Every Yard is an Ecosystem

How well is yours functioning?

Back in November, Andy, a resident of The Woodlands Township, told me he’d made a conscious effort to reduce water consumption in his yard some time ago. He was adding more and more natives to save on water usage and to create habitat at the same time. I wondered how successful he had been, so I inquired about the status of his burgeoning ecosystem. Here’s the update:

  1. Andy has only a small area of turf grass, specifically Zoysia. This is a grass species that doesn’t tolerate a lot of shade, but is otherwise a good choice for our weather. It tends to stay lower growing and needs far less water than the traditional St. Augustine.
  2. Although a few non-native plants and shrubs remain in Andy’s yard, lots of native vegetation has been added. To support pollinators, native flowering plants were added in bunches so bees and butterflies can easily find them, and host plants were mixed in so that caterpillars (future butterflies) have a food source. Andy’s observed a significant increase in pollinators and birds this last year.
  3. Andy converted much of his sprinkler system to drip irrigation, assuring his plants and grasses don’t get over watered. And he can easily avoid watering areas that consist solely of native plants – they don’t need it.
  4. Andy subscribes to Weekly Watering Recommendation emails from Woodlands Water (formerly Woodlands Joint Powers Agency – WJPA) to tell him just how much, if any, water his lawn needs each week. When he does water his lawn he does it in three-minute cycles with breaks in between. This allows the water to soak into the soil, avoiding run-off.
  5. Andy told me he avoids chemicals in his landscape, except on occasion when the nut-sedges try to take over his Zoysia. Otherwise, he’s careful to avoid anything that could be harmful to the pollinators and birds that visit. Twice-a-year applications of mulch to his beds help maintain the moisture level, reducing the need for watering while also deterring weeds. He noted that he sees few insect pests thanks to the many beneficial insects that now live in his gardens.
Andy’s template for native plants in his yard

Andy reduced his water consumption by 11,000 gallons a year by implementing these changes. And, he hasn’t stopped there. He’s been finding ways to avoid water waste inside the home, as well. By installing simple low-flow faucet aerators, fixing leaky toilets, reducing shower time and minimizing waste water in the kitchen, his two-person household  now uses less than 60 gallons-a-day, on average. Compare that to the national average of 180 gallons a day!

Considering trying some of Andy’s ideas and transforming your yard into an ecosystem? Here are some things to know:

Benefits of Native Grasses

Our native grasses provide great “texture” in a habitat for birds and butterflies. Providing grasses in multiple heights and native varieties creates resting places, nesting places, and shelter from predators.  More than a simple food source, grasses provide a safe space for wildlife.

The Zoysia grass in Andy’s yard receives controlled amounts of water by hand. Overwatering is avoided encouraging the roots to grow deeper in to the soil in search of nutrients. As a result, the grass is greener and more resistant to disease.Native grasses not only require less water but support healthier waterways, too.  As rainwater runs across your yard, the grass filters out debris on its way to the storm drain.  Keep in mind that any chemicals used in your yard will also wash into the storm drain. Use compost and mulch instead of fertilizers and weed killers to reduce chemical runoff.

Andy’s yard looks healthy year round, even in Winter!

Reducing Chemical Use

Pollinators and other beneficial insects don’t do well in landscapes where chemicals are present. Research shows that many of the commonly used chemicals persist longer than originally believed. More than 90% of pollen samples from bee hives in this study were contaminated with multiple pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified a number of effective alternatives to pesticides and herbicides. Check here for a list of resources.

Tools and Resources

The Woodlands Township has a variety of water saving and native plant resources to help you transform your yard, just like Andy. Now is the time to plant trees, before the warmth of spring and new blooms appear. The best time to integrate native plants into your yard is during the spring and fall.

Simple tools, like a rain gauge, are great for ensuring your grass is getting the right amount of water. Stop by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department’s office (8203 Millennium Forest Drive) to pick one up for FREE. We’re open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Don’t forget that The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department has a full schedule of FREE programs and classes this spring that can help you transform your yard into your very own flourishing ecosystem. From drip irrigation and invasive plant removal to pest management and organic vegetable gardening, if you are inspired by Andy’s story to change your yard, let us help!

Native plants in Andy’s yard offer food, shelter and nesting materials for a variety of wildlife

Thanks to Andy for letting me tell his story! If you would like to comment, or wish to contact Teri MacArthur, the Water Conservation Specialist for the Township, with your story, email to: tmacarthur@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3928.


Register here for the upcoming, FREE workshop on Drip Irrigation

Is your sprinkler off for the winter?

Every day more and more residents of The Woodlands Township are turning off their sprinkler systems for the winter. Letting grass “rest” for the cooler months is a trend that continues to spread. From soil scientists to turf grass specialists, all agree a “no watering” policy helps cultivate deeper roots and stronger grass while the grass goes dormant.

So, what does that mean for your yard? First off, don’t fertilize during the winter; it makes your grass lazy. By adding nutrients, your grass spends its energy staying green, rather than turning brown and concentrating on improving the root system. Secondly, don’t water your grass. Just like fertilizing, roots become lazy when they find moisture easily in shallow soil. By not watering, they reach deeper into the soil where microbes are working to recycle nutrients though decomposition and moisture is available.

There are many ways to have a beautiful yard and save money and resources. Be sure to check out Take Care of Texas, for more information

When you turn  off your sprinkler system, you will find you will not  need to water your gardens and flower beds at all, or not as often as you think. Use a manual hose-end sprinkler if your landscaped bed needs some moisture.

One resident, Andy, reported saving 11,000 gallons of water in one year by turning off the sprinkler system and using drip irrigation in its place.

Last year, nearly 700 residents took the pledge to turn off their sprinkler systems from mid-October to mid-April. Many of these water-conscious residents have reported their lawns are better than ever! Perhaps it’s time for YOU to join them. If you are a resident of The Woodlands, your pledge also becomes a point for your Village Association in the competition for scholarship funds. The benefits of turning off your system are plentiful: water savings, healthier yards, and the potential for your Village to present scholarships to college-bound students.

When you’re ready to pledge, the form is available ONLINE. And here’s a bonus: Once you pledge, pick up a free hose timer at the Environmental Services Office, located at 8203 Millennium Forest Drive, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Need more information? Contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800.

What do you think about water?

Consumers in Texas commented on a Water Survey!

  • Do you think about your water usage on a daily basis?
  • Do you make an effort to use your appliances efficiently?
  • Do you contribute to community-oriented water conservation efforts?

In 2018, 4,000 residents across 14 states shared their thoughts on these and other questions about our most precious natural resource – water. Texas respondents to the Perspectives on America’s Water Survey numbered 383, second only to California. See if you agree with their answers.


More than half of the people surveyed thought American businesses should do more to contribute to sustainability efforts related to water:

Should businesses take the lead and work with local community groups on water related initiatives?  

70 percent said YES.

Should businesses help community members be better educated about water usage and conservation?

67 percent said YES.


Are you trying to conserve water?

46 percent of consumers reported that they were personally trying to conserve water.

43 percent are willing to do more – by new daily activities at home to reduce water use.

However, 23 percent said they needed help in identifying new ways to save water.


In answer to questions about drinking water:

67 percent of consumers in the southern region of the U.S., including Texas, are concerned about contaminants in the sources of their drinking water.

Overall, 91 percent of consumers say clean water is our most important natural resource.


So what do you think?

Do you agree with their answers? We want to hear from you! Copy and paste into an email the questions below , and include YOUR responses. Send it to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.

Water Survey Questions:

Should businesses take the lead and work with local community groups on water related initiatives?  

Should businesses help community members be better educated about water usage and conservation?

Are you personally trying to conserve water?

Are you willing to do more by learning about new daily activities at home to reduce water use?

Are you concerned about contaminants in the sources of our drinking water?

Do you agree that clean water is our most important natural resource?

Sign up to receive “New and Noteworthy“, a weekly update from The Woodlands Township Environmental Services to stay informed, receive notifications about events, and get tips about best water use. You will see:

  • education and information about water use and conservation
  • how to reduce contamination in local waterways
  • notices about presentations on these and other vital topics

You will also receive information on other helpful topics such as Recycling, Native Plants, Holiday trash schedules, and more. For more water-specific information visit HERE!

If you have questions, call Environmental Services at 281-210-3800.

Click HERE to view the entire Water Survey.

Are you Kevin?

Kevin’s a Water Hero!

One hot August Saturday at the Grogan’s Mill Farmers Market, Kevin Currey walked up to me and said, “Last year you told me to turn off my sprinkler system for the winter and I haven’t turned it back on since then. I’ve saved so much water!”

Kevin’s been using only a sprinkler or spray nozzle to hand water where needed, and his yard looks great, even during the hot months. He’s so happy that he’s considering leaving the system off indefinitely, except for occasional one-time watering needs.

My water hero, Kevin, asked me to give you a gift: a spray nozzle to encourage you to water by hand this winter. Just come by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department (8203 Millennium Forest Drive), Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and say, “Kevin sent me,” and it’s yours.

Kevin is not the only Township resident with a water-saving success story. More and more residents are turning off their systems and improving their lawns.

You could be a water hero, too! So why aren’t you? The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department is looking for a few more water heroes. Take the Water Wise Village Challenge Pledge now to turn off your system until April. You get benefits for your yard, and your Village gets a point for your pledge that could become a donation for their scholarship fund. For more details and to complete the pledge form, visit here.

Already have a success story to tell? Share how you have taken action to avoid over-watering your lawn. Are you a water hero who only turns on your sprinkler system when the lawn needs a quarter inch or more of water? Do you use compost to strengthen your lawn and reduce watering needs? Send in your story. We want to hear from you.

For more information, contact Teri MacArthur, Water Education Specialist at tmacarthur@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3928.

Is your water running?

A: Is your water running?

B: Yes.

A: Then you better go catch it!

Just like this bad joke, wasting water is nothing to laugh at. It’s a precious commodity we rely on every day in every way.

So, how do you avoid wasting water in and around your home? Do you regularly check for leaks and repair them? Or maybe you use a timer on your  garden sprinkler. Do you use a soak and cycle method when you water your lawn, avoiding runoff into the street? Like most of your neighbors, are you turning off your automated sprinkler system during the winter to help your grass get stronger and healthier?

The average American uses about 100 gallons of water per person every day.  In The Woodlands, residents currently use about 88 gallons per person each day. That’s great news, however we can do more.

Consider the following:

  • Up to 11,000 gallons a year per household is wasted due to leaks.
  • Running your faucet for five minutes uses the same amount of energy required to light a 60-watt bulb for 14 hours.
  • Shaving with the water running is like pouring a 24-oz bottle of water down the drain – 32 times! And a running toilet wastes A LOT more – almost 800 bottles every day!

So ask yourself: where is your water running?  Maybe it’s time to look more closely at  your household water use. Start by calculating your water usage  here. Enter your family’s water use information then view the report to help you identify where you can save some water and even lower your water bill.

Water conservation is a universal concern and many cities have introduced specific actions to ensure we all do our part. Residents of The Woodlands follow a “Defined Irrigation Schedule” which outlines the two days per week each of us may use our automated sprinkler system. However, you can do more by turning your system off completely from mid-October through mid-April. Not only will you save water and money, your yard will be much healthier for it! St. Augustine, the most common turf grass in this area, is a warm weather grass that needs a few months of dormancy each winter to let the green blades go brown while the roots grow deeper and stronger. The result: each spring your lawn will have new growth that is better able to resist insects and disease.

Each year The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department asks families to pledge turning off their irrigation systems as part of the annual Water Wise Village Challenge. Your pledge will help your Village earn cash for its scholarship fund.  The competition renews each year, so be sure to renew your pledge as well. Watch for an Environmental Services booth at upcoming community events to sign your family’s pledge, or go online.

Take the pledge for your household

For more resources on water conservation, check out thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment or call the Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800.