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Toad-ally Natural Pest Controllers: How to Attract Toads to Your Garden


When you think about garden critters, it’s common to picture birds, butterflies, and various insects first. However, you might be overlooking one particularly endearing guest: the garden toad. These creatures might not win a beauty contest with their unique, lumpy appearance, but they are incredibly beneficial to have around.

If your garden includes a shallow pond and a variety of natural hideaways, you might just find yourself hosting a couple of these hoppy friends. Known scientifically as Bufo bufo, the common toad is a harmless neighbor to humans and pets alike. The only risk they pose is if ingested, which could make you ill, but this is unlikely.

Toads have a special defense mechanism: they secrete an irritating substance from their skin that deters predators and can inflate themselves to look bigger and more intimidating. Unlike their frog cousins, toads tend to amble or crawl rather than making big leaps.

Many gardeners dream of attracting toads because they are natural predators of pests like insects, slugs, and snails—devouring up to 10,000 in just one summer. Hosting a toad means fewer pests and less reliance on harsh chemical pesticides or laborious pest control methods.

Now, let’s explore some tips on how to invite these helpful amphibians into your garden.

Difference between Toads and Frogs

Toads and frogs are like the unsung heroes of the gardening world. They gobble up a host of pests—think mosquitoes, slugs and snails—and they’re pretty low maintenance. A few tweaks to your gardening routine could make your green space a haven for these helpful creatures.

I’m fortunate to share my garden with toads, frogs, and even salamanders. It’s always a pleasant surprise to spot them while I’m watering, weeding, or just pottering around the garden.

I continually look for ways to tweak my gardening practices to better suit their needs, recognizing the incredible role they play in the ecosystem. Each toad can devour up to 10,000 bugs during the summer months, making them a gardener’s best friend.

Toads are a type of amphibian, similar to frogs but with some distinct differences. North America is home to roughly two dozen species of toads. These guys prefer a more terrestrial life compared to their aquatic frog relatives. Toads have dry, bumpy skin and stout bodies, and they’re more likely to walk than hop.

Their coloration—usually shades of tan, brown, or gray—helps them blend into their surroundings like soil and leaf litter. Those bumps on their skin? They’re not warts but paratoid glands, which release toxins to ward off predators.

Attract Toads to Your Garden
Credit: Dengarden

Now, let’s contrast that with frogs. Frogs possess longer back legs designed for high and long jumps, and their bodies are sleek and covered in a slimy mucus that makes them look wet. Their habitat is typically near water bodies, and they have many natural predators.

Toads, in contrast, sport shorter, less powerful legs, meaning they usually run or execute shorter hops. Their skin is dry and rough, often emitting a bitter taste and smell to discourage predators. Toads have broader, more robust bodies and their eyes are lower and shaped more like a football.

Interestingly, the line between frogs and toads isn’t always clear-cut. Some frogs might feature warty skin, while some toads can have smoother, slimy skin, which has sparked debates among biologists over how to classify these amphibians accurately.

Rest assured, though, neither toads nor frogs will transmit warts to humans, and both are fantastic allies for gardeners.

Toad Habitats and Lifestyle

Toads are invaluable garden allies, spending most of the year hidden away while consuming a diet of insects, grubs, spiders, and worms. The larger varieties are even capable of devouring small mice and slow worms, swallowing their prey whole due to their lack of teeth.

Known for their reclusive nature, toads seek refuge during daylight hours in moist, shaded spots like under logs, within thick leaf piles, or inside shallow burrows, only emerging at night to hunt.

Feasting exclusively on meat, toads target a variety of invertebrates such as beetles, slugs, crickets, flies, and ants. Some of the bigger toads may also tackle small rodents and snakes, trying to ingest anything they can manage to gulp down. As natural pest controllers, a thriving toad population is a boon for any garden.

Attract Toads to Your Garden
Credit: Gardening Know How

Springtime, however, is when toads truly captivate our attention. Drawn irresistibly to their aquatic breeding grounds, the air around ponds and damp environments vibrates with their unique calls as males vie intensely for mates, outnumbering females significantly.

This often leads to fierce competitions, highlighted by their loud, electronic-like calls. The successful males get the chance to mate, with females laying long, visible strings of eggs in the water, which soon hatch into tadpoles.

These tadpoles undergo a rapid and remarkable transformation, evolving from aquatic beings into four-legged terrestrial toads within weeks. At about twelve weeks old, as they make the critical transition from water to land, these young toads are most at risk. It’s a crucial time when they must consume plenty of insects to bulk up for the impending winter hibernation.

Being amphibians, toads are extremely sensitive to environmental pollutants like pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which they absorb through their skin. A healthy population of toads in your yard not only signifies effective pest control but also reflects the cleanliness and health of your local environment.

How can toads help your garden?

Toads can be surprisingly beneficial for your garden. Across North America, except in Hawaii, you’ll find around 20 different toad species. These amphibians, a subset of frogs, usually breed in aquatic environments but spend most of their adult life on land.


Michael Benard, a herpetologist and the interim chair of the biology department at Case Western Reserve University, explains that toads might look slow and hefty, but they are in fact active hunters.

For instance, the American toad, a common visitor in eastern gardens, can rapidly extend its sticky tongue to capture prey faster than a blink of an eye, devouring up to 100 insects nightly. This adds up to about 10,000 fewer pests during the gardening season.

According to Benard, toads aren’t picky eaters. “They’ll snap up just about anything that moves—from beetles to flies—triggered by their movement,” he notes.

However, toads are highly sensitive to pesticides, herbicides, and some fertilizers. Benard points out that these substances are major factors behind the declining amphibian populations worldwide. “When we transform open spaces and farmlands into suburban areas without adequate ponds, wetlands, or forest patches, our toad populations suffer,” he warns.

Introduction to Toad-Friendly Gardens

Toads are facing challenges in their natural habitats, and they could use a helping hand. If you spot toad spawn in your garden pond, it’s best to leave it undisturbed, as toads carefully select their breeding spots.

These creatures make excellent garden companions, affectionately known as ‘garden pets.’ There’s no need to confine them; instead, familiarize yourself with their habitat and ensure it remains safe and chemical-free.

Embracing organic gardening practices helps restore natural ecosystems, attracting more wildlife. A few toads can effectively control pests, bringing an interesting, warty presence to your green space.

Enhance their habitat by setting up a wildlife pond and a bog garden. This provides them with essential water sources and might encourage them to breed in your pond come spring.

Create a dedicated space for your toad friends by constructing a simple toad abode:

  • Place a large flowerpot on its side and half-bury it to fashion a cozy hideout.
  • Alternatively, turn a flowerpot upside down and lift one side with stones to make a small entrance.
  • You can also stack flat stones to construct a quaint toad house.

Position these shelters in a cool, shady area near water to create an inviting environment for toads. This small gesture can make a big difference in supporting these beneficial garden dwellers.

Basic Needs of Toads in the Garden

The plight of toads might seem daunting, yet there’s plenty we can do right in our own backyards. Toads require a few essentials to thrive: a water source for breeding, like a small pond or a temporary springtime ditch, along with a damp, sheltered spot for hiding and earth to burrow into.

Turning your garden into a haven for toads isn’t complicated, as Benard notes. While garden centers sell charming “toad abodes” like miniature clay cottages, you can easily craft your own. Simple coverings such as logs, rocks, or wood scraps with gaps just right for toads will do the trick. They seek snug, moist spots to tuck into and dig down.

Berger opts for an easy solution using overturned flower pots to shield toads in her garden. “Nothing fancy needed,” she advises. “Just tilt a rock under the pot to let a toad slip underneath.”

Toads also need moisture, and as Benard humorously points out, they “drink with their butts.” This means they absorb water through their skin while sitting in it. You can set up a toad bath by placing a shallow water dish in a shaded area near their shelter, making sure to keep it fresh by changing the water every couple of days.

Once you’ve set up a suitable habitat, just wait and see. “It’s a classic ‘If you build it, they will come’ situation,” adds Benard. Protect your new guests by keeping chemicals away from their area, as even typical bug sprays could be detrimental.

Understanding toads is key, Della Togna emphasizes. Misconceptions about toads being warty or toxic often deter people from appreciating these amphibians. While it’s true that toads can secrete toxins when threatened, these are only harmful if ingested. Simple precautions like supervising children and pets and washing hands after handling will keep everyone safe.

Toads are creatures of habit and might inhabit the same garden for over a decade. Benard points out that you can recognize individual toads by the unique patterns on their backs, which might help you notice if the same toad returns repeatedly.

Berger shares a personal story of her children’s delight in observing a toad that frequented a terracotta hut in their herb garden. “It was always a surprise to see if he was in or out,” she recalls, highlighting the joy and connection such wildlife can bring to family life.

Engaging in toad conservation through simple garden adjustments doesn’t just benefit the toads; it contributes significantly to local conservation efforts and citizen science. “Think of the collective impact of thousands of such gardens,” Della Togna encourages. “It’s a powerful way for gardeners to make a real difference.”

Caring for Toads in Your Garden
Credit: credit on image

Caring for Toads in Your Garden

While toads don’t feed on plants directly, they thrive in environments rich in native vegetation. These plants support a healthy insect population that serves as the primary diet for toads, and also provide essential cover for them to evade predators.

A garden devoid of such natural setups, like a bare lawn, is less likely to attract these amphibians. To make your garden a welcoming space for toads, incorporate dense beds of native plants.

To further enhance your garden for toads, consider building a brush or rock pile and maintaining a layer of fallen leaves to offer them ample hiding spots. It’s crucial to avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers; these substances can harm or kill toads and deplete their food sources.

Toads require a source of clean water as they lay their eggs in shallow waters. Creating a water feature that’s at least a foot deep can be beneficial.

Adding a small tree branch and aquatic plants, and allowing leaves to gather in the water can provide excellent breeding and hiding conditions. This setup enables toads to secure their eggs and offers a safe haven for tadpoles.

Caring for Toads in Your Garden
Credit: Grow a Good Life

To make your garden a safe refuge for toads, ensure it has enough foliage and raised areas where they can hide from predators such as snakes, birds, and pets. As amphibians, toads need moist environments to survive.

They commonly reside under boards, porches, and loose rocks. You can enhance these spots with moisture to make them more appealing, or even create decorative toad houses in your garden.

Lastly, reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals and pesticides in your garden. Toads are extremely sensitive to these substances, and even minimal exposure can be detrimental to their health.

Establishing a small pond or water feature that remains filled throughout the year will not only attract toads but also support their reproduction, ensuring future generations.

By making these changes, your garden will become a sanctuary for toads, allowing you to enjoy the enchanting chorus of their mating calls during warm spring evenings. This not only contributes to the ecological balance but also enriches the natural charm of your garden.

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