Our forest needs our help. 3 ways you can lend a hand.

Thanks to the environmentally minded planners, natural areas are seemingly ubiquitous in The Woodlands with nearly 8,000 of The Woodlands’ 28,000 acres preserved as open space. Take pride – this fact sets us apart from most common communities in North America. However, our forest areas represent just a portion of the native forest expanse (what existed here pre-development). This presents a challenge as our forests do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to cleaning the air and water, capturing and storing carbon, and providing wildlife habitat.

Cue our residential landscapes to the rescue! They offer tremendous potential for supplementing those critical forest services, provided we’re mindful in how we tend them. Some basic considerations regarding what we put into our landscape and what we allow to flow off it carry a lot of weight.

Read on to find out how easy it is to turn your landscape into a resource for the environment and all of us who depend on it.

Encourage soil health

In healthy soil fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates work constantly at breaking down nutrients, making them available for uptake by trees, grasses, and shrubs. There are many critical functions of healthy soil and this is one of the biggest.

When we apply chemicals to our landscape we sever these microscopic relationships, stemming the production of soil nutrients. Organic lawn care methods, as opposed to chemical methods, support these relationships, promoting healthier soil which is the foundation of all healthy ecosystems.

Composted organic material – leaves, grass clippings, etc. – is chock-full of beneficial soil microbes. When you leave cut grass and leaves on your lawn or apply a layer of compost to it, you’re automatically introducing soil microbes which get right to work producing nutrients and building healthy soil! Composting is an easy yet powerful way to ramp up your landscape’s ecosystem value AND it’s a lot cheaper than chemical applications.

Give your lawn what it really wants

Warm season native grasses such as St. Augustine, which comprises most lawns in The Woodlands, depends on fungal soil networks to supply their nutrients. Compost, not chemicals, helps build those networks. The more roots interact with their fungal friends, the stronger they get, which then allows more energy to funnel to the leaves resulting in, you guessed it, that lush, green look we all love.

A healthy lawn needs, and wants, far less water. If you “set and forget” your sprinkler system you’re apt to overwater and harm the microbes. Use a moisture meter to avoid overwatering (they’re available at any home and garden store for a few bucks). Or make things even easier for yourself and subscribe to the weekly water recommendation email from Woodlands Water Agency – let the experts tell you when and when not to water. Installing a rain sensor on your irrigation system is another easy way to avoid overwatering by automatically shutting off your system during a rain event. Did you know you can install a rain sensor yourself in about 15 minutes?

Healthy lawns to the rescue! They add oxygen to our air, capture carbon in the soil and nourish plants and trees. You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood, to boot.

The most important thing of all

Multiply your impact – spread the word! When you make smarter choices in your landscape you become a model for environmental sustainability. Share your knowledge with others and encourage them to do the same.

If you’d like to learn more and take your impact to the next level, attend the online Smarter Choices Seminar on October 2, 2021 from 9 a.m. to noon. We’ll look at simple, practical steps for developing your landscape’s ecosystem value plus you’ll get an update on the new “smart” water meters Woodlands Water Agency installed across the community this past year. Learn how to track your water use and reduce waste right from your phone – remarkable!

This is a free presentation, sponsored by Woodlands Water Agency, The Woodlands GREEN, Chevron Phillips, HEB, and Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware.

Registration is required to receive the link to the Zoom presentation. Register using the button below.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Native Plant Spotlight: Texas Creeping Oxeye

Wedelia texana

After many spring flowers and gardeners have languished from the heat, this easy-care shrub continues to bloom an airy bouquet of sweet daisy-like flowers through summer and into fall. A little water-sipper of a plant, Texas creeping oxeye Wedelia texana proves that even in the middle of summer, those with a sunny disposition can still thrive.   

Some like it hot 

True to its central and west Texas roots, the plant can handle reflected heat from a walkway, driveway or brick wall. Consider siting it at the edge of a patio or at that tricky spot just beyond the reach of the sprinkler. Also called zexmenia, this perennial shrub typically grows 18 to 24 inches and is semi-evergreen, going dormant during harsh winters. Unparticular about soil, zexmenia only requires excellent drainage to thrive. Rainfall typically provides all the water the plant needs once it is established.   

Feed the pollinators 

Ample nectar attracts butterflies and honeybees. A larval host like many members of the aster family, zexmenia is where the bordered patch butterfly lays her eggs. The buffet doesn’t stop there as songbirds also dine on the seeds.  

Growing success 

This low, long-blooming, shrub is well-mannered and adaptable. In partial shade it tends to sprawl into a pleasant groundcover. To maintain a compact rounded habit, plant zexmenia in full sun. Cut back in early spring and enjoy flowers by April or May. For denser growth or to rejuvenate plant, cut back by half in mid-summer. 

Remember to register your pollinator garden 

A registered garden provides the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical-free zone. Don’t worry if you think your garden might not qualify. The garden registration form helps you put the necessary components in place, whether you’re starting from scratch or making a few additions to an established garden. You’ll find easy-to-follow guidelines, such as offering nectar-producing (flowering) plants for each season, leaving some patches of bare ground for burrowing insects, supplying a water source (bird baths work great) and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. Native plant lists are included to help with any shopping. 

Registrations received from June 1, 2021 through December 1, 2021 count towards the 2021 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your village association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands GREEN and Project PolliNation, will donate funds to the three village associations with the most points for their scholarship program. 


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

More green plants don’t equal more fish in our waterways – here’s why

Aquatic plants supply food, shelter and oxygen for the fish and other aquatic life that share their environment. Pretty important stuff. So, logically, the more plants in the pond the better, right? Well, sort of.

While native aquatic plants are certainly a good thing, there’s a growing contingent of non-native interlopers in these parts. At least 10 species in The Woodlands water bodies appear on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s prohibited species list. These invasive species are illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess, or introduce into Texas waters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has identified several plants as illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess or introduce into Texas waters. Some plants on the above list are not yet prohibited but are known invasive plants in The Woodlands.

The problem starts with the unfair advantage that non-native invasive plants enjoy: fewer natural controls than their native counterparts. This allows them to spread easily and choke out the natives. And as native plants disappear, so do many of our native fish species and other life who simply can’t adapt.

These invasives don’t need any help. Yet, we give them plenty by turbocharging their growth with lawn chemicals. Rain and irrigation readily carry chemicals from lawn to storm drain to local waterway. There they fertilize aquatic plants just as they do your grass. All the excessive growth that results eventually dies and decomposes, consuming oxygen in the process – A LOT of it. So much in fact that oxygen-depleted dead zones result – not good if you’re an aquatic organism. If you’ve ever seen fish floating at the top of a pond, particularly in the summer, this is a likely reason.

In short, invasive aquatic plants bring a slew of bad news.

BUT there’s good news, too! With a couple of simple steps, you can help turn the tide. In fact, more and more residents across The Woodlands are doing exactly that.

Step 1 – Remove all non-native plants from your landscape. Even if they aren’t an aquatic species, they still risk escaping into natural areas. Remember, plants don’t have to grow their way to new areas; seeds are great at dispersing by wind or bird.

Step 2 – Reduce, or even better, eliminate chemical use in your yard. Substitute organic products in their place. Did you know organic compost is probably the single best amendment for your yard?

Support your local fish populations, and all the other critters that depend on clean, healthy water. Remember to: Remove, Plant, Repeat! Remove invasive species, plant natives and repeat the process.

Learn more during Watershed Project: Aquatic Invasive Species, an online workshop scheduled for June 5, 2021, from 9 to 11 a.m. The workshop is FREE, but registration is required. Click the button below to register.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Spice up your pollinator garden

Who doesn’t love festooning a homemade pizza with just-picked basil? Or muddling fresh mint into a glass of tea? If you’re like me, you cherish your herb garden. What’s more, these culinary caches, big or small, can serve more than the chef. They can double as a dinner table for visiting pollinators, too! Many herbs provide nectar or serve as host plants for caterpillars. Support your local bees, butterflies and moths by adding these six herbs to your garden or patio

  1. Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

A fast-growing plant that adds a touch of delicacy and height to flowerbeds. This perennial herb produces yellow flowers and grows up to 5 feet tall. Avoid planting fennel next to dill, caraway, or coriander (included on this list below) as it can cross-pollinate, likely reducing its seed production. Plant in full sunlight.

Attracts : Black and Anise Swallowtails for both nectar and as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Use it in the kitchen: Fennel’s anise flavor works well in both savory and sweet recipes. A popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, add the feathery fronds to salads and soups for a delicate flavor.

2. Caraway  Carum carvi 

This biennial herb can grow up to two feet tall. Enjoy its carrot-like foliage during the first growing season. Clusters of tiny white and pinkish flowers resembling Queen Anne’s lace appear in its second year which will attract a number of pollinators. All parts of the caraway herb are edible, and seeds can be harvested once flowers fade in the fall. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Yellow sulphurs and metalmark butterflies enjoy the nectar. Black swallowtails use caraway as a host plant.  

Use it in the kitchen: Add caraway seed to soups and stews for an earthy flavor with a hint of citrus and pepper.  

3. Cumin  Cuminum cyminum 

Dainty white flowers attract small butterflies from this low growing plant. Reaching a height around 15 inches, cumin’s slender branches resemble many of the other herbs listed below. A member of the parsley family, cumin requires the same growing requirements as carrots, cilantro and parsley. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Blues, hairstreaks, sulphurs and many other small to medium-sized butterflies. 

Use it in the kitchen: A key ingredient in Mexican, Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines. An intensely warm, earthy, and also sweet flavor perfect for both savory and dessert dishes. 

4. Anise  Pimpinella anisum 

Anise is a low spreading, bright green bush herb that grows about two feet tall and wide. These feathery plants add an airy presence in the garden and are blanketed in snowy white clusters. Both seeds and leaves are edible. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Swallowtails, including the two-tailed and pipevine. Black and anise swallowtails use as a host plant. 

Use it in the kitchen: Reminiscent of licorice, add anise seeds to breads, cookies, and candy. Leaves make a garnish or crush the leaves and add to any number of recipes. 

5. Dill  Anethum graveolens 

Add contrast and color to your flowerbed with dill. Although delicate looking, dill is a fairly hardy annual that grows quickly and produces showy yellow flowers. This annual herb can grow as tall as five feet and as wide as three feet. Plant in full sun or a location that receives just a bit of afternoon shade during our intense summer days.  

Attracts: Anglewings, tortoiseshells and sulphurs. Host plant to black swallowtails.  

Use it in the kitchen: Dill’s flavor is a cross between celery and fennel. Commonly used in the pickling process, it can also be used to season a variety of dishes like potatoes, bread, fish, and lamb. You can harvest both the seeds and leaves for cooking. 

6. Coriander  Coriandrum sativum 

Get two herbs for the price of one! Coriander are the seeds from a cilantro plant. Allow your cilantro plant to flower and you’ll soon have clusters of delicate white, pinkish or pale lavender flowers. This annual herb can reach a height of two feet. Plant in part shade as it’s delicate leaves can be scorched by direct sunlight.  

Attracts: Small to medium-sized butterflies like sulphurs, metalmarks, blues and hairstreaks. 

Use it in the kitchen: Fresh cilantro is often present in Mexican dishes, but pairs well with many recipes. Remove leaves and add to casseroles, sandwiches, and sauces. Coriander seeds are a great addition to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. Collect seeds for cooking or to plant more cilantro. 

These plants will make an irresistible herb garden, for you and the pollinators. Just be sure to plant enough; three or more of each plant is recommended. Be careful not to over harvest and don’t be alarmed when you find some midnight snacking has occurred. After all, that’s one of the reasons you planted these beauties. Your herbs will grow back (they’ve evolved to deal with bug predation) and you’ll soon be rewarded with wonderful butterflies and a healthier environment.  

Last, but certainly not least, for the health of pollinators and your family, avoid applying chemicals to your herbs. In fact, forgo pesticides and herbicides throughout your landscape; it’s one of the most important steps you can take to protect all those good bugs out there. Want to learn more about natural pest control? Check out this recent Environmental Services blog.  

If you’re looking for more ways to attract pollinators to your garden, check out the Plant for Pollinators website or contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department – email below. 


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Pest Prevention By Design

Come on a design journey with us to craft your landscape into an inviting sanctuary – one that fits your goals and doesn’t take all weekend to maintain. This is Part Two of a series to make your space your favorite place in The Woodlands. 

Are pests part of your garden design?  

No? Make sure you aren’t rolling out the welcome mat by following these 4 tenants to prevent problems right at the source. Good design sets the stage to sit back and let nature do most of the work!  

1] Birds the word 

Pest management CAN be beautiful, melodious, even therapeutic! Get these insect-eaters on board and they will reward you with natural pest control at every level: robins rooting through ground cover, wrens in the underbrush, and woodpeckers up in the canopy. Bluebirds especially are insect-eating powerhouses worth welcoming with pocket prairies to forage in close to the safety of denser canopy, which can also be a source of their favored berries.  

Designing to draw in these avian allies starts with providing a many-layered structure: roots at the foundation, followed by groundcover, perennials, shrubs, vines, understory trees, and canopy trees. In The Woodlands you likely have tall native trees. What other layers are missing or need beefing up? What plants can you add that provide multiple functions – filling a missing level while also providing seeds, fruits, or shade?  

Birds thrive in these multi-faceted environments. By bringing in more layers you not only diversity habitat for wildlife, you increase the beneficial interactions between plants and animals, luring in natural insect predators, large and small. 

2Mix it up! 

Flowers vary in shape, composition, and seasonality of bloom. Take advantage of their diversity. Have a mix of blooms and ensure they overlap so that something is always blooming. This will help you invite the diversity of insects that you DO want. We call these the three P’s: pollinators, predators, and parasitoids. All benefit from layered perennial beds that have a variety of textures, sizes, and colors so there is always “room at the buffet.” 

Let’s focus on predators. In many cases the juveniles are the pest-eating machines, while the adults feed on nectar. So, encouraging a momma ladybeetle to stop for a sip of yarrow nectar and lay eggs is like inviting in a commander for a small army of aphid destroyers. Their small mouthparts need small flowers with short nectaries. Think dill, parsley, cilantro, coreopsis and alyssum to name a few. If you’re concerned about which bug is which, stay tuned. We’ll delve into how to tell good bugs from bad in three more installments. Just know that if you plant it, they will come. 

3Make plants feel at home 

It might seem obvious, but plants thrive in the same conditions they originated from. Are you planting something native to a hot, dry area, or a hot, wet area? Fortunately, you don’t have to check passports; it doesn’t take much digging to get at the light and moisture needs of your chosen plants. Check out the list of resources at the end for some reputable sources. 

To be successful, group your plants based on water needs as well as sun. If not, you’re likely to overwater some while underwatering others, causing stress for all. Consider trees in this equation, too. Planting water-needy perennials at the base of a drought-tolerant tree is a recipe for problems later on. Do yourself a favor and get thirsty plants conveniently close to the hose, or better yet a downspout, depression, or perpetually wet area. If your planting area sits outside the reaches of your irrigation system and hefting watering cans all summer doesn’t sound fun, go with drought-tolerant varieties.  

Now, let’s be honest about sun. We’ve all done it – tried to force fit a sun-lover into part shade. Avoid this temptation and save yourself the disappointment. Just as with water, mismatched sun conditions will cause the plant to stress, making it a prime target for a secondary disease and pest invasions. 

And sometimes you just need to throw in the “trowel”. If you’re faced with a recurring pest or disease, don’t fight it, make a change. As famed “Lazy Gardener” Brenda Beust Smith puts it, “if a plant has an insect or disease problem, don’t treat! Replace that plant with one that doesn’t have insect or disease problems in your area!”

4] Build natural antibiotics 

Now that your plants are in their preferred spot, feed them! Where does a plant take up most nutrients? The soil. Specifically, through the interdependent relationship between roots, soil microbes, and fungi that pull nutrients in from a much wider area than plant roots can reach on their own. So, loading the soil with a diverse and abundant mix of organisms directly promotes plant health. What’s rocket fuel for these organisms? Organic matter! And the best way to add that? Compost, more compost, living mulches, and natural mulches. Conversely, avoid any “-cides” (herbicides, fungicides, etc.) that by their definition kill life. Did you know that antibiotics used today come from soil-dwelling fungi and bacteria? Good soil life and the practices that promote it inoculates plants from soil-borne diseases through the natural ecology of the earth beneath our feet.  

Whether you start at the treetops and work down or build on the soil and work up, these four design elements are essential to a healthy structure, one where natural predators thrive and pests are managed by nature and not you! 

Next, we’ll meet some of the beneficial insects we encourage to patrol our gardens, how to tell them apart from the pests they are stalking, and what small changes we can make to roll out the red carpet for these garden superstars.  

Until then, hear the story of momma hoverfly from Paul Zimmerman for a sneak peak of where we’re headed…

If you missed Part One checkout these 5 Design Elements Your Yard Might be Missing 

Resources to find plant sun and water needs: 

Native Plants

Cultivars and some natives

Or search for the plant on the wholesaler’s database, such as Monrovia.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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