Helpful toads in the garden

The Detroit News

While chatting with some friends in a garden recently (socially distancing with face masks, of course) someone mentioned how excited he was to see a garter snake in his garden. He went on about how beneficial the snakes are in a garden and how they protect the garden by eating destructive insect pests.

While snakes in general serve a very important role in the wider ecosystem, they are not very helpful in a typical garden and in some cases can be detrimental.

Toads are a gardener’s real BFF. It’s not unusual for a mature toad to eat a hundred or more invertebrates a day, every day before, during and after the growing season. Multiply that by the number of days and you get a huge number of meals!

Eighty-eight percent of their diet consist of known agricultural pests that include beetles, flies, grasshoppers and other insects that fly through the air or scurry on the ground. They also will eat creepy-crawlers like worms, caterpillars, and even slugs and snails. What’s more, since they are carnivores there’s no danger of them ever munching on your garden plants.

Toads can be seen sitting among outdoor potted plants that are frequently watered.

To obtain the large amount of food they require, toads will hunt all day long and even into the night. If the weather is hot and dry, they will take shelter in a cool moist spot such as a wood pile, under a porch, under rocks, leaves or any other suitable area.

We regularly see one of our resident toads hanging out at the moist area against the house where water splashes from the hose.

You can encourage toads to live in or nearby your garden by building toad shelters. A shelter can be very simple. A depression dug a few inches deep and covered with a board will work fine. Just be sure to leave an opening for the toad to get in. 

Flat sandstone loosely stacked over a shallow depression makes a good toad shelter as long as it’s kept damp

A shallow dish or bowl of water to supply water is also attractive to toads. Toads don’t drink water, instead, they obtain it from their prey or absorb it through their permeable skin. Keeping a moist area nearby your garden will also help attract toads.

Cool, shaded hostas are a favorite lounging spot for toads.

Toads have surprisingly long lives. They can easily live to be 10 years or more so yes, that toad you see is the same one that has been living at your place for all those years. Usually however, they only get to live only five years or so before they are eaten by birds, raccoons or other predators, including garter snakes. That’s not to say that garter snakes should be killed but maybe can be moved to a different location, somewhere away from your toads.

Harsh garden insecticides can be a problem for toads because of  their thin absorbent skin, which allows chemicals to enter into their bodies. It’s best to use organic gardening methods to keep your amphibious friends healthy and happy.