TURF WAR: THE BATTLE BETWEEN INVASIVE AND NATIVE PLANTS

Everyone needs a home. For pollinators, and every other organism, that home, or habitat, means food, water, shelter and space. But what happens when our Texas pollinators can’t find a home? Well, it’s fairly simple; their numbers decline, often dramatically. And while there are many causes of habitat loss, some of the biggest culprits are non-native invasive plants.

One of the easiest and most effective ways for you to help our native pollinators is to avoid planting non-native vegetation and to replace any that currently reside in your landscape with natives. The types of plants, shrubs and trees you choose for your landscape is critical as they are primary providers of both food – pollen, nectar, leaves and seeds – and shelter. Many insects acquire most of their water from the vegetation they eat. Our Texas butterflies depend on Texas native plants for reproduction, laying eggs on the leaves. When the eggs hatch into caterpillars, those young butterflies eat the leaves to sustain themselves as they grow large enough to make their chrysalis, later emerging as adult butterflies. Many pollinators have evolved with native plants, both adapting to the local climate and growing season.  Non-native plants may not provide pollinators with enough nectar or pollen, or the plants may be inedible to some caterpillars.


Native plants play a critical role in the survival of pollinators

The existence of these plants impacts more than just pollinators. Many non-natives become invasive, out-competing existing natives for soil nutrients and crowding them out. Some of the worst offenders in our community include air potato vines, Chinese and Japanese privets, Japanese honeysuckle, Nandina (often called heavenly bamboo), elephant ears, and Japanese climbing fern. While some may look good in our yard and can be effectively managed, their seed or runners often escape into neighboring greenbelts, pathways and open spaces. The resulting loss of native vegetation and habitat value in these areas is never pretty.



Learn more about the challenges posed by invasives and simple steps you can take to help solve the problem. Attend The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department Invasives Task Force Workshop on Saturday, August 10, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the HARC Building located at 8801 Gosling Rd. For details and to register for this FREE workshop, click here. Space is limited, so register early to guarantee your spot.

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

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.

 

 

 

Add Height and Habitat with Oxeye Sunflower

Native Plant Focus: Oxeye Sunflower

Heliopsis helianthoides

Oxeye Sunflower (1)

[By Ann Hall, Environmental Education Specialist, enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov]

With showy yellow daisy-like flowers attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, beneficial wasps, flies and native bees, the oxeye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) blooms all summer and into fall.  Since this plant is not a true sunflower, it is known by several common names including ‘false sunflower’, ‘oxeye daisy’ and ‘smooth oxeye’.   This upright clump-forming Texas native perennial is very effective when used in a garden border, native plant garden, or as an addition to a pollinator garden.

Oxeye sunflower is easy to grow and maintain

It thrives in full sun but will tolerate part shade.  The low watering requirement and tolerance to all soil types make it a perfect plant for our hot Texas climate.  At maturity, oxeye sunflower will reach a height of 3-6 feet and spreads into 2-4 foot clumps.  Dead head (remove spent flowers) to keep this long-blooming perennial covered with blooms.  No known pests or diseases affect this extremely resistant plant.

Ground Bee on Oxeye Sunflower

Nature is enhanced by the oxeye sunflower since it is pollinated by a specific ground-nesting bee.  Birds use the seeds as a winter food source while the plant’s stems provide cover for beneficial insects.  Starting the oxeye sunflower from seed is easily accomplished in the cooler fall and winter months.  Although it is possible to divide the mature clumps, this strategy is less successful than growing from seed.

Seeds of oxeye sunflower are readily available from online retailers who focus on seeds of Texas native plants. Watch for local plants sales offering starts of oxeye sunflower or check local native plant retailers.  Enjoy not only the summer to fall color this plant provides, but also the hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other fascinating pollinators it will attract to your garden.

All A-Buzz – its Pollinator Week!

pwgraphic-for-cover-photo[By Ann Hall, Environmental Education Specialist, enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov]

Celebrate the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles during National Pollinator Week , June 18-24, 2018.

When pollen is moved within a flower or carried from one flower of another of the same species, it leads to fertilization, a vital step to reproduce flowers, fruit and plants.  The vast majority of all flowering plants depend on insects and animals to move pollen from plant to plant.  More than 99% of pollinators are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths and bees.

Pollinators are in decline.  Populations of honeybees, native bees and many butterflies have become much smaller in recent years.  Research has shown that this decline is partially due to the increased use of pesticides and the reduction of many native flowering plants.  The work of pollinators is crucial to maintaining full harvests of crops and the general health of plants everywhere.

What You Can Do For Pollinators

For information on what to plant in your own yard or garden and how to get involved with The Woodlands Township’s goal to become a National Wildlife Federation Monarch Champion City access the PolliNatives Project Page

 

Pollintator-Poster-2018-low-res

Plant for Pollinators and Water Savings at Free Workshop this Sat!

 

Landscape Workshop (2).jpg

Plant with a Purpose!

Join us for this free workshop and learn how to create habitat in your landscape while saving water at the same time.

We’ll delve into:

  • Importance of keeping invasive species at bay – 8:15 a.m.
  • Wonders of pollinators and how to attract them – 9:45 a.m.
  • Many benefits of native plants including water conservation – 10:45 a.m.
  • Best methods for seed collecting and propagation of the plants you love – 12:45 a.m.

Attend one or more FREE sessions – click here to save your spot.

Experts from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Texas Master Naturalists will lead each session.

HARC Building (1)

DETAILS:

  • Saturday, June 23 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    • Join us for all or part of the program
    • Lunch provided
  • HARC Building, 8801 Gosling Rd, The Woodlands
  • Free but registration is required – click here to save your spot 

 

Thank you to our sponsors:

Houston Advanced Research Center, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas Master Naturalists, Woodlands Joint Powers Agency

 

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Attract Hummingbirds All Summer with Texas Red Yucca

Native Plant Focus:  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.  Actually a member of the Century Plant family, the Texas Red Yucca thrives in our hot Texas summer although it is 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 to coral to 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 – removing the dried flower spike before spring begins is optional.  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 retail outlets offering bedding plants as well as those specializing in Texas natives.  Enjoy this easy to grow plant along with the hummingbirds and insect pollinators it will draw into your garden.

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