Even though we only moved 4 miles away from our old house, there have been some differences in the habitat in our yard at our new house versus the old house. The most delightful and audible difference has been the presence of tons of toads! While that may not be exciting to everyone, I can tell you that the gardening and nature loving members of this house are thrilled! Last summer my daughters and their friends favorite activity was “Toad Catching Night.” When it is warm, our driveway and mailbox area comes alive with tons of singing and hopping toads. While I am by no means an expert, I think the species that is hanging out is the Eastern American Toad.
If you are anything like me, you hate bugs (well, you hate getting eaten by bugs or your plants being eaten by bugs)! Just one toad can eat up to 1,000 insects a day. While they mostly live off of insects, snails, grubs, and slugs, they will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. This means that by making an inviting area in your garden for toads will result in less bugs eating up your plants. When I was working on our new shade garden and a fairy house for the garden, I discovered that fairy houses and toad abodes have a lot in common. Since we have a ton of toads, a new garden, and I was already building a stone fairy church, I thought I would add a toad habitat while I was at it. Not only do they help your garden, they are pretty, and used up lots of my left over project supplies (which I always have a plethora of left over supplies).
Toads need shelter, shade, and some water (they drink water through their skin, so they need a little body of water). They particularly need water during the mating season. The male toads sit in water and sing to the females to attract them to the water for laying eggs.
You need the following supplies when you are ready to built your toad habitat:
- Flower pot or plastic structure with an opening large enough for a toad to jump through (you can cut or break a bigger hole in the container for the toad – use scissors or other tools),
- Thin-set mortar and water or a small container of premixed mortar,
- Lots of small rocks or pebbles (I used a left over big bag of pea gravel, rinsed them off, and let them dry first – but that may not be necessary),
- wax or parchment paper (to protect your work surface),
- A pond reservoir (anything no deeper than 3″, I used a large flower pot saucer),
- Flat rocks to line the outside of the pond,
- Clear coat spray and a metal funnel ***both are very optional,
- A shady spot to put your habitat.
This was one of the cheapest garden projects I have ever done. I had a cracked flower pot, pea gravel, thin-set, and a ton of flat rocks that I had dug up from the garden. The only thing I purchased for this project was a shallow flower pot saucer. I got the largest terracotta one that Home Depot had in stock (15″ diameter, I think).
Here are the instructions for the Toad Abode part of the project:
- Get your container that you are using for the abode base and determine if you need to make a hole or make a larger whole in the container.
- Because my flower pot was intact, I made a hole by tapping on the cracks that were already forming in the pot by holding a screw driver over the crack and lightly tapping it with a hammer. I used the pliers and a hammer to tap off any other areas that needed to go away. This was not a job for a perfectionist – just get a hole and don’t worry too much about the shape. *The edges will be jagged and you might want to wear protective eye gear depending on the material of your container.
- I scooped up some thin-set in a red solo cup. I added a little water and stirred with a plastic knife until the clumps were gone and it was the consistency of putty. There were no exact measurements here. If it seemed to runny, I added water and if it seemed too thin, I added more powder.
- I used the plastic knife I was stirring with and spread the mortar mix on the top edge of the flower pot (what will be the base of the house. After I spread some mortar, just like icing a cake, I would start pushing stones into the mortar. This is a great place to get help from a kid. I spread and we jammed stones in together until it was pretty packed with stones.
- Flip the house over and continue spreading and placing pebbles until you have gotten all of the sides. I find it easiest to start at the bottom and work my way up. I also put a little thin-set and a few stones along the inside of the jagged edges of the opening to keep the toad and I from being scratched.
- I then let it dry overnight because my original intention was to put a metal funnel on the top with the spout rolled down for the roof. However, I didn’t have one here at the house and by the next morning, I decided that I would do the top the same as they sides. So, skip this step if you want it to look like mine or let it dry and attach an upside down metal funnel with the tip rolled down (if you decide on the funnel, you can skip to step 8 or work on building the pond). Both are cute in my opinion.
- Put a layer of mortar down and then put a flat rock over the drainage hole in the flower pot. spread another layer of mortar over the original layer and the rock that is blocking the drainage hole and then cover with stones.
- Let dry overnight.
- Spray with clear coat or you can use grout to set the stones. While I was originally thinking of grouting it, I decided on clear coat because I loved the way it looked without the grout. I am not sure that this step is necessary, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt.
If you are lucky enough to have a pond or stream in your yard, then you are done. However, if you really want the toad to move into a specific area or your yard doesn’t have a water source, then I you will need to make a pond for your toad.
Here is what I did for a simple Toad Pond:
- Find an area in the shade. Under trees and near a big fern or similar type plant (in my case mine is next to bleeding hearts and astilbe).
- Dig a shallow level hole to place the dish that will hold the water. Ideally, you want the “pond level with the ground.
- surround flat stones around the rim of the pond.
- Put a few stones in the pond so that the toad can easily get out. I also put some of the pea gravel on the bottom just because I liked the look of it.
Place your Toad Abode next to your new toad pond and you are done.
We are now just waiting for a toad to discover the new home and move in. While I have seen one or two while gardening, they haven’t been out in full force. Hopefully I will soon have an update and picture of the toad house being used. Let me know if you make one and if you get a resident.
If your you or your children want to research more about American Toads, go to http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Anaxyrus_americanus/.