Walking through Altona Forest the other day I saw a toad just past the end of the boardwalk where it enters the coniferous forest. He was large and happy although the dry weather had shrunk his wetland nearby. Toads are amazingly adaptable and can live quite a distance from a water source – and they can be found in forests, fields and gardens.
Invite a toad to your garden! Why? Because amphibians are signs of a healthy ecosystem, they will help rid your garden of slugs, earwigs, flies and other pesky insects, and they require little space and care. Most of their activity is in the coolness of night and likely won’t bother you even if you are not charmed by their appearance.
Toads will look for leaf matter to in order to keep cool, sandy or soft soil to burrow, and comfortably damp hiding places. They spend their summer days staying cool in burrows, rocky crevices, nestled into leafy ground cover, or other protected spaces. They are habitual and will often use the same resting place again and again. They have a range for seeking food but don’t often go farther (other than for mating). During the non-breeding season, individuals have a home range of several hundred square feet and eat up to 100 bugs a day. Spring is the best time to invite a toad to your space since young toads spread out looking for their own territories.
The American toad is the only toad in our area – and the toads you see are likely the subspecies ‘eastern American toad’. One fascinating fact is that even within this subspecies, there are wide variations in colouring. Some are browner or greyer or tan coloured.
Knowing the services toads provide to a garden and that they are the best natural insect pest controls available, many gardeners and families often set aside a space them. This project is a great family-activity and seeing your first toad is pretty exciting.
Toad Abode 1: COOL CLAY
Terracotta pots are garden staples … and break. Keep a broken pot or ask friends and family to source a terracotta or clay pot that is destined for trash to create a ‘toad house’. Clay stays cool and ventilated naturally – especially when wet – and helps toads regulate their body temperatures. Whether you use a half pot on its side (broken lengthwise), or an upside down pot with a large ‘chip’ as it’s entrance, you can customize your creation. Kids will love a chance to paint the pot or to hot-glue it with beach glass, shells or old buttons.
One of my favourite projects is this one; it’s very attractive, easy … and if you use a solar light, you’ll even draw some insects for your toad friend to eat in the evening. All you need to abode-adapt it is to add a toad-hole in the bottom of the lowest pot or dig an access hole in the earth where you place it.
Toad Abode 2: MULTI-TASKING MIRACLE
Do you have a rain-barrel? What does it sit on? Use pavers or bricks to build a raised base with a concrete slab (large enough to fit your barrel) on top. If you place the pavers on the four corners you will find that there is a natural burrow you can create in the centre. While this project has a cost (under $20), it creates a stable base for your rain barrel, gives better spigot access, and offers toads a home. The water from the overflow valve offers your toad a highly desirable residence.
Toad Abode 3: CAVE DWELLER
Use rocks found on your property to build a small ‘cave’. Begin by creating a shallow depression in the soft earth under hostas, ferns or shrubs in your garden. Lay stones on the sides and on top of the hole so that a toad could comfortably fit inside.
As in real estate, location is everything. Place your toad abode on earth or on top of leaf matter in a shady, cool, moist area of your garden that is away from high foot traffic. It’s important that there is an earthen floor to your toad house so that they can regulate their temperature by digging into cooler layers.
Toads will seek consistent water sources – a frequent mud puddle, a pond, or simply water in a dish. Keep a small ground-level water source handy for your toad to keep him happy. All amphibians are chemical intolerant – pesticides and herbicides kill them simply from skin-contact. If you want toads, ditch the lawn and garden chemicals.
In case you don’t want to build your own toad abode and want to go ‘upscale’, there are lots of options. Garden stores and online retailers sell everything from handmade pebble castles, to solar-lit homes, to ceramics.
There are no promises of the arrival of handsome princes. I’m not getting close enough to tell you if any fairy tales are true, but I think these handsome toads don’t get the credit they deserve.
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Toad Abode ~ © 2015 Natasha G