Tuned In to the Wissahickon

Conservation // March 23, 2017

Our yards are perfect opportunities to increase habitat real estate for the hundreds of birds, animals, and insects that live or travel through the Wissahickon Valley Park region. With this in mind, there are many options for managing our private landscapes. Here are a few suggestions you can practice on your own or discuss with your landscape contractor.


  • Keep leaves on site. Leaves provide a natural nourishing mulch layer under your shrubs and trees and create marvelous microhabitat. Often, if you carefully pull back the top layer of last year’s leaf-fall, you’ll find salamanders, newts, frogs, turtles, and other critters living there.
  • Mulch leaves. If you don’t like the look of whole leaves as mulch, many lawn mowers have mulching options which allow for more rapid decomposition. (Check for critters before mulching!)
  • Compost them. A simple yard compost pile is all you need. Learn more here.
  • If you must remove all leaf matter, please do not dump or blow them into the Wissahickon. Though organic, deep piles of leaves will not decompose at a normal rate. Piles of leaves and woody debris tossed into the park will suffocate herbaceous plants and the root systems of shrubs and trees, leading to death. Such piles also impair natural stormwater flows and create gullies.


  • Consider replacing non-native plants with native species. Seeds and shoots of these plants can spread into the park and severely degrade habitat. By and large, only native plants host the vast number and array of insects that birds rely upon to feed their young. More native plants will give you more birds to enjoy.
  • Looking for more native species to choose from? Let your voice be heard at your local nursery. They will listen, and growers will too!


An excellent opportunity to control stormwater, recharge ground water and add more variety of native plants to increase wildlife habitat. Learn more here. Or attend our Rain Check workshop on June 11.


Milkweed is the only plant that hosts monarch caterpillars. These butterflies are in severe decline and we can help just by planting beautiful milkweeds. Learn more here.


Millions of birds are killed every year by colliding into our windows. During the spring and fall migration seasons, the problem is particularly urgent. There are several simple steps we can take to help migratory birds survive their amazing treks. There is much information available on the web. A good place to start is The Cornell Lab of Orinthology. You can also take a field trip to the Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in South Philadelphia for an up close look at some collision prevention measures.

by Peg Shaw, FOW Director of Land Management

Enjoy more articles like this in FOW’s Spring Newsletter!