How about inviting a guest to your garden who eats 50 to 100 slugs, flies, grubs, grasshoppers and cutworms every night? Well, the next time you see a toad, stop to say hello and welcome it to your garden. If it’s happy and feels at home, it could stay for 20 years. And unlike some birds we know, this humble garden guest won’t eat your crops for dessert.
How to host a toad in the garden
The American toad (Bufo americanus) or one of its many cousins can be found from coast to coast. Most gardens can support several. If you don’t have toads already visiting your yard, making a hospitable environment will likely attract them in no time. As long as a toad has shelter, food and moisture, it could stay for many years. Here’s how to provide these in your garden:
Toads feed mainly at night, and they need shelter and moisture during the heat of the day. They take cover by burying themselves in damp mulch or hiding beneath low-growing plants. Make a toad home by stacking flat stones in a cavelike arrangement or use an old clay pot, like the photos above. This clay pot already had a chip, so it was easy to enlarge the “door” with a pair of tile cutters (putting duct tape on the outside and inside of the pot helps control your cut). Adult toads will need an opening at least 2 in. wide and 1½ in. tall. In late fall, toads burrow 3 ft. below the soil’s surface to hibernate until emerging again in spring.
To cool off, toads can drink through their skin. Set a shallow saucer of water level with the ground so a toad can easily jump into it. If the saucer is deeper than 3 in. or has straight sides, add a few stones in the water to help them climb out. Make sure to keep it fi lled on hot days, and dump the water, rinse the inside and add fresh once a week to prevent bacteria from growing in the water.
Patiently lying in wait, toads use their long, sticky tongues to quickly grab their food. Anything that’s smaller and slower moving than they are is fair game. Even as tadpoles, toads eat mosquito larvae in the water. Adult toads feed mainly on insects, so it’s wise not to use insecticides that take away their food supply. Many pesticides are poisonous to toads. Always use the least-toxic organic insecticide or a cultural control, such as hand-picking insects off your plants.