Friends In The Garden
By Justin Butts
By: Justin Butts
Toads are not pretty. In fact, they’ve have been downright disliked since the day a sassy princess was ordered to pucker up and kiss one on the lips. But don’t let their frowning faces fool you – toads are a powerful ally in the garden.
A toad can eat hundreds of insects and other pests in a single night: caterpillars, slugs, beetles, ants, mosquitos, flies, and more. Toads capture these nasties by snatching them with their long, sticky tongues and using their front feet to shovel bugs into their mouths.
Toads eat with their mouths, but they drink water through their skin. This process, called cutaneous absorption, is the reason you see toads sitting in pools of water but never see them drink.
Toads have pockets of glandular toxins on their skin that look like warts. These toxins are a self- defense mechanism against predators – they can be fatal to coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. Because of this amazing skin, toads are tough and extremely resilient. But there is one thing that absolutely will kill a toad: chemical pesticides. Because of cutaneous absorption, toads are forced to drink chemicals through every pore of their skin. Even a drop can be fatal.
When toads are killed, it takes a long time, sometimes years, for their offspring to be able to help in the garden. Unfortunately, the insects that toads would have eaten reproduce in a matter of weeks, or even days, and quickly grow out of control. That is why pest problems tend to return after a spray of chemicals and become worse than before.
The Welcome Wagon
To attract toads to your garden, plant your vegetables intensively so the leaves grow together to form a thick canopy over the soil. This canopy provides cover and protection for toads and other beneficial predators. A dense planting of flowers or shrubs nearby also provides an excellent sanctuary when the vegetable garden is bare.
Additionally, place a few shallow pans of water in your garden, flush with the level of the soil, so toads can easily climb in and out to drink. Refill the pan every few days. In the burning heat of summer, your garden pans will invite toads from far and wide to cleanse your garden of pests. Protecting toads is simply a matter of economics: A single Coastal Bend toad can eat 10,000 bugs or more during the long summer. A few toads in your vegetable garden will eradicate swarms of pests that you will never have to combat with pesticides. And that saves you a lot of time, money, labor, and produce.
Toads work at night, so you never have to see their unpretty faces. So, unless you are a sassy princess in search of husband, you will never need to touch a toad, much less kiss one. But if you offer them a cool drink of water and decline to spray them with chemicals, you can count on your friendly toads to cleanse your garden of pests all summer long.