Are mosquitoes making your evening yard work a painful experience? Are slugs eating up your hostas? Then roll out the welcome mat for some garden-loving amphibians – toads!

Woodhouse toad

The brown woodhouse toad will zap about 100 bugs from your garden a night!

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Great Plains toad

Great Plains toads range in color from gray to green to brown, with darker blotches.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Toad by container

Toads play it cool.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Can toad

The invasive (and toxic) cane toad can be 8 inches long, and puffs up to look even larger!

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

As Mom once told you, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And inside just about any toad you’ll find a beautiful belly full of bugs. In fact, these eating machines can chow down nearly 100 insects every night – and that can add up to more than 10,000 bugs during the gardening season! Toads aren’t picky eaters, either. They’ll eat worms, slugs, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, flies, gnats, mosquitoes – even mosquito larva. So skip the bug spray and invite nature’s best garden ally to your yard!

There are all kinds of toads across the US. Which species you’ll be able to lure into your back yard depends on where you live. Some species are quite widespread. In general, if you cut the country in half vertically, those living in the western half probably have woodhouse toads (Bufo woodhousii) and Great Plains toads (Bufo cognatus). Those to the east will find American toads (Bufo americanus) and Fowler’s toads (Bufo fowleri). But it doesn’t really matter which toads you’ve got – they’ll all devour many of your garden pests.

So how do you roll out the red carpet for these garden guests? Well, the good news is toads aren’t too demanding, but you’ll have to have certain conditions available in your yard to draw them into your garden and keep them there:

  • Moisture: Any consistent water source is an invitation. Shallow bowls or ground-level birdbaths are the easiest options (although sometimes a pet’s water dish does the trick – but check your local species to learn which ones could be toxic to your animals). Even a daily water sprinkling in your garden can provide standing puddles. Of course, ponds are the best attractants because toads need a larger source of water for breeding and laying eggs. Don’t worry much about the toads eating too many of your fish, though. They’re more likely to eat water bugs, and the tadpoles will nibble on the algae on the side of the pond.
  • Shade: Toads do their best work during the cool night hours. During the day, they must avoid the sun to keep from becoming dehydrated.
  • Shelter: You may have the perfect toad home and not even know it! Woodpiles, rock piles, leaf piles and old-container piles are the perfect hidey-holes for toads. If you want to have some fun, try buying or making a toad house (a toad cave is probably a better description): Dig a shallow depression and lay a board over it, or make a “tent” out of two or three large rocks. Just make sure the home isn’t in a windy spot. (Wind zaps a toad’s moisture.)

    Another option is to put a clay pot on its side. Add a layer of dirt to the bottom so the toad isn’t sitting on the clay. Since toads love to burrow, they’ll like it even more if the pot is broken in half so they’re free to dig down into the ground, especially on those extremely hot days. (The best part is you can get two houses out of one pot!) You can always buy some little toad homes, too, but keep in mind the size of the “door” or hole. Many native toads are quite large and can’t fit into the petite houses.

  • Some night light: You’ll increase your odds of luring toads into your yard simply by turning on a yard or porch light at night. The light attracts insects by the swarms, providing a veritable toad buffet!
  • A chemical-free environment: You can’t have toads and pesticides. All amphibians are highly susceptible to toxins because they breathe and absorb moisture through their skin. Scientists and gardeners alike have seen a sharp decline in toads and frogs as pollution and chemical use increase. Even flicking cigarette butts on the lawn can repel toads. So choose organic fertilizers, and let the toads be your insect control.

The bottom line is: If you take care of your toads, your toads will take care of your garden. But sadly, toads (and frogs, salamanders, newts and other amphibians) need our help. They’re dying at an alarming rate, and some are even facing extinction! These very delicate creatures on Earth are serving as a warning signal to us that our world is toxic.

If you’re lucky enough to live where amphibians are abundant, consider calling your local wildlife department. They may be interested in collecting data or doing studies in your area. If nothing else, they’ll applaud your efforts at maintaining a toad-friendly environment.

So invite the ugly-but-princely toad into your yard. Earth will thank you, and so will your flowers and vegetables! Once toads find a comfortable home, they’ll move in and stay for years – and they’ll make being in your garden much more enjoyable for you and your whole family.