Fall in Love with Leaves

Its Fall! Time for cool mornings and pumpkin spice everything. And, while nothing says fall like fallen leaves, sometimes they can feel like a barrage.  If you’re thinking there’s got to be a better way to deal with those leaves than hauling bag after bag to the curb, you’re right. Here are three things to consider as you tackle the autumnal abundance.

Rake Into Beds

The best place for leaves is right on the ground – raked under your trees and shrubs or mowed into the lawn. This returns nutrients back to the soil and provides shelter to caterpillars and other overwintering insects. Come spring these insects will get to work as natural pest control in the garden, and they in turn will feed new clutches of baby birds. This native mulch also suppresses weeds and holds in soil moisture. A great return for “leaving the leaves”.

If all your landscape beds have a 3-4″ layer and you still have leaves here are some good options:

  • Start or feed a compost pile (scroll to the end for a downloadable manual)
  • Heap up 6-8″ in a corner along with branches and hollow stems for a simple insect hotel
  • Stockpile to put around tender shrubs as insulation over the winter

If you regularly contend with a lot of leaves, consider sucking instead of blowing. Units that vacuum and shred leaves as you go really help reduce the volume and small pieces break down faster into rich compost wherever they end up.

Out of Drains & Gutters

One place leaves don’t belong is in the stormwater system. Don’t blow leaves into the drain, its illegal! Stormwater flows untreated into local waterways and all that extra debris depletes oxygen, reducing water quality for fish, dragonfly naiads and a host of other aquatic organisms.

After a rain check for needles, sticks and other debris that may be lodged in driveway culverts and drain inlets near your house. Keeping the stormwater system clear reduces flooding. It also prevents formation of small, stagnant puddles ripe for mosquito breeding.

Fall is a great time to check those gutters, too. Pay special attention to sections under trees as well as roof valleys (where two sections of roof join). As these areas fill with debris you risk damage to the roof and you create more ideal mosquito breeding sites, right at your doorstep.

Fun with Leaves

Albert Camus wrote “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” There are 168 words to describe leaf shape, arrangement, venation, and edges; take some time to delight in the variety. Have a leaf scavenger hunt or make a leaf print bookmark. Learn the language of leaves.

Leaf Print Bookmark

  1. Collect leaves from the neighborhood that have interesting shapes or vein patterns
  2. Use a brayer, roller, or brush to apply paint to the underside of a leaf. Do it sparingly so that the texture appears
  3. Place painted side down on a heavy sheet of paper or cardstock
  4. Cover with a scrap piece of paper and use a rolling pin or straight-sided can to press the leaf down evenly
  5. Remove the scrap paper and peel the leaf back gently from the stem end
  6. Let the print dry and embellish with doodles, stickers, glitter or stamps
  7. Punch a hole at one end and loop through a piece of ribbon or yard to complete the bookmark

Other ways to use the leaf print technique:

  • Decorate brown kraft paper for a tablecloth or placemats
  • Stamp over newsprint for recycled wrapping paper

Check out the Texas A&M Forest service for help identifying native trees.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Is there a better irrigation plan for your landscape?

Drip irrigation has some real advantages over traditional automatic sprinkler systems when it comes to saving water and money:

Irrigation Comparison Table 1

Learn how to install drip as part of your own sprinkler system at the Drip Irrigation and Rainwater Harvesting Workshop Saturday, April 6.

Local drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting specialists will provide both classroom and hands-on instruction. You’ll learn how to convert an existing sprinkler head to drip as well as how to install drip irrigation from an outdoor hose bib. With drip irrigation in place, you’ll be “efficiently” prepared for summer watering.

Our wet weather means that rain barrels are another great water conserving tool. At the workshop you will see how easy it is to capture rainwater  in your backyard, and will be able to purchase a rain barrel at a discounted price through one of our workshop sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N.

Space for this popular seminar is very limited and registration is required. For more information or to register, see the calendar page.

DI + RWH Workshop

The Woodlands Emergency Training Center, located at 16135 IH-45 South, Conroe, 77385 – about one mile north of Hwy 242 on the northbound feeder road of I-45.

The FREE event has filled quickly in the past, so register early. Visit The Woodlands Township calendar for details and registration information, or call 281-210-3800.

Add beauty and manage rain with a rain garden

Rain gardens are simple landscaping features used to slow, collect, infiltrate and filter storm water. They offer a great way to turn a landscape “problem” into a real benefit. Rain gardens are planted areas—best added to a low lying area that collects rain water—that include deep-rooted native plants and grasses that are designed to thrive in wet soil, soak up excess rain water, and withstand intermittent dry periods.

There are aesthetic benefits to rain gardens as well, transforming a bare, wet area into a green, blooming habitat that provides food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Amphibians such as frogs and toads will be attracted to this naturally wet area.

The problem

Increased stormwater runoff is the real problem. Add soil erosion to that and the result is vulnerability to flooding. Rain gardens help prevent both, helping to conserve water and soil.

Water Cycle

Consider the water cycle shown above and then add human development to the picture. Humans create stormwater runoff when natural areas are developed, replacing them with a sea of impervious surfaces fragmenting our green spaces.  Within a developed residential area, pollutants such as fertilizers, herbicides, pet waste, and oil are washed from lawns, streets, and parking lots into local streams and drainage systems.

Polluted runoff is the number one water
quality issue in the United States. 

How rain gardens help

While a single rain garden may seem inconsequential, it has great value, and several in a neighborhood collectively can produce substantial benefits. They slow the water down and let it collect in the garden’s depression, settling soil, silt and organic material that are washed by the water from higher ground. Water slowly filters back into the soil where it is needed most.  The deep rooted plants and grasses in the rain garden hold of the soil, keeping it in place. Rain gardens can also be designed to divert run off from sewer systems.

Plants within the rain garden increase the infiltration of water, giving the natural process that removes pollutants time to do its work. Naturally purified water then recharges the groundwater system. The end result is that by adding a rain garden to the landscape is a strategy that makes a difference.  Flooding is reduced.  Pollutants are filtered from the water. Runoff is diverted from streets and storm sewers.

Concern that a rain garden might serve as a breeding area for mosquitoes is not valid when they are sited correctly. Following a rain, ponding should last no longer than approximately 72 hours. This is a much shorter time frame than the 7 to 14 days required for most species of mosquitoes to develop and hatch from eggs laid in standing water.

texas rain garden

Rain garden basics

Choose a site. Locate your garden in a low lying area of your landscape that tends to collect rain water at least 10 feet from your foundation. Choose a sunny or partially sunny spot. Also consider how it can be incorporated into your existing landscape replacing an area of traditional turf grass where the lawn slopes toward the street. An area that would catch roof run off or water from a down spout is perfect. If the rain garden is located on a slope, create a berm on the low side to retail water and soil.

Compared to a patch of lawn, a rain garden allows 30% more water to soak in the ground.

Test drainage. Test the location’s drainage before you create the bed. Dig a hole 8 to 12 inches deep and fill the hole with water. The water should soak in within 48 to 72 hours. Soils heavy in clay will drain much more slowly than soils heavier in loam, silt or sand. Amend sites heavy in clay with organic compost to improve the soil and help drainage. If the site doesn’t drain within 72 hours, choose another site.

Start digging. Rain gardens can be any size, but a typical residential rain garden ranges from 100 to 300 square feet. The depth of the garden can range between four and eight inches. Anything too deep might pond water too long and if too shallow, it will require greater surface area to effectively manage water.

Add plants. Choose a variety of native forbs and grasses, planting those with higher water tolerance in the middle of the garden. Include plants of varying heights and bloom times to maximize the garden’s depth, texture and color. Plant in groups of three to seven plants of a single species.  Go for diversity. In natural areas, a diversity of plant types not only adds beauty, but also creates thick underground root network that keeps the entire plant community in balance.

The chart below includes plants for our area suitable for a rain garden. Planting zones are indicated as:

Margin: the high edge around the rain garden that is the driest zone
Median: the area between the margin and center
Center: the middle of the garden that is deeper and will stay wet longest

Rain garden plant listHelp it flourish. Rain gardens can be maintained with little effort after plants are established. Weeding and some watering during dry periods will be needed the first two years.

Attend the upcoming rain garden class

Join Patrick Dickinson, Texas A&M Water University horticulturist on Saturday, October 27, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to noon as he presents Gardening 102:  Rain Gardens.

Register here.

Resources

Refer to Harris County AgriLife Extension gardening fact sheet, Rain Gardens, for more details about planning a rain garden and for a full plant list.

Check out WaterSmart, a presentation by Chris LaChance of Texas AgriLife Extension, for good information and nice photos of various rain gardens.

This how-to manual on Rain Gardens by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources may have plant lists that aren’t suitable for this area, but it’s a good guide to creating a rain garden no matter where you live.