Central to Wellfield Botanic Gardens’ mission is promoting the connection everything on Earth has to water, and how life on Earth would not exist if it were not for this simple molecule. We all understand how important water is to plants, but it is also critical for another important group of organisms, too. Frogs and toads, a gardener’s good friends, find the stuff absolutely essential.
Frogs and toads are great to have around the garden. Besides the great vocal ambiance provided at different times of day and year, they eat all kinds of nasty bugs like cutworm and slugs. They are also an important food source for heron, mink, fox and fish. They are also a key ecosystem indicator species. Lots of frogs and toads are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Frogs and toads possess extremely permeable membranes which allow them to readily absorb the liquids and gases in their aqueous environment. This feature, unfortunately, also makes them particularly sensitive to chemical pollution such as pesticides and fertilizers. Exposure can cause deformity or death. Pollution, declining habitat and disease are reasons why scientists have been raising the alarm over the rapid loss of entire frog species.
There are a number of things you can do to encourage the frogs and toads in your life:
Weed management strategy
We have written elsewhere describing the multiple strategies Wellfield utilizes to manage weeds in order to reduce our use of herbicides to a nominal level. First among those strategies is to disturb the soil as little as possible. Second, a heavy reliance on pulling weeds by hand whenever possible. Third, cover the bare soil with organic mulches, ground covers or closer plant spacing. Mow the lawn at higher deck heights as well.
Chemical application timing
Timing your chemical applications is critical for many different reasons, not the least of which is protecting Kermit. Sunny, dry days with little rain in the forecast is best, but one must be careful with sunny days, as some chemicals can cause tissue damage in the presence of intense solar radiation and/or high temperatures. It’s always best to peel open the label and read before painting the backyard with your favorite killer. My personal favorites are the pesticides promising to keep on killing those bad backyard boogiemen for up to year after application. Anything that persists so long in the landscape is not likely to be healthy for…anybody.
Controlling runoff is a good idea for lots of reasons, including keeping things from croaking (Yes, I went there. Don’t be so jumpy.) This goes with the above suggestion for timing chemical applications between rain or irrigation events. Planting buffer strips of native vegetation between the lawn and water’s edge, or using a storm drain help to slow down runoff are two ways to help.
Create a habitat
Indiana is home to many frog and toad species needing a good place to live. How about your house? Send the invite out. Throw an amphibian party. Leap into creating a welcome environment for our wet skinned friends. Building a small amphibian friendly pond or water feature is the best way to ensure friends. Other features to include would be plenty of moist shade and cover. Along the shoreline planting, you should provide a “bridge” of sorts from water to land such as downed logs or small low rock work, anything that breaks up the solid green stem wall of aquatic plants.
All these tips are simple, practical things we can all do now to help the frogs and toads in our lives. Do not wait until leap year to make a difference.
Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager