearance. 

When the cosmos plant was introduced in Japan, it became very popular due to its light, airy appearance. Highly revered in Japan as the cultural meaning of the plant refers to cleanliness and beauty, many festivals celebrating the flower are held each fall.

Growing cosmos in southeast Texas is one of the easiest possible gardening projects. Fall planting time is now. Cosmos seeds are available at local home stores and from online retailers. Grow it and enjoy the other worldly results!


For more information on gardening, or to learn about the upcoming Pollinator Gardening class on October 26, 2019 visit http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Mark your calendars!

The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department has a packed schedule this fall with something for everyone. Always wanted to grow your own vegetables or interested in what it takes to compost in your own backyard? Curious about the fascinating world of bugs, bats and birds? If you have been looking to learn more about reducing your water usage, adding native plants to your yard, or you’re ready to recycle the odds and ends around the house, then read on.

Invasive Species Task Force Volunteer Training
Saturday, August 10, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) 8801 Gosling Road

Learn how non-native plants are impacting our local ecosystem and what actions you can take to keep them at bay. Dr. Hans Landel from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will provide training on the identification and removal of invasive plants and the critical functions of native vegetation. Trained volunteers will be able to join the ongoing effort to tackle invasives in our area.

Free workshop. Registration required. Register here.


Fall Organic Vegetable Gardening Class
Saturday, August 24, 2019 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Beginning and veteran gardeners alike will gain valuable information at this free, three-hour seminar. Learn about the latest gardening trends, soil preparation, planting techniques and the best plant varieties for the area. Join Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents Emeritus (retired) Tom LeRoy and Bill Adams as they share their many years of vegetable gardening experience and expertise. Books authored by both Tom and Bill will be available. Montgomery County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your gardening questions.

Free class. Registration required. Register here.


Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series: Our Neighborhood Bats
Thursday, September 12, 2019 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) 8801 Gosling Road

Join this FREE lecture series, led by Diana Foss from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Diana will discuss habitats, behaviors and threats to bats living in urban areas. Come learn the benefits bats provide to The Woodlands and where you can observe bats year-round in the Houston area.

Free lecture. Registration required. Register here.


22nd Annual Woodlands Landscaping Solutions
Saturday, September 28, 2019 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park

This event is FREE!

Don’t miss this year’s event at its new location—the Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park. Learn from area gardening and landscaping experts at over 30 booths. Shop the marketplace. Pick up FREE plants at the Montgomery County Master Gardener’s pass-along plant booth.  Take a composting class. Guest speaker Lauren Simpson will present, “Gardening for Pollinators” and Tom LeRoy will present on “Lawn Care”. Enjoy live music by Andy McCarthy, kids’ activities and food vendors. See you there!

Visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment for more information.


Smarter Choices Seminar: Healthy Landscapes = Healthy Waterways
Saturday, October 5, 2019 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Learn how simple steps can result in greener lawns and healthier waterways. Practical methods for maintaining your lawn and landscape, as well as alternatives to chemical use will be offered. 

Free workshop. Registration required. Register here


Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series: Vampires, Zombies and Body Snatchers
Thursday, October 10, 2019 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) 8801 Gosling Road

Join this FREE lecture series led by Megan McNairn from The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. Megan will dive into the creepy crawly world of bugs where monsters come to life and ghoulish creatures go bump in the night.  

Free lecture. Registration required. Register here.


Pollinator Gardening
Saturday, October 26, 2019 from 9 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Lauren Simpson, area pollinator gardening expert, will share her experience of creating her own suburban pollinator garden. Lauren will offer practical gardening tips, pollinator information and simple home garden design strategies. Pollinator gardening resources and research-based gardening information will be available. Montgomery County Master Gardeners will answer your gardening questions.

Class is free. Registration required. To register, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment


Backyard Composting Class
Saturday, November 2, 2019 from 10 to 11 a.m.
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 the variety of composting tools and equipment. Find out how compost benefits plants, gardens and lawns.
Our outdoor composting class is taught by certified, experienced Montgomery County Master Gardeners. Composting resources, problem-solving, trouble-shooting and tips are provided at each class. High-quality collapsible compost bins are available for purchase at a reduced price.

Free class. No registration required.


Drip Irrigation and Rainwater Harvesting Workshop
Saturday, November 2, 2019 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Woodlands Emergency Training Center (16135 IH-45 South)

Save water, time and money.  Hands-on training teaches you everything you need to know to set up a rainwater harvesting barrel in your yard and to convert automated sprinkler systems to water-efficient drip systems. Additional rainwater harvesting options, such as rain gardens, will be discussed.  Sign up for this water-saving workshop today!

Free workshop. Registration required. Register here.


3R Bazaar at The Woodlands Farmers Market
Saturday, November 9, 2019 from 8 a.m. to noon
The Woodlands Farmers Market at Grogan’s Mill (7 Switchbud Place)

Celebrate America Recycles Day and explore the 3R Bazaar at The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill Explore the 3R Bazaar and discover opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle.  Shop from local artists featuring repurposed materials or create your own upcycled masterpiece.  Enjoy live music, kids’ activities and bring the following items to be recycled:

  • Batteries: Alkaline, AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V
  • Textiles: Overly worn clothing, shoes, linens and other unusable textiles
  • Oral care products: Toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and floss containers
  • Eyeglasses: Plastic and metal frames and cases
  • Document Shredding: $5 or 5 canned food donations to benefit Interfaith of The Woodlands Food Pantry

Free event. No registration required.


Walk in the Woods Nature Lectures Series: An Introduction to Birds of The Woodlands
Thursday, November 14, 2019 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) 8801 Gosling Road

Join this FREE lectures series led by Alisa Kline from Buffalo Bayou Park. Explore the vital role that birds play in our community’s ecosystem. Alisa offers tools and techniques for observing birds and behaviors and the benefits of documenting observations through iNaturalist.

Free lecture. Registration required. Register here.


Backyard Composting Class
Saturday, December 7, 2019 from 10 to 11 a.m.
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 the variety of composting tools and equipment. Find out how compost benefits plants, gardens and lawns.
Our outdoor composting class is taught by certified, experienced Montgomery County Master Gardeners. Composting resources, problem-solving, trouble-shooting and tips are provided at each class. High-quality collapsible compost bins are available for purchase at a reduced price.

Free class.  No registration required.


For more information on these events, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment or call 281-210-3800.

These pollinators aren’t winning any beauty contests

Recognized as the beauty queens of bugs, bees and butterflies have reached celebrity status in the world of pollination. But, while they get the limelight when it comes to pollination, they’re only a small portion of the over 200,000 species that help produce our crops.  Many of these less adorable species include beetles, ants, moths, wasps and even flies.  Combined, pollinators service over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops, impacting nearly 1 out of every 3 bites of food and more than $20 billion worth of products annually in the U.S.

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 the underrated pollinators in our gardens.


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.  The Woodlands Township offers free compost classes October – March.  For more information, view this page.

 10. Look but do not touch.

Join Us In Celebrating National Pollinator Week

Monarchs on the move

The amazing monarch!

mxc-blog-monarch-g

Outweighed by a penny and powered by wings no wider than a toddler’s hand, the iconic monarch (Danaus plexippus) is right now embarking on the first stage of a migration that will cover upwards of 3000 miles, with some individuals traveling over 200 miles in a single day! They will wind their way across mountains, deserts, and cities, through multiple seasons and weather extremes, in a round-trip effort that will span five generations.

Monarchs in the United States are split into two populations, one east of the Rockies and the other west, along the Pacific Coast. The western monarchs spend their winter in California. Those to the east winter in the mountainous oyamel fir forests of southern Mexico.

It’s now in early spring when the eastern monarchs descend from the oyamel firs and move northward through Texas, allowing us to re-appreciate their beauty and marvel at their incredible stamina, navigational abilities, and the unique spectacle that is the monarch migration.

An epic journey

As temperatures warm and days lengthen, monarchs finish their development which was suspended over the winter, become reproductive and begin mating with fervor. Once mating completes, around February and March, the females leave the males behind in Mexico and head for the milkweed that is now sprouting across Texas.

And so the migration back to the United States and Canada begins.

MonarchMap-NatureServe-10.20
Used with the permission of the Xerces Society  https://xerces.org/monarchs/

The energy expended to complete this first leg of the journey is tremendous. After six weeks or so, now March and April, the female monarchs must find a milkweed leaf on which to deposit their eggs before they die. Once laid, four days will pass before the eggs hatch into voracious eating machines – baby monarch caterpillars.

Monarch caterpillars feast night and day on the leaves of their host plant and, incredibly, will gain 200 times their body weight in just two weeks. When the feasting ends they form their chrysalis and spend the next 10 days metamorphosing into an adult butterfly, vibrating with color and ready to renew the march north. This is generation 1, the offspring of the butterflies that overwintered in Mexico.

chrysalis
Monarch chrysalis

Several more generations will live and die over the summer, travelling further afield, but just one generation will make the entire journey back to the oyamel firs beginning in October.

The fall migration is even more dramatic than the spring, after reproduction has bolstered the population, dozens and even hundreds can be spotted hourly.

Creating safe havens for pollinators in our yards and communities provides vital waystations during spring and fall migrations.

The migration in crisis

Once 700 million strong, monarch populations have now crashed. It’s estimated the eastern population has plummeted by more than 85% while the western population is suffering even more – only 28,000 were counted this winter. Multiple issues are to blame:

Habitat loss and fragmentation. Over 160 million acres of monarch habitat has been lost to development since 1996.  Illegal logging of the overwintering sites in Mexico is also taking a toll.

Climate change. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events can devastate migrating populations. Because of the incredible density of monarchs in the overwintering grounds, severe freezes there are catastrophic.

Pesticides and herbicides. Milkweed used to grow throughout corn and soybean crops across the south and midwest. But herbicides have driven milkweed to near extinction in these agricultural landscapes and depleted monarch populations along the way.  Monarchs are also being impacted by neonicotinoids, a new class of insecticides that spread their toxins through the plant’s tissues. Caterpillars that dine on these plants quickly perish.

OE. Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) is a parasite that infects monarchs, causing them to die in the pupal stage or emerge deformed. Milder infections result in shorter life spans and an inability to fly properly. OE pervades in our area as non-native tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) continues to grow through the cooler months, after native milkweeds have died back. Follow these important steps if you choose to grow tropical milkweed.

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Monarchs overwintering in the oyamel fir forest of Mexico

What You Can Do

Join The Woodlands Township Plant for Pollinators Program. Through this program you can…

Learn

  • Get notified of upcoming lectures, classes and workshops by signing up for the Township’s Environmental Services blog and calendar updates. These free events focus on pollinators, native plants, invasives removal, organic gardening, no-chemical pest control and more.
  • Ask for a presentation on the Plant for Pollinators program and how to create habitat from the Township’s team of Environmental Education Specialists.
  • Follow the monarch migration with Journey North, check out the Pollinator Partnership’s Million Garden Challenge and more with these partner links.

Grow

Choose a sunny spot

Volunteer

  • Volunteers are needed for larger community planting projects. Help to weed, seed and spread habitat for all types of pollinators. Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov if you or your group can lend a hand.

Observe

  • Download the easy-to-use iNaturalist app on your phone and monitor your habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. Your findings will support the Plant for Pollinators Project. It’s also a great way to learn more about nature!

Plant for pollinators this spring!

At first glance, a pollinator garden may look like any other pretty flower garden. But for a garden to be a haven for native bees, butterflies, and moths, it needs to meet their needs for all life stages. And the most important ingredient are plants rich in nectar and pollen to feed adult pollinators and host plants specific to butterfly species. Here are simple guidelines for creating a pollinator garden that will reward you with three seasons of garden visitors and help protect these vulnerable insects.

Choose a sunny spot.

Most blooming plants require sun. Four hours of sun is ideal, but a minimum of two to three hours will work too. Some great nectar and pollen plants thrive in part shade (two hours of sun with dappled shade the rest of the day).

Plant natives.

Native plants support more than 29 times the number of insect species than non-native plants. Aim for at least 70% of native plants in your garden. (Print the PDF for recommended plant list.)

Plant host plants.

Host plants are where the female butterfly will lay her eggs and her young caterpillars will feed. Some butterfly species—like the monarch and some swallowtails—only have one host plant. It is vital, therefore, to include some of these plants to support these species. Most of our host plants are native, but some are non-natives well adapted to our area. By including these host plants, you’ll welcome more diversity into your garden. (Print the PDF at the bottom for recommended plant list.)

Plant variety.

Adult bees and butterflies like some variety in their diet, just like us. By including different varieties of plants, your garden will attract a diverse assortment of pollinators.

Plant for three seasons.

Pollinators that overwinter in our area start emerging as the weather warms, and that could be late February to early March. As the weather turns cool, bees and butterflies go into hiding. As a general rule, they can’t fly when temperatures fall to 55 degrees. Bumblebees and some solitary bees will hibernate underground; other solitary bees will hibernate in nests they create in rock crevices and dead wood tunnels . Honey bees don’t hibernate, but buzz all winter keeping the hive warm—only the queen hibernates.  The monarch butterfly is the only migrating butterfly in North America and usually leaves its overwintering site in central Mexico in March, returning in November. You can track their migration each season at journeynorth.org.

With pollinators active and needing food spring through fall, it’s important that your garden provide blooms each season. (Print the PDF at the bottom for recommended plant list.)

Plant in dense color blocks.

Avoid planting different plant varieties singly. Go bold! Group a minimum of five to seven of the same plant to create large swaths of color in your garden. This helps pollinators find them. A dense planting has another advantage. When host plants especially, are planted densely, the young caterpillars have a better chance of survival by hiding from predators.

Include a puddle.

If there’s a low area that holds water after a rain in or near your pollinator garden, leave it! These “puddling” areas are great for providing certain butterfly species (like male common buckeyes) with necessary minerals and nutrients. You can create your own puddle by filling a shallow pan or plate with soil, some rocks, and pieces of a kitchen sponge and keeping it wet.

puddler
A simple butterfly “puddler” is easy to add to a garden.

Provide shelter.

Shelter can take various forms, from a nearby fence or trellis, dense shrubbery, or a man-made bee house for solitary bees. It can also be as simple as leaving a pile of fallen leaves and pine needles in a nearby spot. Shelter provides safe places for caterpillars to pupate, and for overwintering pollinators.

Use no pesticides.

In your garden or near it. Period.

 Print a PDF of these tips and recommended plants.

Register your garden!

Register your pollinator garden with The Woodlands Township as part of the Plant for Pollinators program and receive a window cling for recognition and appreciation.

window cling.FINAL

Learn more about registering your pollinator garden.

Important note about tropical milkweed

If you already have tropical milkweed in your garden, be sure to cut it to four to six inches of the ground every October to prevent the spread of OE and interference with normal migratory behavior. Consider planting native varieties of milkweed. Learn more about OE and tropical milkweed, and native milkweed species for our area in our recent blog post.