A little-known fact is that a single toad consumes thousands of bugs a year. If you want to avoid using pesticides, then one natural alternative is to encourage a garden full of toads. Not only do they eat bugs, but they also eat those slugs that chomp on your vegetable plants and flowers. Another advantage is that the toads themselves do not eat your plants—they only have an interest in eating bugs, worms, and other moving critters that share the space they live in.
Inviting toads to take up residence in your garden is easily done with a simple toad house you can make yourself from an old clay flowerpot or even a leftover coffee can. It's quick and easy to build a toad house and the best part: It's a free form of pest control. Toads can live for years, and once they discover the house you've built, they will become a permanent part of your outdoor family menagerie.
When to Build a Toad House
Toad houses in the garden will be most effective if they are available when toads have finished with the early summer breeding season and are actively feeding on bugs and preparing for winter hibernation. In early summer, many toads have migrated to nearby marshes, ponds, bogs, or streams where they are mating, but as summer progresses, they will move into surrounding areas in search of insects, and then begin to look for places to burrow underground to overwinter. So a toad house positioned in a shady area of your garden where there is a nearby source of daily moisture will very likely draw at least one toad, and possibly many, into your garden. A healthy toad can easily live a decade or more, so your new visitor may soon become a permanent resident that pays rent each garden season by consuming as many as 10,000 grubs, beetles, and other damaging insects.
Before Getting Started
A toad is a particular type of frog that spends most of its lifecycle on land rather than in the water. But toads are still amphibious creatures that reproduce and develop in water, so for them to thrive in your garden, there will need to be a marsh or pond or another wetland area in the vicinity. Native North American toad species generally migrate to and from the ponds and lakes where they were born, therefore, transporting toads from a distant location to your own garden may well be a genetic death sentence. Toads can migrate several miles on their own, but it is irresponsible to move a native toad a long distance from a potential breeding area.
Therefore, the best strategy is to make an environment that is friendly to the species of toads that are already found in your area. It's best not to bring in any wild creatures to your garden that are not already native to your region. They are unlikely to thrive and reproduce, and could even become an invasive menace to native species.
Instead, allow native toads to find your garden naturally. If you have seen toads anywhere in your neighborhood or on nearby public lands, it's not a hard matter to invite them to your garden party. Any garden with plenty of low-growing plants, mulch or leaf litter covering the ground, and sheltering areas such as brush piles, fallen logs or stumps, or any kind of "toad abode" will be attractive to these lumpy, warty bug predators. Remember, too, that although toads don't live in water, they still need a source of nearby moisture even during those times of the year when mating is not underway. A toad house located near a rain gutter downspout, or underneath the drip spout of an air conditioner, will be quite attractive to toads.
- Old flower pot or coffee can
- Handful of leaves
- Paint (optional)
Make or Buy a "Toad Abode"
A toad can be coaxed into almost anything that creates a cozy, dark, cool, moist cavern. This can range from a simple ground hollow covered with an old wooden board, to a purchased decorative clay container designed as a toad house. But an extremely effective and simple toad house can be made with a leftover clay flower pot or even a metal coffee can. If you want, you can even paint your toad abode with non-toxic paint and label it "toad house" so some uninformed visitor or family member will not disturb it or throw it away. Alternatively, you can paint your new garden home green so it blends in.
Choose a Location
Find a shady spot in your garden and dig a hole that is large enough to accommodate your container when it is lying on its side. Avoid any area that gets too much direct sunlight, which can make the toad house uncomfortably warm.
The best location will also have a source of water nearby. A toad house located near a landscape pond, a rain garden runoff area, or even near a rain gutter downspout can be attractive to toads. Lacking any other source, even a saucer of water will do the trick, though you will need to check it every day or so to make sure the container has some water in it.
Position the Toad House
Drop the container into the hole and bury the bottom half in the dirt. Toads like to burrow, so it's important to create a solid, straight dirt floor. It is even better if you are using a broken pot with the gap located on the floor of the toad house. Just be sure to leave enough space for the toads to enter.
Furnish the Home
Grab a handful of leaves and stick them inside the container. The leaves serve as bedding material and their addition completes the toad house building process.
If you want to get super fancy—and take being bug-free one step further—you can add a toad light to the garden to attract insects.
Protect Your Toads
If you have pets, you may need to make some effort to keep them away from your toad house. Curious dogs and cats may harass these creatures.
And remember that toads are subject to natural predators. Various snakes and birds may feed on toads, though these amphibians typically excrete substances that make them foul-tasting to most predators. But think twice about tolerating garden snakes or birds of prey in your garden if your goal is a toad-friendly environment.
Finally, remember that your toads survive by eating bugs, so it's best to restrict or eliminate your use of chemical pesticides. You don't want your toads to starve or to consume bugs that are contaminated with chemicals.