Fall in Love with Leaves

It’s Fall! Time for cool mornings and pumpkin spice everything. And, while nothing says fall like fallen leaves, sometimes they can feel like a bombardment.  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
  • 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 vacuuming 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, it’s 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 
  1. Use a roller or brush to apply paint to the underside of a leaf. Do it sparingly so that the texture appears 
  1. Place painted side down on a heavy sheet of paper or cardstock 
  1. Cover with a scrap piece of paper and use a rolling pin or straight-sided can to press the leaf down evenly 
  1. Remove the scrap paper and peel the leaf back gently from the stem end 
  1. Let the print dry and embellish with doodles, stickers, glitter or stamps 
  1. 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 

Resources

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

Turn your nightmare lawn into a dream 

With less fertilizer, less money, and less work. 

So, your lawn is having a recurring nightmare… you dump on the high-nitrogen fertilizer, thinking more is better. You get an immediate reward of super green grass and pat yourself on the back for your green thumb, BUT then the problems start. Since nitrogen overuse decreases grass’ water-holding capacity, you’ve soon got unhealthy turf and a welcome mat for weeds and disease. Desperate for a remedy, you then crank up the watering. And your nightmare snowballs – our St Augustine lawns suffer when they get more than an inch a week. Now you’re back to the store shelling out more money for more chemicals and paying a higher water bill, too boot.  And the nightmare rolls-on. 

What your lawn dreams of instead is to grow deep roots thereby reducing stress, promoting health and keeping pests and weeds at bay – something it can’t do when over-fertilization and over-watering keeps the top green but the roots shallow. 

So, listen to your lawn: 

  • Apply fertilizer only if you’re sure you need it – have a soil test performed every 2 to 3 years to find out. 
  • Apply fertilizer only when the lawn is actively growing – in the spring after you’ve mowed at least 2 times (and indicator of active growth). 
  • Look for fertilizers with slow-release Nitrogen so your grass can take up a little at a time and the rest won’t be lost through leaching and runoff. Too much nitrogen leads to fertilizer burn, so follow label instructions carefully. In our clay soils, keep to a 1/2 pound per 1000 square feet to prevent Nitrogen leaching. 
  • In our region, avoid fertilizing after mid-October. This allows the grass to fully uptake it before the first freeze occurs. 

Your grass would also like you to know: 

  • St Augustine grass needs 4 to 6 hours of sun every day – if you see thinning growth, it may be getting too little light. 
  • Mow at a height of at least 2 inches, but 4 to 6 inches is better – and only take off a max of 1/3 the height at a time. 
  • Skip the bagging, leave the grass clippings right on the lawn. This provides nutrients your lawn needs. And your back will thank you.
  • Water no more than 1 to 2 times a week for a total of 1 inch per week. This lessens susceptibility to turf grass diseases. 
  • Use cycle and soak methods. Set your timer to water for 10 to 15 minutes, rest for 20, and then water again. Remember, no more than 1 inch a week, total.    
  • Follow the mandated Defined Irrigation Schedule for The Woodlands (2-days per week allowed) and water between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. This reduces water waste from evaporation and supports a healthier lawn. 
  • Turn off irrigation over winter. Our grass naturally goes dormant in the cool months (November through March): leaves turn brown so the roots can concentrate on growing deep and strong. Watering hampers this process, leaving you with a disease and pest-prone lawn in the spring.  

Better yet, turn off your automatic system year-round and operate it manually only when needed. How will you know when to turn it on? It’s easy.

Simply sign up for Weekly Water Recommendation from Woodlands Water Agency. You’ll get an email each week recommending how much to water.  

Stop the nightmares and help your lawn lose the stress and get strong, healthy and lush!  

Resources

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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