Green Home and Garden Tips

The Green Home and Garden Workshop was a project co-sponsored by the Gulf Coast chapter and the Coastal Prairie chapter of Texas Master Naturalist with a mission to interest and inform people about safe and eco-friendly ways to garden and maintain their homes.  The following are articles with information that supported this mission.

Table of Content

Tip 1:Mosquito Control – PDF file
Tip 2: Water Conservation – PDF file
Tip 3: Attracting Monarchs & Hummingbirds to Your Home – PDF file
Tip 4: Beneficial Insects and Pesticide Alternatives – PDF file
Tip 5: Water Harvesting at Home – PDF file
Tip 6: Native Plants Out-Perform the Imports – PDF file
Tip 7: Reducing Energy Use Around the House – PDF file
Tip 8: Driving a Greener Car – PDF file
Tip 9:In the Yard – PDF file
Tip 10: In the Kitchen – PDF file
Tip 11: In the Bathroom – PDF file
Tip 12: Rainwater Harvesting Makes Cents – PDF file
Tip 13: What Are Bats Worth – to You?PDF file


Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus (Skuse) (Diptera: Culicidae), TAMU, by Bart Dree

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus (Skuse) (Diptera: Culicidae), TAMU, by Bart Dree

Tip 1Mosquito Control
Green Home and Garden
April, 2007
By Debbie Dennis,
Texas Master Naturalist, Gulf Coast Chapter

Mosquitoes are starting to fly about again, and the West Nile Virus is again rearing its ugly head. Subdivisions and the county spray for these pests, but what can be done by individual homeowners to cut down on mosquito populations?

Clean your gutters!! Gutters filled with leaves and debris hold shallow water and that is the perfect breeding ground for the type of mosquitoes that carry West Nile.

Don’t let shallow pools of water stand around; dishes: including the ones that catch water under your potted plants, old tires and even bird baths can attract this insect. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water so fill the bird baths often to prevent hatching.

Install a pond that will attract dragonflies, a natural mosquito predator.

Attract birds to the garden, they like insects, too.

If people can control these insects in a more natural, healthy way, maybe fogging with chemical pesticides will be reduced.

The Texas Master Naturalists is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas Cooperative Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to gcmn.tamu.edu or www.coastalprairie.org.

The Green Home and Garden Workshop was an ongoing project co-sponsored by the Gulf Coast chapter and the Coastal Prairie chapter of Texas Master Naturalists. The mission was to interest and inform people about safe and eco-friendly ways to garden and maintain their homes.


An American Crow checks out the water supply photo: Chuck Duplant

Tip #2: Water Conservation
Green Home and Garden
May, 2007
By Debbie Dennis,
Texas Master Naturalist, Gulf Coast Chapter

Water. Why conserve water? Only 3% of all the water on this planet is fresh water. Of all the water, if it were represented by a gallon jug, 1 tablespoon would represent the fresh usable water. Talk about Liquid gold! Let’s not waste it. Do not let it run off when watering the yard. Once it starts going in the gutter, shut it off. Cycle the watering, give it time to absorb before adding more. Water more deeply but less often to give the roots a chance to go down deeper in the ground. Frequent, light watering encourages roots to grow short or stay close to the surface. They dry out faster in this situation. This in turn becomes a big problem when a long drought ridden summer occurs and water rationing is instigated. Put in more flower beds with more drought-tolerant Texan native plants, and cut back on the lawn area, the biggest water guzzler. (A 25ft. by 40 ft. needs 10,000 gallons of water each summer.) Water early in the morning so less is lost to evaporation.

The Texas Master Naturalists is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal.

 


Monarch Butterflies on Lantana photo: Chuck Duplant

Tip #3: Attracting Monarchs and Hummingbirds to Your Home

Get ready for an invasion!!! With August and September come the big time migration of Monarch butterflies and Ruby throated hummingbirds. Both species are heading South during these months for the winter and now is the time to start turning your yard into a welcoming, well stocked way station. A smorgasbord, if you wish, for the hummers and Monarchs.

Because of all the urban development, homeowners have to step up to the plate and provide habitat (food, water, and shelter) that developers have knocked down, cemented over or destroyed. The biggest factor in attracting wildlife of any sort to your garden is this one cardinal rule: No chemical pesticides!!!! Bad for wildlife and bad for humans. Use natural methods (A shot of water to knock a bug off or pick it off with your hands) and use Integrated Pest Management. Don’t start with the nuclear weapons or you could inadvertently kill the very things you are trying to help! Remember that 20% of a humming bird’s diet is protein which comes from insects. Remember butterflies and their larvae are insects. Plant nectar rich plants the butterflies and hummers love. Think purple for the butterflies and red for hummingbirds But don’t restrict yourself to these colors. These are the colors that get them to look and stop at the smorgasbord you provided. They also like yellow, orange and white. They see big areas of color, so plant in mass to get them to your yard. Plant butterfly weed for the Monarchs, along with Black-eyed Susan, Indian Blanket, and/or purple coneflower. Hummingbirds like tubular flowers like native salvias, cross-vine, coral honeysuckle and Turk’s cap. Texas native plants work best. Set up a mister in your yard, hummingbirds need lots of water and love to fly through misting water. If you start enhancing your garden now, the plants should be in great shape for the migration.

When you start planting for the Ruby throats and Monarchs you will also start attracting other butterflies and hummers, some of which will stay here year-round. So keep your garden well stocked with nectar plants and every year you will get more and more visits to the garden. Along with Monarchs; Sulfur, Swallowtail, Gulf frittillary and Skippers are abundant in this area, so plant larval plants for them. That’s the plants they lay their eggs on and the caterpillars eat until they are ready to morph into butterflies. Butterfly host plant families include Asclepias (milkweeds for monarchs and queens), Passiflora (passion vines for gulf frittillaries), Apiaciae (carrot family such as prairie parsley for black swallowtails, but fennel and dill will work too), and Rutaceae (citrus family such as hercules club for giant swallowtails) The more you include in your garden the more activity you will get year after year. Isn’t that what everyone, especially children, love in a garden?

The Texas Master Naturalists is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal

 


 

Lady Bug photo: Greg Lavaty

Tip #4: Beneficial Insects and Alternatives to Pesticides

Where have all the fireflies gone?? Does the spraying at night of mosquitoes have anything to do with it? Mother Nature had a pretty good system set up to control pests, then man thought he would improve on this and has really upset the applecart. After WWII, with no more enemy to create bombs for, the chemical industry decided to attack nature instead. There are natural predators and beneficial insects already in place to help control the true pests in a garden. Fireflies eat fleas; frogs, birds and dragonflies eat mosquitoes; spiders eat flies; snakes, owls and hawks help control rats; buy beneficial nematodes to attack fire ants, termites, grub worms and roaches. Don’t forget about the other beneficial insects that can be attracted to your garden or purchased to fight against unsavory garden invaders. Ladybugs eat aphids, white flies and scale (scale on plants is an insect) Lacewing larvae kill aphids, mealy bugs and spider mites to name a few; and parasitoid wasps (very tiny and they don’t sting) can control hornworms, earworms, cutworms and more. Not all insects are bad, but the broad-spectrum insecticides that can be so easily purchased and sprayed so liberally don’t know the difference and can end up making the Monarch Butterfly and so many others extinct. (honeybees, where are you?) Children in normal suburban neighborhoods can no longer sit outside and catch a bunch of lightning bugs in a jar as could be done 40 years ago. What childhood memories will be extinct for their children? Will they have to tell the story of the beautiful orange and black butterfly and just show pictures because they are not around anymore?

The information below is from the website: Texans for Alternatives to Pesticides. http://www.nopesticides.org/campaigns/imm.shtml

Harris County Mosquito Control
Did you know that you do not have to have the mosquito trucks spray in front of your property? Call the Harris County Mosquito Control (713-440-4800) and ask them to provide you with a form to keep your property safe from dangerous pesticides. Headaches, dizziness, and skin irritations are indications of overexposure to the District’s pesticides. Make sure the focus is on source reduction and larval control, for without them, situations may in fact be worsened. Children and pets will track the poisons into the house after spraying, which should only be done as a last resort and at night. Remember to drain all standing water from your property and use repellents that are citrus or cedar based.
Pesticide products used by Harris County Mosquito Control are Malathion, Scourge and Dibron. For information and Fact Sheets for these and other pesticides used in mosquito control, go to Beyond Pesticides.

The Texas Master Naturalists is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal

 


tip5_waterTip #5: Water Harvesting at Home

Rain, Rain, go away, come again some other day. You may have been muttering this little rhyme under your breath during this wet summer. Did you ever stop to think that by capturing the rain as it falls, you really can bring it back another day? How, you ask? Rainwater harvesting can be a very simple system of collecting the water off your roof for watering plants, or a complex system where you can actually collect enough water for household use, including drinking water and a pumping facility. This GH&G tip will focus on a simple system for watering outdoor plants and flower beds.

If you already have gutters on your house, then you’ve already completed the hardest and most expensive part. Now all you need is a container to collect and store the water in. A collection container can be made out of anything that doesn’t leak, from a big plastic garbage can to a decorative giant clay pot, to something especially built for rainwater harvesting (you can find these on the internet). Storage containers that are specially-built have spigots at the bottom so you can hook up a hose, a soaker hose, or even a drip hose. They also have a gutter connection and an overflow valve. If you use something not specially designed for rainwater collection you’ll have to add these items yourself. But it’s not difficult. An overflow valve can be as simple as a hole covered with window screening near the top of the container. Voila! You’re in business. Opaque containers work better than translucent ones. This prevents slime and mold from building up. Covers can be as simple as window screening which fits tightly over the opening of the container. The more water-tight the container is, the less you have to worry about mosquitoes. If in doubt, you can always use a mosquito dunk to prevent the rain barrel from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

For more detailed information including a simple plan for building your own rain barrel, go to www.coastalprairie.org. Then, in the green index pane, scroll down to Resources and click on ‘Educational Material.’ You’ll see a menu of items. Click on ‘Rainwater Harvesting.’ You’ll find several presentations posted there. Most recommended:’ Capturing Nature’s Best’ – Kniffen, slide #22, which is posted below. This gives a plan for building your own ‘trash can’ rain barrel and overall this is the best presentation to understand rainwater harvesting. The whole slide show is also posted.

The Texas Master Naturalists is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal

 


tip6_sumacTip #6: Native Plants Out-Perform the Imports

As the weather turns cooler, (don’t laugh, it will) Houstonians will once again start thinking enviously about the brilliant show of fall color farther north and wonder why we can’t have something similar here. We could, if we used more Texas natives in our yards. But we Gulf coasters want things both ways: We want fall color and we also want some green in our yards all year around. Over the decades, we’ve planted lots of live oaks, Magnolias, Chinese ligustrum, pittisporum, azaleas and red-tip photinias, which keep things looking dependably green, though a little on the dull side of verdant. But most of these plants are native to other parts of the world, and to quote Lady Bird, “Shouldn’t Texas look like Texas?”

The truth is this: Texas, and specifically the Houston area, has many beautiful native species that display great fall color and add diversity and interest to the home landscape year round. The procession of the seasons here could look like this: fresh young leaves and flowers sprout in the spring, followed by the richer color that occurs in the deep part of summer, then autumn arrives with beautiful yellows, oranges and reds, and then winter comes with the beautiful architecture of bare branches against the sky.

A wider color-range isn’t the only benefit of using Texas natives. They also encourage birds, butterflies and other native wildlife to spend time in your home garden. Native birds love the Red Oaks, Red Maples, American Beauty berries, the Strawberry bush, oak-leafed Hydrangea, possum haw holly, native viburnums, native sumacs (not the poisonous type) and the Virginia creeper vine. Another benefit: planting a variety of natives will help replace the native plants threatened every day by rapid urban development.

We’ve made some big mistakes in the past in search for fall color. For decades, Houstonians planted the Chinese Tallow tree for its beautiful red-gold autumn display, and the species is now prevalent in the state. But Tallow has proved to be a highly-destructive monster: invasive and nearly-impossible to kill. It’s such a pest that it’s now banned from commercial sale. It has virtually no natural predators; its deep shade kills other species, and its leaf-fall taints the soil for natives. Its leaves, bark, and fruit are toxic to livestock, humans, and most animals. That’s too big a price to pay for fall color. Pull up any saplings you find in your yard, and if you can afford to, cut down all your mature Chinese Tallow trees and treat the stumps with an approved herbicide – or the tree will sprout again.

Plant smart: plant natives.

For more information on native plants, see: www.npsot.org/Houston/

The Texas Master Naturalists is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas AgriLIfe Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal

 


tip7_lightsTip #7: Reducing Energy Use Around the House

The TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) has initiated a “Take Care of Texas” campaign designed to involve all Texans in lifestyle and habit changes that will save the individuals a little money and at the same time help improve air and water quality, conserve water and energy, and reduce waste. We will be republishing their tips over the next few months: Around the House (this month), Out and About, In the Yard, In the Kitchen, and In the Bathroom. You can find more tips and information by visiting http://www.takecareoftexas.org/do-your-part-en/

Turn Off the Lights

Lighting accounts for 20% of a household’s annual electricity bill. By turning off lights when not needed, you can reduce your energy consumption and help reduce air emissions. Not using four 60-watt incandescent light bulbs for two hours a day can save you about $15 a year. Annual Savings: $15

Adjust Your Thermostat

Using a programmable air-conditioning thermostat or simply adjusting your thermostat during overnight hours or when no one is at home can reduce your cooling and heating costs. To reduce energy consumption, set the thermostat at 78 degrees or higher in the summer, and at 68 degrees or lower in the winter. When used properly, a programmable thermostat with four temperature settings can reduce energy consumption by 10%, saving the average household up to $150 per year in energy costs. If all Texas households reduced their energy consumption by using a programmable thermostat, Texans could collectively save over $1 billion annually while reducing energy consumption and air emissions. Annual Savings: $150

Use Compact Fluorescent Lights

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs use 67% less energy than incandescent bulbs and can last up to 10 times longer, with an average lifespan of 6,000 hours per bulb. Replacing the incandescent bulbs in your five most frequently used light fixtures with compact fluorescent can save you more than $60 a year in electricity. If every Texas household replaced one light with a compact fluorescent, we could reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 897 tons statewide. Annual Savings: $60

Upgrade Your Home Cooling and Heating System

In Texas, cooling and heating accounts for about 45% of annual home energy expenses. By using a properly sized Energy Star cooling and heating system, you can reduce your home energy consumption by 8% and help improve air quality. Collectively, we could reduce energy consumption throughout Texas by more than 16 billion kWh if all Texas households replaced their heating and cooling systems with Energy Star HVAC systems. Annual Savings: $120

Weatherize Your House

Using proper insulation in your home and sealing off air leaks will help maintain a comfortable indoor temperature, while reducing energy consumption and saving money. Weatherizing by using caulk and weather-stripping for seams, cracks, and openings to the outside of your home, can save you 10% on your energy bill. Properly insulating your home, in addition to weatherizing, can reduce heating and cooling costs up to 30%. Annual Savings: $500

The Texas Master Naturalists is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal.


tip8_carTip #8: Out and About: Driving a Greener Car

The TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) has initiated a “Take Care of Texas” campaign designed to involve all Texans in lifestyle and habit changes that will save the individuals a little money and at the same time help improve air and water quality, conserve water and energy, and reduce waste. We will be republishing their tips over the next few months: Around the House (tip 7), Out and About (this month), In the Yard, In the Kitchen, and In the Bathroom. You can find more tips and information by visiting http://www.takecareoftexas.org/do-your-part-en/

Maintain Your Vehicle

With proper maintenance, such as changing your oil, checking your tire pressure, and replacing filters, you can reduce your car’s emissions and improve gas mileage up to 5%, which can save you up to 35 cents per gallon of fuel used.
A poorly maintained vehicle can release as much as 10 times the emissions of a well-maintained one. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on routine maintenance. If you drive a well-maintained car with a 13-gallon gas tank and fill your tank once a week, you could save $4.55 a week.
Annual Savings: $237

Buy a “Cleaner” Vehicle

The next time you’re shopping for a vehicle, consider the benefits of one with a high fuel-economy rating. A fuel-efficient vehicle will reduce air emissions and reduce fuel costs. The difference between a car that achieves 30 mpg versus 20 mpg can amount to $663 in savings over one year. Over five years, a 30-mpg vehicle could save you $3,313 in fuel costs. In some communities, the TCEQ offers assistance for individuals who need to repair or replace older vehicles.
Annual Savings: $663

Drive Less

To reduce vehicle air emissions, you can carpool with a coworker, use public transit, or simply combine errands when possible. By ride-sharing every day, commuters can save up to $3,000 a year on gas, insurance, parking, and wear and tear on their cars. One Texan using mass transit for one year can keep an average of 4.9 pounds of nitrogen oxides from being discharged into the air.
Annual Savings: $3,000

Recycle Used Motor Oil

Two gallons of recycled motor oil can produce enough energy to power the average Texas home for one day, cook 48 meals in a microwave oven, blow-dry your hair at least 215 times, vacuum a house for 15 months, or watch television for 7-_ days straight!

Whenever you change your oil or other vehicle fluids at home, make sure you recycle them. And NEVER pour used motor oil down storm drains, because the drains will carry the oil directly to Texas waterways. The used oil from one oil change can contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water—a year’s supply for 50 people. Visit www.cleanup.org to find a recycling center near you.

Drive the Speed Limit

By slowing down and avoiding aggressive driving, you can improve your fuel economy by 5% if driving in town, or by up to 33% on the highway. Slowing down and keeping to the speed limit also helps to reduce air emissions. Typically for every 5 MPH you drive over 60 MPH, it’s like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon of gas you use. If you have a 13-gallon fuel tank, you can save $2.60 per tank just by driving the speed limit.
Annual Savings: $135

The Texas Master Naturalists is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal


tip9_sunntreeTip # 9: In the Yard

Texas Master Naturalist

Try Composting
Yard trimmings make up 20% of the waste generated by Texans each year. Instead of throwing them out with the garbage, you can recycle these materials by composting them. Compost can serve as a soil conditioner that will help improve your garden and reduce your water usage. By using mulch and compost on lawns and gardens, Texans could reduce the need for outdoor watering by 30% to 60%.

Use an Electric Lawn Mower
For each hour of operation, one gas-powered lawn mower emits 11 times more air pollution than a new car. Forty million American lawn mowers consume 200 million gallons of gasoline per year, and gas-powered garden-tool emissions account for an estimated 5% of the nation’s air pollution. Using an electric lawn mower instead can save you 73% in total energy cost.

Collect and Use Rainwater
Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer. By collecting rainwater for use on your lawn, plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs during the peak summer months, you can save 1,300 gallons of water. If all Texas households collected rainwater for their watering needs, we could keep more than 10 billion gallons of water in our aquifers, lakes, and rivers.

Use Native Plants
Plants that are native to Texas aren’t only beautiful; they typically require less water, pesticides, fertilizers, and maintenance—saving you time and money. The deep root systems of many native plants also increase the soil’s capacity to store water and reduce runoff. Native plants also attract a variety of birds, and butterflies, by providing diverse habitats and food sources.

Plant Shade Trees
Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your house and around your air conditioner will help save you energy by keeping your home shady and cool in the summer, yet allow the sun to shine through windows to warm your home in the winter. Just three properly placed deciduous trees around your house can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling costs each year. Annual Savings: $175

Texas Master Naturalist is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal


tip10recycle binTip # 10: In the Kitchen
By the Green Home and Garden Committee,
Texas Master Naturalist

This month, we are republishing tips for the yard promoted by the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) in their “Take Care of Texas” campaign. The program is designed to involve all Texans in lifestyle and habit changes that will save the individuals a little money and at the same time help improve air and water quality, conserve water and energy, and reduce waste. Next month, we will be republishing their tips on In the Bathroom. You can find more tips and information by visiting http://www.takecareoftexas.org/do-your-part-en/

Trade Up to Energy Star Appliances
Installing a more efficient dishwasher reduces both water and energy consumption in your home. An Energy Star dishwasher is about 25% more efficient than a conventional dishwasher, and will save about 800 gallons of water per year. Additionally, Energy Star dishwashers use internal water heaters that can reduce household water heating costs by 10%.
Annual Savings: $25

Recycle
Each Texan generates about 7 pounds of garbage every day. By recycling paper, metal, plastic, and other materials, you can reduce waste, help conserve energy, and preserve our state’s natural resources. In the U.S., recycling creates 1.1 million jobs, $236 billion in gross annual sales, and $37 billion in annual salaries. If Texans recycled and composted all recyclable and compostable materials, we could divert almost 90%, or over 26 million tons a year, of all municipal solid waste from Texas landfills.

Collect Your Food Scraps, Oil, and Grease
A clogged drain at home can be a real nuisance. Clogged sewer lines can cause overflows that pollute nearby creeks and streams. By using strainers to catch food scraps and collecting cooking grease in a container for disposal, you can keep fats, oils, and grease from clogging up your home’s drain pipes or the city’s sewer line. By properly disposing of your food scraps and cooking grease in the trash can, you can reduce plumbing costs. The cost of an average plumber’s visit is $250.

Cook Efficiently
Texans can help reduce energy consumption and air emissions by making sure that their pots and pans are not smaller in diameter than their stove’s burners. A 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner wastes over 40% of the burner’s heat, as well as the energy it takes to produce that heat. Using an appropriately sized pot on stove burners can save about $36 each year for an electric range, or $18 per year for a gas range. Keeping a gas range’s burners clean can also ensure that the gas is burning efficiency.
Annual Savings: $36/$18

Adjust the Setting on Your Refrigerator
Of all household appliances, refrigerators consume the most electricity, accounting for 9% of an average home’s total energy consumption. To save money and energy, and improve air quality, keep your refrigerator’s thermostat set between 37 and 40 degrees. When buying a new refrigerator, make it an energy-efficient Energy Star model, which will use 40% less energy than a conventional model made as recently as 2001.
Annual Savings: $50

Texas Master Naturalist is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the AgriLIFE Extension (a Texas A&M System service) and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal.

 


tip_11plumberTip # 11: In the Bathroom
Green Garden Club
Texas Master Naturalist

Fix Leaks
Check your faucets, and fix any leak you find. A faucet leaking at a rate of one drop per second can waste up to 1,660 gallons of water per year. Fixing hot-water leaks can save up to $35 per year in utility bills. If every household fixed just one leaky faucet, we could reduce water use in Texas by over 13 billion gallons a year.
Annual Savings: $35

Wash Full Loads and Use Cold Water
Washing full loads as opposed to partial loads of laundry can save an average household more than 3,400 gallons of water each year. If all Texas households washed only full loads of laundry, it would reduce water consumption throughout Texas by more than 27 billion gallons each year. Using cold water for laundry instead of hot or warm water can save the average household more than $30 annually.
Annual Savings: $30

Install Low-Flow Showerheads and Faucet Aerators
The shower is the largest single user of hot water in the home, accounting for 37% of total hot-water use. By installing a low-flow showerhead, you can reduce water consumption by 25% to 60% and save energy, too. In addition, bathroom sink faucets account for more than 15% of indoor household water use. Installing aerators on your water faucets will cut the amount of water used by each faucet in half. Installing just one low-flow showerhead can save you $145 on your utility bill.
Annual Savings: $145

Invest in a New Low-Flow Toilet
Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home, accounting for approximately 30% of residential indoor water consumption. Replacing an older toilet with a low-flow toilet can save 9,000 gallons of water a year, the equivalent to a 17-year drinking supply for one person. If 25 percent of all Texas households reduced their water consumption by replacing one older toilet with a 1.6-gallon-per-flush toilet, it would reduce water consumption throughout Texas by 19 billion gallons annually.
Annual Savings: $90

Lower the Thermostat on Your Water Heater
Water heating is the third-largest energy expense in your home. For maximum efficiency, use an Energy Star water heater, set your water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees, and wrap it with an insulating jacket to reduce heat loss. For each 10-degree reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3% to 5% in energy costs.
Annual Savings: $475

Texas Master Naturalist is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the AgriLIFE Extension (a Texas A&M System service) and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal.

The Green Home and Garden Workshop was a  project co-sponsored by the Gulf Coast chapter and the Coastal Prairie chapter of Texas Master Naturalist.


tip12hands holding H2OTip # 12 Rainwater Harvesting Makes Cents
Green Home and Garden
June 2008
By the Green Home and Garden Committee,
Texas Master Naturalist

This month’s tip is provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Almost everyone is afraid of something. For some people it’s the uncertainty of the dark, for others it may be snakes, spiders, needles, dentists, or even black cats. For many Texans especially those in urban areas just going to the mail box these days can be a dreaded experience. Forget about the cell phone bill, the credit card bill, and the mortgage payment those are usually, pretty predictable, but the real shock and awe comes with the water bill. Over the past few years water in Texas has become a commodity more precious than gold. As the state population continues to grow unchecked, the demand for water has increased exponentially while supply has grown very little. Water is a finite resource. There are no inexpensive ways to make more water to meet the needs of the burgeoning Texas population. Water woes have become a modern day civil war of sorts pitting the needs of farmers and ranchers against urbanites, suburbanites, and industry. What can be done? What can the average homeowner, farmer, rancher, or manufacturing industry do to address the water shortage? The answer is rainwater harvesting.

In urban areas, every time it rains millions of gallons of rainwater are wasted as runoff into storm sewers. Have you ever stopped to think about how much money is literally going down the drain when water gets away? Think for a minute how much you could reduce your water bill by capturing some portion of that runoff to use around the house for your everyday water needs. Rainwater is valued by many for its purity and softness. It’s nearly neutral pH and lack of disinfectants, salts, minerals, and other natural and man-made contaminants make it perfect for watering plants, washing clothes, watering the lawn, even drinking. There are five basic components to a rainwater harvesting system: (1.) the catchment surface, (2.) gutters and downspouts, (3.) leaf screens, first-flush diverters, and roof washers, (4.) one or more storage tanks or cisterns, and (5.) the delivery system. If the harvested rainwater is to be used for household purposes then a treatment/purification system will also be necessary.

The most common catchment surface is the roof of a building or house. The quality and quantity of the harvested rainwater is dependent on the roofing material, the surrounding environment and the size of the catchment. Runoff from some roofing surfaces may not be suitable for human consumption due to leaching of toxins from the materials but is still suitable for landscape irrigation. Gutters and downspouts channel the water from the catchment surface to the storage tanks. Since a roof can be a collection for dust, leaves, twigs, dead insects, animal feces, pesticides, and other airborne residues a first-flush diverter is installed to route the initial flow of water from the catchment surface away from the storage tanks. Opinions vary on how much water to divert, but a minimum of 10 gallons per 1,000 square feet of collection surface is a good rule of thumb. A roof washer is placed in line between the downspouts and the storage tanks to filter out small debris before it enters the storage tanks. Storage tanks come in a plethora of shapes, sizes, and materials largely dependent on the end use of the harvested rainwater and the financial restrictions of the one installing the system. Finally, the delivery system is another component largely dependent on the end use of the harvested rainwater. If the system is to be used solely for irrigation the force of gravity may be sufficient to deliver the desired quantity of water, however, if the system will be used to supply a household then a pressure tank and pump or an on-demand pump may be necessary to deliver the water in the desired quantity and pressure.

In theory, approximately 0.62 gallons of rainwater can be collected per square foot of catchment surface per one inch of rainfall. A water-conserving household, one in which water-conserving fixtures, appliances, and practices are employed, will use 25-50 gallons per person per day. Households that don’t practice such measures can easily use more than 50 gallons per person per day.

There are many financial incentives available to those wishing to install a rainwater harvesting system for commercial or residential use. In Texas, by law rainwater harvesting equipment and supplies are exempt from sales tax. County appraisal districts in Texas have the ability to exempt from taxation all or part of the assessed value of a property on which water conservation modifications have been made. Many municipalities, including the City of Austin and the San Antonio Water System, offer rebates to customers to cover part of the cost of installing rainwater harvesting systems on their property.

For more information on rainwater harvesting visit the Texas Water Development Board website at www.twdb.state.tx.us.

Texas Master Naturalist is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the AgriLIFE Extension (a Texas A&M System service) and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal.

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tip13cotton bollTip # 13 What Are Bats Worth – to You?
By the Green Home and Garden Committee,
Texas Master Naturalist

Most of us seldom notice bats, and we rarely think about them much unless we hear a story on the television or read about them in the newspaper. In most cases, bats make the news for something negative. But the real news story that often goes untold is the largely unseen and rarely considered economic and aesthetic value bats bring to our agricultural fields and our neighborhoods. While most people are aware of the pest control benefits of bats in general (i.e. more bats = fewer mosquitoes), new research has concluded that bats represent a gold mine in annual savings to Texas agriculture. In a study conducted in an eight county region in southwestern Texas, researchers concluded that the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) that captured insects over the area’s cotton fields saved farmers up to $1.7 million annually. The savings came primarily from a reduced need for chemical pesticides. The bats ate millions of cotton bollworm moths through the summer months, thus reducing the number of moth larvae that survived to eat the cotton crops. In addition to the economic value of the reduced pesticide purchases, the reduction in pesticide use also means a healthier land, with fewer chemicals in crops, soil, surface water, and groundwater.

The Mexican free-tailed bat is just one of 32 bat species found in Texas. Our bat diversity results from the wonderful variety of natural habitats here in the state. Bats are aerial acrobats, with extremely flexible wings and lightweight bodies, just made for capturing insect prey in dark skies. Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. All the bats in Texas, with one exception, capture and eat huge amounts of insects. For example, the Mexican free-tailed bat colony from Bracken Cave near San Antonio consumes an estimated 250 tons of insects each night during summer months. Several bat species specialize in eating larger insects that are common pests, including roaches, centipedes, scorpions, beetles, grasshoppers, and stinkbugs. Texas is also home to an important bat plant pollinator, the Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis), which feeds on nectar from night-blooming agave and other cacti flowers in West and South Texas, plus Mexico.

We share our natural space with bats every day. Bats may live nearby in both urban and rural settings using a wide variety of habitat, including cliff faces, caves, tree cavities, among tree branches, bridges, and in man-made bat houses. By erecting a bat house, you’re putting out the welcome mat and encouraging bats to live and consume insects on your property. Bat house designs mimic the natural roosting preferences of many bat species, with narrow sheltered spaces between ¾ inch and one inch in width, and temperatures ranging from 80 to 100 degrees F daily. To encourage bat house occupancy, choose a site where the house receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, from first morning light to early afternoon. Place the bat house 12 to 15 feet off the ground, on a metal pole to discourage climbing predators. Avoid shady areas or those beneath overhanging tree limbs. Locations near ponds or other water sources increase bat house success in attracting resident bats.

Bats, like any mammal, can contract the rabies virus. In wild populations, the incidence of rabies is very low (less than half of one percent), and having one bat in a colony that is rabid does not mean the entire colony will become rabid. For more information about bats, bat house plans, bat house research results, and bat exclusion information, visit the Bat Conservation International website: www.batcon.org. And the next time you spot a bat flying the evening skies, sit back and enjoy the nightly pest control in action.

If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wildlifebiologist.

Texas Master Naturalist is a group of informed volunteers who are interested in learning about and educating others about the area of Texas where we live and with preserving our natural heritage. We are co-sponsored by the AgriLIFE Extension (a Texas A&M System service) and Texas Parks and Wildlife. For more information about our group, log on to txmn.org/coastal.

 

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