Author: Bob Dailey

Bob Dailey is a master gardener, garden writer, and lecturer living in southeast Texas.

The W.I.S.E. Guys help homeowners save water and money

Bob Dailey interviews a WISE guy about the water conservation programs at and other municipal water districts.

More about The W.I.S.E. Guys

A free and fast way to have your irrigation system checked. If your irrigation system is a few years old, some sprinkler heads may have broken can break. Plants may have grown blocking spray patterns, your landscape may have changed, or the water pressure may be different from when your lawn or plant beds were installed.

That’s where The W.I.S.E. Guys come in. A free service offered by many municipal utility districts in Texas, the W.I.S.E. Guys are licensed irrigators vetted by the MUD, who will do a complete assessment of your irrigation system. If your area MUD doesn’t offer this service, encourage them to do so.

Read more about the W.I.S.E. Guys here


Interfaith’s Organic Vegetable Garden

Sarah Munday, with Interfaith of The Woodlands’ Veggie Village, at the Alden Bridge Community Garden.


Veggie Village, community donation gardens, are welcoming places where people work and learn together while providing fresh organic produce to the Interfaith Food Pantry and Senior Living Complexes. The gardens are located at the Alden Bridge Sports Park and Wendtwoods Park (in the Village of Creekside) in partnership with The Woodlands Township and many community volunteers.

Read more about Veggie Village

Exploring rainwater harvesting with Master Gardener Mike Mendeck – Part 2

Part 2 with Bob Dailey at the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension service for Montgomery County in Conroe walking to Mike Mendeck . Mike is a master gardener and a rainwater harvesting specialist. Here, Mike takes us through the extensive rainwater harvesting systems at the Montgomery County Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service in Conroe, Texas.

Read more about Master Gardeners here

Rainwater Harvesting Made Simple

Master Gardener and Rainwater Harvesting Specialist Mike Mendeck explains the basics of rainwater harvesting and some of the special tricks he and other master gardeners have developed to enhance rainwater harvesting.

Find out more about the Montgomery County Texas Master Gardeners here.

Information about rainwater harvesting from the Texas Water Development Board.

No irrigation for 11 months? Impossible!

Take a look at this lawn in the photo. Located outside the WJPA building on Lake Robbins Drive, in The Woodlands, Texas this lawn has not received irrigation – except for rainwater for the last 11 months. The only water this lawn has received is from rain.

How is that possible? Good lawn practices, proper (and inexpensive) care of the soil under the turf, and only a small bit of organic fertilizer.

Here’s how it was done:

The lawn receives about an inch of compost per year. Two compost applications (each a one-half inch deep), made in October and early April, help add organic material to the soil, as well as adding essential microorganisms that assist grass roots to grow and resist disease. Once a year, again in April, a scattering of organic fertilizer is spread on the lawn.

The lawn is mowed weekly between April and the first of October. From the beginning of October, through the end of March, mowing is discontinued.

No large patch, take-all patch, sooty mold or insect problems are present.  Because of that, no herbicides, fungicides or pesticides are used or needed.

According to recent studies, soil with sufficient organic matter (about five percent of the total mass) can three quarts or more of water per cubic foot. Instead of rolling off the surface of the soil when it rains, the soil absorbs much of it. This makes the soil under the turf into a passive rainwater catchment, which grass roots can access during dryer periods.

Water stored in the soil, added to increased permeability of the soil because of the organic matter, allows grass roots to grow deeply and strong, enhancing the turf’s ability to withstand disease and pests.

This healthy lawn signifies what is possible with a small amount of work at low cost, without depending on purchased water or expensive lawn treatments.

Backflow Preventers Important for Health, Safety Reasons

We all take the water we drink, bathe in, or prepare food with, for granted. We assume that the water will always be clean and safe to drink. There is, however, a hidden risk that many people don’t give enough attention to – backflow preventers.

Occasionally, situations take place that can impair the quality of drinking water. One common occurrence is the breaking of a private water supply line or a public water main. When something like this happens, water that is polluted or that may contain harmful contaminants can backflow into the potable system, threatening the quality of our drinking water.

Backflow is generally caused by changes in water pressure. For instance, if a water main breaks or a fire hydrant is activated for fire suppression, pressure goes down and this can cause water to flow opposite of the direction it was meant to travel. That means if your irrigation system is connected to your house piping – soil, fecal bacteria and other contaminants that have entered the irrigation heads and piping can “backflow” into your home drinking water, and perhaps into the public water system.

Here’s a true event reported by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:              While mixing a batch of pesticide, a worker pushed a garden hose into the tank until it touched the bottom. Nearby, city utility workers opened a flush valve, releasing a large flow of water from a water main. Where the worker was mixing the pesticide, the water pressure dropped, and the flow in the hose reversed. Water and pesticides flowed from the pesticide tank back through the hose and into the water lines of the residence.

Fortunately, the worker mixing the pesticide realized the danger and alerted the utility workers, who closed the flush valve before the contamination reached the city’s distribution line. Still, good water and time were wasted.

The solution to this risk is to have a backflow preventer installed. TCEQ requires homeowners with irrigation systems and most commercial buildings to have one. Regular tests and inspections insure that your household plumbing and the public supply is protected.

In addition, residents should install backflow devices on hoses that are used for drip irrigation or hose head sprinklers. The same opposite flow can occur if there is a drop in pressure. These hose backflow preventers are simple, inexpensive devices that provide the same protection.

Cicada Killers More Frightening than Dangerous

The insect is big.  The body can be two inches long, and the extended wingspan three to four inches long.  It can be terrifying as it zips around the yard, dipping this way and that looking for its prey, looking for all the world like a giant, angry hornet.

The insect is large, but fortunately, not angry.

Frightening Appearance

The insect is the Eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) and it is really not interested in anything other than cicadas, no matter how frightening it looks.  In fact, although the female does have a stinger, the cicada killer is not aggressive.  The wasp’s venom is reportedly somewhat painful.  However, the female will usually ignore humans and other animals unless she is stepped on or handled roughly.  The venom’s use is to subdue cicadas.

Males Are Harmless

Male cicada killers are very aggressive, but since they do not possess a stinger, their aggression amounts to dive bombing an intruder.  The males also seem to have very poor eyesight.  Add their need for corrective lenses with their aggressiveness, and the result is a very belligerent, pesky but ultimately harmless drone.  Males have a sharp spine on the abdomen and may try to jab with the tip, but it is a useless gesture.

Laying Eggs on Cicadas

Female cicada killers burrow holes into soil.  The burrow may be up to 10 inches deep.  After she digs a hole, the female will begin to hunt for cicadas.  Once she finds one, she stings it and then carries it to her burrow.  She drags the cicada into the hole and lays an egg on it.  The living, but paralyzed cicada will provide food for the newly hatched larva.  To see cicada killers in action, go to this link,

Well-Drained Soil

Cicada killers drill burrows in sandy, well-drained soil exposed to sunlight.  Their preference is to dig the burrows along the edges of sidewalks, along driveways and along the sides of ditches.  The insect’s burrow can be recognized by a U-shaped mound of very fine soil around the ½-inch burrow.  Although they can infest a lawn, they prefer to build their nests in locations where there is little or no vegetation.

Life Cycle

The female will lay male eggs on single cicadas.  Since the female is significantly larger than the male, female eggs are usually given two or three cicadas to consume during their larval stages.  Eggs will hatch in two or three days.  The larvae will feed on the cicada for a week or more, spin a cocoon and overwinter in the burrow.

Once emerged, the females will mate, spend several weeks creating burrows and eating (mostly flower nectar) until they begin hunting for cicadas.  Cicada killers only have one generation per year.

Hunting Cicadas

A female cicada killer is relentless in her search for cicadas.  Once she has found one, she stings it, taking it back to the burrow.


Unless the population of cicada killers is immense and bothersome, it may be a wise option to simply ignore them.  In addition, as is often the case with insects, there are generally fewer cicada killers around than cicadas.  Nature tends to seek a balance.

Although there are insecticides that work, cheap tennis or badminton rackets also work really well.  Use insecticides with discretion and sparingly, if at all.  Spraying into burrows also contaminates the soil, and kills beneficial insects.  Whatever is used, it is difficult to eliminate a population of cicada killers.  Applying the old tenet of “live and let live” could be a potential (and really the best) solution.

For more information about gardening-related topics, contact the Montgomery County Master Gardeners hotline at 936-539-7824 from 8 AM to noon and 1 PM to 5 PM Monday through Friday, or visit the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office at 9020 Airport Rd, Conroe, TX 77303.  Visit the Master Gardener website for upcoming programs and plant sales at

Community Garden for Kids

Interfaith of The Woodlands operates a children’s donation garden at Wendtwood Park, Creekside Village, The Woodlands. The garden includes a pizza-shaped garden where children can plant vegetables according to season, and also learn to harvest.

The garden also includes handicapped gardens, a pollination garden, native plants, herbs and fruit trees.

Read more about Veggie Village here