Besides being a welcome comic relief, frogs and toads are voracious eaters, eating just about any twitching, wiggly thing it sees. You may not think of those little ones making much of an impact, but they are fierce predators with huge appetites. Since I’ve been inviting them to live in my gardens, there has been a noticeable decline in damage of all kinds to my plants.
Capturing and relocating any animal from their habitat is an almost guaranteed death sentence, and in many parts of the country it is also illegal. Therefore, your best strategy when considering bringing critters into your garden, whether it be amphibians, birds, or pollinators of any kind, is to create habitat that will bring them to you. Frogs and toads benefit by having a habitat created just for them, and you’ll enjoy watching them and hearing their songs. Listening to the Spring Peepers is one of my greatest joys. Frogs and toads make homes under boards, porches, loose rocks and roots of trees. You can provide moist hiding spots to encourage them to stay. I have toad houses everywhere, because I think they're hilarious, and a great indicator species to gauge how the overall health of my garden is doing.
Just like us, all animals and insects need food, shelter, and water. You get bonus points if you also put some thought into how and where your little friends will raise their young. In most cases, your gardens will provide the food in the form of bugs and possibly some vegetation that you might plant for say, butterfly caterpillars. So, let’s focus on shelter and water. Here are a few tips and tricks to some of these hopping buddies into your gardens.
Place shallow dishes of water in as many places as is practical around your garden. Saucers that are 2-3” deep are ideal, as that depth is shallow enough that amphibian friends can climb out easily, and this size is easy to clean. I find just hitting them every couple days with the jet setting in my garden hose to freshen the water and control any mosquito larvae that may have shown up.
Because I know these teeny ponds will not be used by frogs and toads only, I also add a few sticks or a chunk of bark sticking up and out of the side of the saucer so if the dish is visited by flying pollinators, the will be able to crawl out and not be doomed to a watery death.
Installing a small pond is also a good option, though this will be considerably more maintenance. Locate your pond in a part of your garden that gets partial shade, or plan on planting an ornamental dwarf tree or shrub next to the water to provide shade. An ideal pond for amphibians will be shallow, no more than 20” at its deepest, have slopping sides for easy entry and exit, and would be free of movement. Meaning no air pump or filter to set up. Also meaning you will need to do some mosquito patrolling until there is a tadpole population enough to eat the larvae for you.
Having a muddy bottom to your pond is great, because tadpoles like to burrow in the muck and filter feed algae and various organisms that will help them grow. Plan out your pond size and purchase a rubber pond liner that will be big enough to cover your whole pond, accounting for depth, and at least two feet of excess on all sides. Add back to your pond a quarter to a third of the soil you removed, pulling out any sticks or stones that may puncture your lining, and fill with water. Lay your chosen edging to hold the sides in place, keeping in mind that height of stones or bricks may add a challenge for frog and toad entry so leave at least one area clear for easy hopping.
It should have a muddy bottom as tadpoles like to lay down in the muck and filter feed through it so that they can pick up algae and a variety of organisms that help them grow. Dig the dirt from the area you plan to build your pond, making sure to remove any roots, sticks, or stones that could damage the liner. Then, place a rubber liner down, like polyethylene or EPDM rubber which creates a tight water barrier. Make sure that your liner is big enough to cover the entirety of your pond with a least two feet of excess on all sides. After the liner is in place, now put back all that dirt you removed to provide the muddy bottom they need.
Our garden friends can also make a tasty meal for many other creatures like birds and snakes, so it’s best to provide lots of foliage where they can have a safe hiding place. Good pond planting choices are thin stemmed plants such as rushes, reeds, and sedges. Amphibians of all kinds like to lay their egg sacks at the bases of these types of plants just below the water surface. Avoid planting cattails as they will take over your small pond in short order.
Frogs and toads avoid the sun to prevent dehydration, so shelter is crucial. I like to put at least one area to shelter next to my small saucers, and a few around my tiny ponds. Broken and unbroken clay pots partially buried are great. I’m also fond of old boards (none that have been chemically treated!) and large pieces of bark propped up with a rock or brick like a little froggy lean-to. Many of my raised beds are made from whole, felled trees as the borders, and under those trees I’ve dug holes here and there for places to hide from the hot sun. Besides keeping some shelter places near the water sources, I put shelters about every 20 feet around my beds so that if a traveling soldier needs a cool place to escape, there will always be one handy. You can buy cute little toad houses too, if making something yourself isn’t your thing.
As well as providing shelter, it’s important to keep your garden safe and this includes your avoiding the use of chemicals. Frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and the like all absorb moisture through their skin, and this makes them exceptionally sensitive to chemicals in their environment. One of the main reasons to attract beneficial insects and animals is to lessen our need for chemicals in the first place, so I think it’s important to give this a chance to work and establish as part of your garden ecosystem.
Garden organically, build your soil into a healthy balance, plant flowers and native plants around your veggies to attract a diverse range of insects and keep your cycle moving, and you’ll be so pleased with the results! Plus you’ll get to giggle at how silly toads look trying to swallow a big caterpillar.
Have you invited frogs and toads to your garden? Share your successful tips or problems we might be able to help with in the comments so we can all learn together! <3
Written by Sow True Seed's Education Director, Angie Lavezzo.