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

Backyard Mothing: Easy, Enjoyable and Exciting

Moths are everywhere, including your own backyard. In fact, more than 11,000 species of moths have been identified in North America. An astonishing number, considering there are a “mere” 575 species of butterflies. Despite their diversity and abundance, moths have attracted less study than their more glamorous cousin, the butterfly. That leaves a lot yet to be discovered about moths – perhaps by you! 

National Moth Week, July 18-26, is a great time to try “Mothing”. This easy, inexpensive hobby can be pursued right at home. With a few simple pieces of equipment, you can take an up-close look at our fascinating neighbors and share observations that build our understanding of the magnificent, mysterious moth. 

Outside the polar regions, moths are found across the Earth (their abundance makes them an important pollinator of flowering plants) and in all sizes and colors. They range from the 6” long Cecropia moth to the tiny (1.2 mm) Stigmella maya. Some vibrate with color. Others are drab to better blend with their environment.  

Moths are distinguished from butterflies by a stout body covered in dusty scales, and feathery, thick antennae. Look but do not touch. Touching can easily damage a moth’s wings. A resting moth extends its wings to the side or holds them tent-like over the body, unlike butterflies which hold their wings vertically.  

Like butterflies, moths develop through the process of metamorphosis.  An egg hatches into a tiny caterpillar (the larval stage).  Eating voraciously, the caterpillar develops through several growth stages called instars. At the end of the final instar, the caterpillar either spins a cocoon or splits its outer skin to expose the chrysalis beneath. The cocoon or chrysalis protects the insect while the transformation from pupae to adult occurs.  When metamorphosis is complete, the adult moth emerges and completes the life cycle by laying the next generation of eggs.  

Moths can be highly destructive in their larval stage. Vegetable gardeners dread the appearance of the tomato hornworm.  These large green horned caterpillars can quickly consume tomato plants. In the adult stage, the tomato hornworm transforms into the beautiful sphynx moth. Also known as “hummingbird moths” due to their size and flight pattern, sphynx moths are important pollinators of summer flowering plants. 

Photo of a Tomato Hornworm
Photo of a White-lined Sphynx Moth

Mothing can be done any time of day, though nighttime provides the easiest viewing. Start by simply turning on your porch light; a number of moth species are attracted by white light (LED or CFL work best). Use a black light and a sheet to attract additional species. Hang a white sheet (cotton works best to reflect the UV rays) between two trees or attach it to your fence. Be sure all four corners are secured as moths prefer a stable surface for landing. Place a black light or a plant grow light next to it and wait a few minutes for these beautiful insects to arrive. Your mothing endeavors will be off to a flying start.  

Shine a light on a white, cotton sheet to attract a variety of moths to your backyard for observation

You may also want to experiment with sugar bait in order to attract nectar feeding moths. Homemade sugar bait can be fashioned from ingredients on hand in your kitchen.  Try blending together a ripe banana, one cup of brown sugar, two tablespoons of molasses and a half cup of flat beer or apple cider. For best results, allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for a day prior to your planned observation. Paint the mixture onto the trunk of a tree or two and wait for nectar feeding moths to land. Check with mothscount.org for more ideas on attracting moths.   

A moth feeds on sugar bait

For identification help, choose a good quality moth guide such as the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Southeastern America, by Seabrooke Leckie and David Beadle (cost about $30).  Small laminated moth guides are easy for children to use.  Try Texas Butterflies and Moths: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species, by James Kavanaugh. This guide is often available in local groceries or may be purchased online.   

Share your backyard moth observations with other citizen scientists by joining National Moth Week July 18-26. The information you submit will be used to help map moth distribution and collect other data.  Join today and have fun mothing! 

Learn more about moths: 

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 

Creature Feature: Bees and Wasps

While sitting outside on a spring afternoon you hear a low buzzing sound. On alert and ready to run you scan the area, anticipating an attack from an angry insect. A reaction many of us are guilty of, but why? How many times have you actually been stung and let’s be honest, could it have been avoided? Bees and wasps are feared by many but they need not be. The vast majority of these highly beneficial insects are not aggressive and stings are easily avoided.  

Whether you think of bees and wasps as friend or foe, they play a critical role in the health of our environment. Beyond sustaining our food supply by pollinating billions of crop plants each year, they provide essential needs, like shelter and food, for other wildlife. Bees are responsible for the production of seeds, nuts, berries and fruit that many other species depend on. Bees and wasps themselves are an important food source for thousands of species of birds, spiders, insects such as dragonflies and praying mantises, and larger predators such as skunks, foxes, weasels, mice, badgers and even bears.  

They also help provide shelter for those predators and many other species. By pollinating a variety of plants, trees and grasses they help maintain healthy forests and grasslands and provide nesting and protective spaces for other insects, birds and small mammals. There is no doubting the importance they play in beautifying our flower garden and bringing our favorite foods to the table, but let’s not forget all the other reasons bees and wasps are so important.     

Bumblebees do not store large quantities of nectar and pollen, like honey bees. Instead they rely on a continuous food supply from spring to fall.

Bees

There are more than 16,000 species of bees in the world, 800 in Texas and 13 in Southeast Texas.  The most common varieties include carpenter, squash, leafcutter, sweat, mason and bumblebees.  All wonderful pollinators, we rely on these native bees to transfer pollen amongst many local crops including cotton, fruit trees, melons, berries, vegetables and livestock crops such as alfalfa and clover.  Even onions rely on pollinators for fertilization!

The annual value of native bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is estimated to be $3 billion.

There are a variety of places bees prefer to nest, depending on the species. 70% of all bee species dwell underground. The rest find their shelter in bare ground, weathered wood, or a honeycomb. When cleaning up around the yard, keep in mind that bees need a variety of places to live so leave some options for them to call home. Some bees are solitary dwellers (carpenter bees) and others live in social groups (bumblebees). The most familiar and well-known hive-dwelling bee is the honey bee.

A nest is the proper term to describe a colony that has created a natural cavity, usually hanging and exposed. A hive is a man-made structure used to house a honey bee nest.

The European honey bee has caught a lot of media attention in recent years due to a steep decline in population. Brought over in the 1600s, honey bees have spread to nearly every corner of North America and play a significant role in the pollination of hundreds of commercial crops. Due to pesticides, habitat loss, and disease, the population of honey bees has declined nearly 60% in the last 50 years.

Good news! You can help. Reduce the use of pesticides in your yard and garden, plant native nectar producing plants (groupings of the same plant are easier for bees to find), and provide various shelter options. These simple steps will go a long way in supporting bees and all pollinators. For more information on how you can help pollinators visit our Plant for Pollinators page.

Beekeeping is permitted within the boundaries of The Woodlands Township. State regulations do apply. The Texas Apiary Inspection Service (TAIS) oversees the State regulations regarding beekeeping.

Wasps

Distinct color patterns, smoother, thinner bodies, and a reputation for ill-temperament distinguish wasps from their more beloved counterparts, bees. That bad reputation, though, is not entirely deserved.

True, an un-barbed stinger allows a wasp to sting repeatedly (a honey bee must leave its stinger in the victim, causing it to die shortly after). However, the vast majority of the time, wasps will sting only when they or their nests are threatened. If you keep a safe distance from nests and don’t swat (this only excites them more) you’ve nothing to worry about. If you do find yourself under attack, cover your head and run away quickly into a building or protected area.

Did you know that wasp venom contains a pheromone that causes other wasps to become more aggressive? A good reason not to swat at one near its nest or other wasps.

Even though we loath the sting of a wasp, they are one of the most beneficial insects when it comes to controlling pest populations. Nearly every pest insect on Earth is preyed on by a species of wasp, either for a meal or as a host for its parasitic larvae. So, having wasps in your garden just may solve your tomato hornworm problem!

If your wasp or bee population has gotten a little too comfortable around the house, taking up residence in a wall of your home or storage shed, the best solution is to have the hive removed by a licensed structural pest control operator (the Texas Department of Agriculture maintains a list). Spraying or improper removal most often results in the site being re-inhabited. Lingering pheromones and honeycomb residue will draw them back making proper sealing of access points a critical step. Licensed operators will also work with a local hive owner to relocate bees before treating the nest. Many will not relocate wasps. Instead, the wasps are exterminated and the nest is removed.

Bees and wasps are a critical component of a healthy ecosystem. They benefit the local gardener, the commercial farmer, and all of us who enjoy a cup of coffee, chocolate bars, and fruits and vegetables. If you enjoy the ‘fruits’ of their labor, then help them out by providing them native nectar plants, some shelter, and most importantly, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides at home. These beneficial insects will show their gratitude in the form of fewer pests in your garden this spring.

Questions? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

For more information, visit our wildlife page or check out these other resources:

Montgomery County Beekeepers Association

Native Plant Society of Texas: Native bees in Texas

Texas Apiary Inspection Service

Under Dark of Night

Bats! Superhero crime fighters, blood-sucking vampires, quirky animated characters, and quintessential fixtures of Halloween décor. These creatures of the night are thoroughly intertwined in American pop culture. Yet, these cultural characterizations often lead to misunderstanding, fear and certainly under appreciation.   Read on for 5 fascinating facts about how bats really are heroes of the night.

1. They Live Among Us

There are more than 1,300 species of bats worldwide, inhabiting nearly every part of the world except the most extreme deserts and polar regions. Ten species of bats call the Greater Houston Area home. They range from the more common Mexican Free-Tailed Bat, the official bat of Texas, which emerges on warm nights in masse from under bridges, to less common species like the Silver-haired bat, one of the slowest flying bats and a solitary forest dweller.

Learn about the various bats that can be found around Houston here.

2. Bats Have Very Few Natural Predators

Owls, hawks, and snakes will eat bats. However, the biggest threat to colonies is White-Nose Syndrome. Millions of bats have died from this disease since it was first identified in 2006. Named for the white fungus that grows on the muzzle and wing of hibernating bats, this disease causes bats to become overly active, including flying during the day. This extra activity burns up their fat reserves which are needed to survive the winter.  There is no cure for white-nose syndrome, but scientists are working to control the spread of the disease. White-nose syndrome can persist on clothing, shoes and hiking gear so, if you’re going to enter a cave, be sure to decontaminate first to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.  Decontamination procedures recommended by the National Parks Service can be viewed here.

3. Bats Are Pollinators

More than 300 species of fruit, including guavas, mangoes, bananas, peaches and avocados, and over 500 species of tropical flowers depend on nectar bats for pollination. The Mexican Long Tongued Bat, found in western Texas and throughout the Southwest and Mexico, is responsible for pollinating the iconic Saguaro cactus and the raw material for tequila, Agave plants.

Learn more about bats that pollinate here.

4. A Bat Can Eat Their Body Weight In Insects Every Night

Bats help control the insect population, and in our part of the world, that includes mosquitoes!  Feeding on moths, beetles and other flying insects, bats contribute an estimated $1.4 billion annually in insect control in the state of Texas.  Mexican-free tailed bats have been recorded flying up to 100 miles round trip in a night, reaching speeds up to 60 miles an hour and reaching heights of 10,000 feet when hunting for food. There aren’t many insects that can outmaneuver those flying skills.

Read the Texas Senate Resolution recognizing the Mexican free-tailed bat as
the Official Flying Mammal.

5. Bats Aren’t Blind

In fact, bats have excellent eyesight.  Their sensitive vision helps them see in the darkest of nights.  The common misconception that bats have poor vision likely comes from their renowned echolocation ability which allows them to hunt more efficiently at night and has no connection to blindness. So the old adage of being ‘blind as a bat’ doesn’t seem that bad, does it?


To learn more about habitats, behaviors and threats to bats living in urban areas, attend Our Neighborhood Bats, led by Urban Wildlife Biologist, Diana Foss from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Registration is required for this FREE lecture. For more information or to register, visit the Walk in the Woods website here.

For more information on programs offered by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment