Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
I love finding toads in my garden. It means that my soil is healthy and bugs won’t be bothering my plants.
What are Toads?
Toads (Bufo bufo) are just another kind of frog! Scientists don’t even make a distinction between the two, referring to both as frogs. Non-scientists like myself think of them as two different animals. Frogs are slimy and spend their lives in and around water whereas toads have dry skin and spend most of their lives on land, only returning to water to breed and lay their eggs.
Both frogs and toads are amphibians. Amphibians are animals that start out their lives in water as tadpoles. Tadpoles breathe through gills like fish and cannot survive on land. As they mature into adults, they develop lungs so that they can breathe air and legs so that they can get around on land.
Why Do I Want Toads in My Garden?
One simple fact should convince you that you need these creatures in your garden: toads consume up to 3,000 insects per month. Their diet includes beetles, flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, caterpillars, cutworms, moths, slugs and snails.
Why Does Having Toads Mean That Your Yard is Healthy?
In 1989, the first World Congress of Herpetology was held. Herpetology is just a fancy word for the study of reptiles and amphibians. The attendees made a dismaying discovery. Amphibians are disappearing all over the world at a rapid rate.
No one is sure exactly why we are losing our amphibian population. One theory is that because they have very thin skins, they absorb chemicals in the environment very easily. All of the herbicides and insecticides that we are spraying on our yards and farms are killing amphibians as well as the intended weed and insect targets. This could also explain why there are so many deformities being observed in the amphibian population. Environmental toxins may be causing birth defects in tadpoles.
I am an organic gardener. I don’t use any chemicals or poisons. So a healthy toad population in my yard means that the environment in my yard is healthy.
How to Attract Toads to Your Garden
There are three steps you should take to attract toads to your garden:
- Provide shelter
- Provide water
- Avoid certain plants
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The most important thing that you can do to attract toads to your yard is to stop using chemicals. The second most important thing that you can do is to provide shelter. Toads are nocturnal. They hide in a protected shady spot during the day. When the sun goes down, the toads come out and feast on insects.
Stop cleaning up all of the debris in your garden. The leaf and litter debris provides natural shelter. If you can’t stand looking at a messy garden, sweep the debris to an inconspicuous corner of your yard. Plants with large leaves also make good shelters.
You can provide artificial shelter using an old broken flower pot. Simply place it upside down in a shady spot. It should have an opening large enough for the toad to enter and exit comfortably. If it doesn’t have an opening, prop it up on a stone so that the toad can shelter underneath.
If you have a garden pond or want to install one, depth is important. It should be no deeper than 20 inches and no shallower than 8 inches. Install water plants that are native to your area. Toads lay their eggs in strands which they attach to water plants. You will also need to install some sort of ramp for them to be able to get out of the pond once they have hopped in. A simple slab of rock is sufficient.
The bottom should be mud. Tadpoles filter feed through the mud looking for algae and other water organisms. Don’t introduce fish to your pond. They will eat both the eggs and the tadpoles.
If you just want to provide drinking water, you can use a shallow saucer. Toads don’t drink water. They submerge themselves in it and absorb the water through their thin skins. Make sure your saucer is deep enough for them to submerge themselves but not so deep that they cannot get out.
Avoid Certain Plants
Certain plants are poisonous for toads. Avoid planting snowpeas, rhubarb, eggplant or potatoes near shelter and water. Flowers that are toxic include daffodils, hyacinths, azaleas, hydrangeas and honeysuckle. Toads will avoid them.
Be Careful After Dark When Toads are Active
Toads are nocturnal but they are attracted to the lights in your yard and home. They know those lights will attract insects. Be careful where you step at night. Always check around your car before driving it. Driveways are killing fields for toads. I’ll never forget how upset my family was when my father accidentally ran over Ol’ One Eye, the one eyed toad who lived in our yard. He was in a rush and forgot to check the driveway before backing up his car. Ol’ One Eye had lived in our yard for many years. Toads can live as long as 15 years.
Toads also hibernate underground during the winter. So each spring, pile up some garden debris from your fall cleanup and put out a saucer of water to let the toads know that they are welcome in your garden where they will provide you with years of free insect control.
Questions & Answers
Question: We saw a toad under the leaves of some yarrow in my garden and built a toad neighborhood the next day. We haven't seen the toad in a few days. Is there any way to sleuth around and find clues that the toad has stayed in our garden?
Answer: I'm not sure what you mean by a "toad neighborhood". From the toad's point of view, you have disrupted his home under the yarrow. The best thing that you can do is to stay away for a few days. Do not disturb anything and hopefully, the toad will return. If not, he or she is probably not far away in a different part of your yard or garden. Be patient. Wild animals are shy around humans.
© 2017 Caren White