At an upscale garden
center the other day I saw the cutest UFO-style toad house
for sale. For, like, $90
. Ack!! Really nice if you have the money for something like that. However, you can actually encourage toads for just pennies down. Any small, toad-sized container offers toads the shelter they need to feel safe. Meanwhile, something more elaborate need only set you back a few bucks.
Need inspiration? Check out these photos of toad villages
posted by readers of About.com. These are so cute, aren't they? Personally, though, I'm into a more naturalistic look, something I think might be more likely to attract wildlife
, too. In the photo above you can see the toad house I made using polished stones. I'll talk more about that in a bit, but also be sure to check out my gallery for step-by-step photos!
Before going any further with the toad houses, however, let's backtrack a little. Why encourage toads in the first place?
Well, first of all, toads are suffering as human habitats (cities and suburbs) suck up more and more land. Second, toads are also being harmed by exposure to chemicals used in landscape maintenance
. By giving a toad or two a safe place to hang out, you're helping boost their numbers.
It's a win-win situation, actually. That's because toads eat the insects that you may consider pesky.
TOAD HOUSE 101
But back to the subject at hand. A great toad house:
1. Is in a shady location
and does not absorb heat readily. Toads must stay cool and damp. For this reason, a heavy stone flowerpot is a much
better option than a plastic flowerpot or old coffee can. Having said that, a coffee can toad house is infinitely better than no toad house at all!
2. Has a nice, wide doorway
. Toads are not known for their slender waistlines, you know. An opening four or five inches wide and about three inches high is best.
3. Is bottomless
. Toads like to burrow down in the dirt. If you're using an entire can or flowerpot for your toad house (as I did), lay it sideways in a shallow hole and fill halfway with moist soil
and leaves. This is the easiest way to make a toad house because no cutting or shaping is needed. It does require a nice, large pot, though.
4. Is near a shallow water source
. This need not be large, because although toads sit in water to absorb moisture, they do not swim. An old flowerpot tray will do. Add some smooth stones if you like. Bonus: your water source will attract birds
, too! The down side: water saucers must be rinsed and refilled often, which requires a little commitment on your part.
5. Has smooth edges
. For obvious toad-safety reasons.
6. Has an escape route
(a second opening) so the toad can flee from predators. Alternatively, make sure the toad house is long and/or large enough so that, if cornered by a predator, your toad can at least hide way in the back and wait out the siege.
7. Is located away from family pets
. For example, my dogs hang out in the back yard, so my "toad town" is located out front. Having said that, your pets
are in for a major life lesson if they do attack a toad. You know the nubbins toads have that look like warts? Well, they're actually glands that secrete a toxic substance if a toad gets attacked or otherwise manhandled by a predator.
How toxic, you ask? Toxic enough to make the attacking animal foam at the mouth and generally freak out for a few minutes, thereby allowing the equally traumatized toad to make its getaway. My big black and white cat, Kato, can testify to that. He caught a toad once five years ago and let me tell you he never tried it
again. Seriously, it was truly terrifying at the time because we thought he was choking to death on something. So, please keep your pets away from toads.
8. Is near a food source
. Toads are nocturnal insect-eaters. Help fill the buffet table by putting a battery-operated nightlight nearby
to attract moths and other flying insects. Or do what I did and locate your toad houses where they are within hopping range of the front porch light.
9. Is a peaceful refuge. Leave your toads alone.
Don't frighten them by picking them up or otherwise poking and prodding them. Please don't
catch them and keep them as indoors pets as this fool suggests
. Tell your kids
the toad house is a no-go zone. Stress to them the importance of respecting nature just as it is.
HOW TO MAKE TOADILY EASY TOAD HOUSES
I recently made a toad house for my own garden. From the get-go, I knew I wanted something that was a) cute yet natural-looking, b) toad-friendly, c) inexpensive, and d) fast and easy to make. So I took a cheapo terracotta flowerpot and decorated it with small polished river pebbles. Total cost: only $6! Here's what you'll need to make one for your own yard:
1 8-inch terracotta flowerpot (the toad house)
1 8-inch wide, 2-inch deep (or larger) terracotta saucer (the water source)
1 24-ounce bag polished pebbles
1 4-ounce tube glue or small container of grout
Newspaper or cardboard to work on
Small garden trowel
Step 1. Assemble the above items
and ensure the pot is clean and dry. Before cracking open the glue, cover your work surface with newspaper or cardboard. Make sure to use glue that is construction grade and can handle being exposed to the elements. Work in a well-ventilated area.
Step 2. Choose your pebbles.
I went with very natural-looking polished pebbles. That's because I love the look of river stones, but I also wanted something that blends in with the landscape. My next toad house will be more vibrantly colored, using the faux stone pebbles shown in picture one of my gallery. Basically, it's your call -- craft stores sell these pebbles very cheaply, so express yourself!
Place the pot upside down. Start gluing stones to the pot
, working upwards. Do small 2-inch-square sections at a time because that glue will set very quickly! Only glue stones onto one half of the pot.
The other half will be set into the soil. Finish by turning the pot right-side-up and adding a row of stones around the very top of the pot and just inside the rim. Let dry.
Step 4. Select a spot for your toad house,
letting the criteria mentioned above be your guide. I placed mine amongst the dense azaleas in front of my house. It's a sheltered and somewhat damp spot. It's close to the front porch light, so there are plenty of insects fluttering around at night. It is also right by a water spigot, so that refilling the water saucer is easy.
Step 5. Plant your toad house.
Dig a shallow hole using your trowel. Place the pot on its side in the hole and fill it halfway with soft soil and leaves. Fill the saucer with water and place it nearby. You're done!
If you have access to a stone-cutting machine, you can cut one side of the pot away to give resident toads better digging access. You don't have
to do this, however. Laid on its side and filled halfway with soil, a big flowerpot provides pretty good shelter for any little critter.
Although I'm into low-cost, DIY gardening ideas, I have to admit the toad houses you can buy are awfully cute, too
. So if it's in your budget, go for it. The UFO-shaped toad house. The garden gnome-shaped toad house. The toad-shaped toad house. It's all good!
Finally, confused about the difference between frogs and toads? Then here's a great resource