Frogs, Toads, and the Garden
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2015 was the year of the sheep. According to my garden, it was the year of the amphibian. There were more frogs and toads than I have ever seen in all my time gardening at this location. Good or bad? Let’s take a look.
Frogs and toads, both from the anura family, are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are semi-aquatic; the smooth skinned, narrow bodied, long-legged frogs rely on water to lay their eggs. Toads are actually a dry-land type of frog with dry bumpy skin, smaller hind legs, and stouter bodies. Frogs make long leaps and are good swimmers, while toads tend to make short hops. Both, in fact, are valuable friends to the gardener.
Each of these lovely little hoppers will eat more than 10,000 insect in a season, typically consuming two to three times their weight. Multiply that by a bevy of amphibians and you have a virtual army of insect fighters. All that without spending a single dime on a pesticide. Their favorite meal is those potentially disease-spreading mosquitoes, but they will also dine on flies, earwigs, grasshoppers, pillbugs, and cutworms. If that is not good enough, toads and frogs are essentially the only beneficial creature that will eat cucumber beetles. (Other predators shy away from them because they become bitter tasting after feasting on cucumber and squash vines.)
Some gardens just naturally attract frogs and toads; others need a little help. One of the first things that will need to be considered is chemical use. These insect-eating machines are extremely sensitive to pollutants and environmental changes. They literally breathe and drink through their skin, making them defenseless to the toxins in gardening chemicals. If attracting and keeping amphibians in the garden is a goal, then use of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides will need to be discontinued.
The next consideration is shelter. Frogs and toads are nocturnal and need a place to feel safe during the day. This can be as simple as a clay pot turned on the side and partially buried in the soil. Another option is to place some bricks or rocks on the ground; cover them with a board or two and put some soil on top to make a little cave like structure. “Toad houses” can also be purchased and run from the very whimsical to the very practical and are priced accordingly. When placing the shelter in the garden, make sure it is in a damp, shady area lest the toad house turn into a “toad oven” out in the sun.
And, the last consideration is water. Of course, full sized garden ponds will do the trick if money and space are no issue. But, small saucers of water at ground level work just as well. Bird bath saucers partially buried and filled with water are a great option. Rinsing them out on a weekly basis will keep the water fresh and will keep any mosquito breeding at bay.
While enjoying the frogs and toads, remember that they breathe through their skin. Discourage children from excessive handling of them, and especially from dropping them at great heights. In addition, dogs and cats will prey upon the garden helpers. Frogs and toads are pretty good at escaping if they have adequate shelter, but take care to keep pets away from garden areas.
Certified Master Gardener