Into your yard, garden

by Beth Ellis, Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt

Gulf Coast toads have broad white stripes on their sides, and are often speckled with yellow spots. The male Gulf Coast toad like this one is easily identifiable because of the yellow patches on its chin.
Well-maintained flowerbeds with good shade, some water, damp soil and a place to hide are havens for toads. Protective stone piles also draw them like magnets.
LEFT:  Toad eggs are usually laid in static or calm waters in long chains whereas frog eggs are in single masses. The Gulf Coast toad variety of eggs is often described as looking like strands of black pearls.
MIDDLE: Toad (and frog) eggs hatch into tadpoles that develop into mature species. This process includes the gills being grown over by skin and closing, feet and arms developing and the tail shortening into a stub to form a young toad.
RIGHT:  After 12-16 weeks, the toad completes the full-development cycle and takes on the attributes of being a miniature full-grown toad.
With the rains in September, the familiar chirps, burps, buzzes and trills toads make once the sun goes down, are still everywhere. While many of us view their songs as music to the ears, here's some news many gardeners will view as being far lovelier - toads are voracious predators of some of the worst garden pests in our area.


As garden watchdogs, not many other critters can rival the lowly toad when it comes to choice of cuisine. Slugs, snails, ants, grasshoppers, flies, caterpillars, pill bugs, cutworms, cucumber bugs, mosquitoes and June bugs are all on the menu. In fact, the average toad can consume more than 10,000 insects in the course of summer, which means they eat two to three times their own weight every night. With just a little assistance from us, toads will happily settle into our gardens and start chowing down on all those pesky creepy crawlies that do their best to make gardening a frustrating experience for us humans.


It doesn't take much to make toads happy. All they really need is some good shade, a bit of water, damp soil and a place to hide - all of which can be found in a well-maintained flowerbed. If you use the following pointers, your yard will soon become the favorite toad hangout in your neighborhood.

Shade and Water - While toads don't live in water the way frogs do, they are susceptible to dehydration during hot weather. Shady flowerbeds and damp earth protect toads from the sun's rays, but a water source of some sort is necessary in order for toads to thrive. Since toads absorb water through their porous skin rather than drinking it, shallow water-filled pans tucked away in shady spots fit the bill perfectly - thirsty toads will soon be using the pans regularly to take long luxurious soaks.

Shelter - Shade and water are great, but toads also need places to hide during the day. Leaf litter, loosely piled bricks, broken clay flowerpots or a flat board placed in a damp, shady spot is usually enough. Toads will find these shelters and burrow underneath them. Alternatively, you can buy a "Toad Abode" - but make sure to get one that's bottomless, so toads can burrow down into the soil. Remember to sprinkle shelters when watering - if they are porous they will absorb water, making them even more to a toad's liking. Leave shelters in place all year long, as toads will use them for hibernation during winter.


For most of their lives, toads don't live in water; however, they need it to reproduce after emerging from hibernation in spring. To maintain a permanent population of toads (rather than playing host to toadly travelers each warm season), install a small pond in a protected area of your yard. A toad pond doesn't have to be elaborate - just keep it from going dry during spring and summer months.

Make one end shallow, so that adult toads can get in and out easily, and put plants around it so that they have places to hide. Make the other end of your pond deep enough so that tadpoles can hide from predators underneath vegetation, broken pots and other submerged cover. Once tadpoles hatch they will feed not only on vegetation, but also on mosquito larvae, which means you don't have to worry about your pond becoming a mosquito magnet. If bullfrogs appear, remove them as soon as possible since they view tadpoles as delectable snacks.


Toads are considered indicator species because of their sensitivity to pollutants. The porosity of their skin renders toads (as well as tadpoles) vulnerable to any kind of pesticide, whether insecticide, herbicide or fungicide. To avoid endangering these beneficial creatures, organic gardening methods are best. Whenever a pesticide is used - organic or not - consider using Integrated Pest Management methods. IPM means accepting a certain level of damage to your garden as normal, and targeting pesticide use only when absolutely needed and ceasing as soon as the problem is under control. Not only does IPM minimize impact to desired species of animals and insects (including us!), it also prevents pest species from building up resistance to pesticide.


So consider making a concerted effort to invite toads into your yard and garden. Provide adequate shade, water and shelter; avoid pesticides whenever possible; steer clear of toads when mowing; and before you know it, they'll come. Spend some quality time with the kids by making toad abodes out of broken flowerpots and decorating them with non-toxic paints - not only will everyone have fun, you'll also be keeping your kids in touch with nature. Once the new abodes are tucked into nice shady spots around your yard, it won't be long before happy toads take up residence.


Often we humans run and scream when these beneficial little creatures are around. Instead, we should be glad to see them. These fearless, but gentle little warriors are some of Momma Nature's best defenders of our gardens and yards.
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Call Victoria County Extension Office
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at