You’re rethinking your landscape to favor bird food and habitat?

Wow, that’s awesome!

Doug Tallamy, author of  Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, wrote in a  2016 article in Bird Watcher’s Digest, “Some plants are far better at producing insect bird food than others. For example, oaks support 557 species of caterpillars (bird food) in the mid-Atlantic states alone, whereas non-native Zelkova trees from Asia support no caterpillars at all.

“Ninety percent of the insects that eat plants can only eat specific plants; if those plants are absent from our landscapes, so will be the bird food they produce. Unfortunately, this is the case in our yards and managed landscapes when we remove native plant communities that are good at making insect bird food and replace them with vast lawns and ornamental plants from other parts of the world that produce few insects in North America. This oversight must end if we want birds in our future.” 

Are you telling me you’re removing some turfgrass to make way for native plants that actually attract insects? That’s really smart of you! In case a neighbor asks you why your lawn is getting smaller, tell them a lot of research is being done on why birds are in decline, and urban landscapes are proving to have great potential to help, see the article below.

Oh, and you can also mention that people who already feed birds are the most likely to transform turf to native plants that birds need. And, by the way, many younger homeowners are getting savvy to gardening for birds, too. So, you are definitely part of the in-crowd when it comes to forgoing the “old school” vast expanse of lawn for bird and wildlife-friendly plants.

Look back at this previous article and learn more about the critical ways native plants support local bird populations.


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Backyard Birds Part II

One sunny morning last month, the most unusual visitors appeared at my birdbath. Well, maybe not that unusual. It is a birdbath after all. I snapped off as many photos as I could before they hurried on their way. But after 10 minutes, cat and human noses remained pressed to the window, soaking up the scene. Finally they did take flight and I assumed that would be the last we’d see of them. Until the next day when they returned for another bath. And stayed for an entire week! 

So, who were these unexpected backyard visitors?  A couple of juvenile Cooper’s Hawks.

Like so many of you, I’m fascinated by our native wildlife. And while many critters can’t easily avail themselves of my yard, that’s not the case for birds. Since my hawk visitors have departed, I’ve taken steps to make my backyard more ‘bird friendly’ in hopes of inviting more avian friends in.  Bird baths and feeders were easy to add and cleaning them weekly keeps visitors happy and healthy. Adding in native plants like American Beautyberry, Barbados Cherry and Turk’s Cap were next. These plants not only look great in my yard but provide shelter and food for birds, bees and butterflies.  A few birdhouses are next, once I determine the best fit for my yard. The National Wildlife Federation’s “Create a Bird-Friendly Habitat” has served as a great guide.  

And it’s working. Carolina wrens, cardinals, robins, and even a downy woodpecker are a few of the recent visitors. Perhaps a rufous hummingbird or an eastern screech owl will make the next appearance in my bird-friendly yard. 

I don’t know if I’ll see those Cooper’s hawks again, but I do know that they’ll forever be the catalyst to me becoming a backyard birder. Join me in exploring some of the larger native birds that are likely to stop by – if you lay out the welcome mat.   

Backyard Birds: Raptors

The word “raptor” means “to seize or grasp” in Latin. Raptors use their powerful, sharp talons to catch prey and to defend themselves.  

More on Backyard Birds 

3 Rules All Birders Should Know 

Bird is the Word 

Backyard Birds 

Common Birds of Houston, Texas by Houston Audubon Society 


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Native Plant Spotlight: American Beautyberry

Fall is here and you know what that means… beautyberry bushes burgeoning with deep purple berries. You’ll find the gorgeous natives growing wild throughout The Woodlands but have you considered adding this perennial shrub to your garden? 

Read on to find out how wonderful this native plant really is. 

Food for Everyone 

Beautyberry is a veritable feast for native wildlife. Butterflies feed off its nectar from April to July. The magenta berries, which begin to show in early fall and can last through the winter, help sustain more than 40 species of songbirds. Armadillo, foxes, opossum, raccoon, squirrels and deer also enjoy the berries. You may even see deer nibbling on the leaves. Good thing this plant is so resilient and can handle being a year-round buffet. 

It’s not just wildlife that enjoys the non-toxic berries and leaves. Raw berries are edible, but don’t have much sweetness to them. In fact, it’s flavor can be described as mildly medicinal when eaten off the stalk. However, they make a fantastic jelly – its arguably the best way to enjoy them. If you’re feeling adventurous, recipes for wine, tea and sauces are available online. Just remember to leave some berries behind for hungry birds and mammals this winter. 

Warning: Limit your consumption of beautyberry when first trying as some people have reported upset stomach afterwards. 

Growing Success 

This fast-growing perennial does well in either part shade or full sun. They spread naturally along forest edges where the amount of sunlight varies. More sunlight will boost berry production but also increases the shrub’s need for water.  

While tolerant of somewhat dry conditions, beautyberry prefers a moist soil. If you’re growing at home in a sunny location, make sure it receives around 1” of water a week.  A layer of mulch around the base of the shrub will help retain soil moisture, especially through the summer months. Skip the fertilizer unless you have very nutrient-poor soil. If so, a shovelful or two of compost in the spring will do just fine. Be careful not to over-fertilize or you’re likely to decrease berry production. 

In the right conditions, American beautyberry can reach a height of 6 to 8 feet and be just as wide. It earns its beauty moniker multiple times a year, festooned with delicate lavender and pink flowers in early summer and show stopping berries throughout the fall and winter.  

2 compounds in the leaves: callicarpenal and intermedeol – have been shown to repel mosquitoes and biting bugs when the leaves are crushed. 

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. 

Smarter About Sustainability Seminar

What a turnout for our two-part seminar on Saturday! Our presenters provided some great resources for residents to save water, support pollinators and be better environmental stewards. You can find these below.  

Please don’t hesitate to contact Bob or Lauren with questions or let them know if you enjoyed their presentation by taking this 3-minute survey.  

Your New Smart Water Meter 

Bob Dailey guided residents through using the WaterSmart Customer Portal. This website allows customers of the Woodlands Water Agency to view their water usage and bill, identify potential leaks, set notifications for excess use and get alerts about freezes or other weather events that may impact your water use. An app is in development and until it’s ready, the WaterSmart Customer Portal can be easily viewed on your phone, desktop or tablet.  

Quick links for Woodlands Water Agency water-saving resources: 

Missed the presentation? View the recorded seminar on our YouTube channel.


Creating a Pollinator Paradise Your Neighbors Will Love 

Lauren has spent her spare time transforming her Houston home gardens into a pollinator-friendly habitat that is beautiful, beneficial to local wildlife AND blends well with her suburban neighborhood. In this presentation, Lauren shared easy steps for creating a pollinator paradise at home that your family can enjoy and will please your neighbors too! 

 

Lauren highlighted the following invasive plants commonly found in our landscapes and  encouraged all of us to remove and replace with natives when creating your pollinator paradise.   

  • Chinese Tallow 
  • Elephant Ears 
  • Nandina (heavenly bamboo) 
  • Bradford Pear 
  • Ligustrum 
  • Pampas Grass 
  • Japanese Honeysuckle 
  • Chinese Privet 

Texasinvasives.org offers a wealth of helpful information on invasive species in our state and region. Learn how to identify key invasives in our area and take action today. 

Missed the presentation? View the recorded seminar on our YouTube channel.


After you’ve created your pollinator paradise, be sure to register your garden. The annual Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge kicks off June 1, 2021.  Register your garden before December 1, 2021 and support your Village Association Scholarship Fund. For more details and to register, visit the Plant for Pollinators webpage. 

Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Woodlands Landscaping Solutions Online Learning – Day 4

Pollinator and Wildlife Gardens

Imagine bushes abuzz with bees, resplendent butterflies flashing about, and birdsong permeating the air – all right in your very own yard. By adding a few key elements to your garden or landscape, you can  turn your landscape into a flourishing habitat and start witnessing sights fit for National Geographic! 

Birds, Bees and Butterflies: Gardening for Wildlife 

Let Water University help you build your backyard habitat. This comprehensive presentation is packed with tips for inviting wildlife. Discover which native plants entice specific pollinating insects and birds  and how to round out your habitat with food and shelter sources. 


Certified Wildlife Habitats 

For a quick guide to the key building blocks of a successful Wildlife Habitat, check out National Wildlife Federation’s short 7 part video series.  Start with the video below. Allow auto play to queue up each  subsequent video and enjoy the entire series. Great to watch with the whole family.  Have you installed all the components of a successful wildlife habitat? Register your Certified Wildlife Habitat here


How to Plant a Pollinator Garden 

Are you limited on space or not up for a whole backyard project? Here is a simple how-to video for creating a pollinator garden in a small sunny spot by Roger Cook of This Old House. Learn how to determine the proper location, prep soil, choose plants and add biodiversity through the addition of a water feature. Please note some plants suggested are localized and not native varieties.


Butterfly Puddle 

Pollinating is important and thirsty work! Create a small oasis for butterflies and bees to sip from using tips in this video by Walter Reeves. 


Get to know your new neighbors with these wildlife guides: 


Register your pollinator garden with The Woodlands Township.  Want to know how your garden can earn cash with the newest village challenge? Read more here.

Join us tomorrow for the final day of online programming as we explore How To Create a Healthy and Beautiful Lawn. 

Questions or Comments?  Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov