Toads are a bit like pug-nosed puppies and aardvarks; they’re ugly in a way that actually makes them cute. But toads are more than a “pretty face,” they’re a gardener’s best friend when it comes to pest control. Toads are mainly nocturnal and spend much of the day inactive, tucked away in a shady nook. They spend most of the night hunting and feeding on a wide array of insects and other creatures. A toad’s diet consists of many things, such as insects, snails, slugs and worms. In fact, a toad can eat a hundred or more insects per day. That amounts to many thousands over the course of a summer!
The best way to invite toads to live in your landscape is to provide homes for them. They will naturally look for places around logs, under rocks, or dense foliage to retreat during the day. You can give them more options by intentionally adding “toad houses” to your landscape. These can be as simple as a flower pot tipped on its side and half buried in the soil (a good way to repurpose a pot that is no longer suitable for a plant), to stacking flat rocks to create a cave effect, to creating a luxurious toad abode that is both, functional and decorative in the garden. Once completed, your toad house will be the perfect place for toads to “chill out” on hot days.
- A clay or plastic bowl or pot measuring around 10-14 inches (25-35 cm) diameter
- A tool that will cut through plastic such as sharp cutters, a hacksaw or blade
- A power drill if using a clay pot
- Pebbles, seashells, marbles, tiles, polished glass
- Tile adhesive
- Grout for outdoor tilework
- Putty knife
- Sponge for wiping down grout
- Paper or plastic to cover work surface
- Magic eraser sponge
- Plastic disposable gloves
1. Cut a doorway 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) wide and high.
2. Cut another small doorway on the opposite side to provide an escape hatch from snakes or birds that might prey on your toads.
3. Special tips for cutting terra cotta
Terra cotta can be difficult to cut. One technique is to use a drill to make a line of closely-spaced holes along the doorway cutting line. It’s best to use a bit designed for masonry. Use tile snips to break away the terra cotta up to the drilled holes. If you’re daring enough, you can hit the doorway area with a hammer and hope that it breaks along the drilled line. The opening can then be sanded to remove sharp edges. It won’t matter to the toads whether the doorway is perfectly symmetrical or not. The only thing important to them is that the hole is big enough for them to get inside.
If all that is too much trouble, a broken clay pot can be set in the ground on its side to create a shady shelter.
4. Working in small sections, coat the toad house with tile adhesive and apply pebbles or other decorative objects. You may want to wear plastic disposable gloves when working, to keep adhesive and grout off your skin.
5. Once the adhesive has dried and set you can apply grout according to the package directions.
6. After several hours of drying there may still be some grout “haze” left on the pebbles, making them look dull. This can be gently wiped away using a damp sponge or magic eraser sponge.
7. Allow the grout to dry for 24 hours and then apply a grout sealer if desired. Sealant can extend the life of your toad house by repelling moisture. Your cozy stone cottage is now ready for guests!
8. Place the toad house in a shady location set over loose, compost-rich soil. (Toads love to burrow into the soil.) Good places to consider are underneath a shrub, among the plants in a vegetable garden, or a flower bed. If possible, loosen the soil to a depth of about 8 inches (20 cm) before you set the toad house in place, to make it easier for a toad to burrow.
Just like people, toads enjoy a home with a pool. Place a shallow dish of water close by and be sure to fill and refresh the water frequently. A saucer designed for houseplants is a good option, the top of a birdbath, or a shallow bowl will also work.
Since toads like to feed at night, you could add a solar garden light nearby to attract nocturnal insects to your toad’s dinner table.
In areas with harsh winters you should store your toad house indoors during cold weather. Freezing and thawing can loosen the objects on your toad house.
Interesting tidbits about toads
- Toads will not give you warts, however their bodies can produce a toxin called bufotoxin as a defense against predators. It won’t harm humans, but it could cause skin irritation for some. If you handle a toad always be gentle and always wash your hands afterwards.
- Toads typically live between 4-10 years (although some species may live up to the remarkable age of 40 years).
- According to the American Museum of Natural History there are 617 recorded toad species as of 2019.
- Toads are amphibians. They can live on land and in water. In fact, eggs are laid in the water which then hatch into tadpoles. Tadpoles are water creatures with gills for breathing and tails for swimming. The tadpoles live in the water until they gradually grow legs and develop into fully formed toads.
- Toads hibernate through the winter. They burrow down into the ground, as deep as 1-2’ (.3-.6 m), to protect themselves from freezing while they slumber. When the warm weather returns in the spring, toads burrow their way back out of the ground.
- Toads are very sensitive to chemicals. If you use pesticides or other chemicals in your garden, it’s unlikely that you will get toads to live in your toad house. In fact, you could kill them before they ever get a chance.