Q. I have found several toads in my garden this year, one even ventured into my house. I’ve heard they are beneficial so should I encourage them to stay (not inside of course)? And how do I do that?
A. Toads are among a few critters that we want to live in our gardens. In fact, this year, they are showing up in gardens all over the area. It is because of our wet weather and the abundance of slugs and other insects that are attracted to soil that is almost always moist.
• Toads’ favorite foods are: slugs, snails, spiders, pill bugs, mosquitoes and any other insects that come within range of that sticky tongue.
• They can hop (of course), climb, leap from rather high places and land on the ground, even concrete without it seeming to harm them. I have had recent reports that they often enjoy a nighttime family feast while hanging around under outdoor light fixtures, clinging to the outside light pole or the side of the building.
• It is also reported that in a single summer one toad can consume 10,000 slugs, bugs, and insects from your garden. So as a note shared by Gardening Know How, “Having a resident toad keeps the pest population down and reduces the need for harsh pesticides or labor intensive natural controls.”
• They are amphibians and need water just as their cousin the frog does, but they do not live in water but prefer wet soil and wet plant material.
• Provide a toad hut by turning a terracotta flower pot upside-down under a leafy plant — a hosta for instance.
• Make a small opening in the pot by propping it up so that it rests securely on a stone or piece of wood.
• If the weather becomes dry provide them with a dish of water tucked under a plant near their hut and keep an eye on it and empty it often and add fresh.
• Also spray the plant material they are living under to keep moisture present which will also lure their favorite foods.
• In the winter they hibernate and dig down in loose soil and bury themselves so they won’t freeze.
• This is one of those times when most of us did nothing to entice them to our gardens; they just came because the climate was ideal and because there was an abundance of food.
• If you would like to house your toads indoors, here is a pictorial web site showing exactly how to do it: http://www.wikihow.com/Care-for-an-American-Toad.
A great many of us want sustainable gardens and landscapes. This means that we will not use chemicals to combat disease and kill harmful pests within the boundaries of our properties. When we do this we protect our pollinators and the beneficial critters that join us in the fight. Most of us are pleased to see that toads have joined us this year and also that the Praying Mantis has been seen in many gardens.
Gardeninsects.com tells us that the mantis, a coveted sustainable garden helper, “will eat larger insects, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other pest insects.” They catch their prey with their scissor-like front legs and once the insect is caught, it cannot break free. The mantis is very slow moving and the color of most foliage and plant stems so they can stay hidden while they quietly wait. Then with unexpected and rather shocking swiftness, they grab their meal. Sort of makes you shudder, but in a good way.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to email@example.com. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel.