Note: This is the first in a series that details easy ways to substitute native wildlife for chemical pesticides in your garden.
All of Florida’s 27 species of frog are found right here, in North Florida backyards. But before you say ewwww, consider this: They can take the place of harmful chemical pesticides.
Some varieties of toad, for instance, can eat up to 100 insects a night, according to Mother Earth News. When you multiply that by the dozens that probably live in your yard or congregate around your bug-attracting porch light, it’s easy to see how effective a little natural help can be.
Because we are blessed with biodiversity here on the First Coast, you may see one or all of the little creatures, which are divided into terrestrial, arboreal or aquatic types, according to the University of Florida. That basically means some spend more time on the ground, while others spend more time in trees or the water.
Either way, chances are if you’ve seen one of these amphibians, you’ve seen a Southern Toad (pictured below); it is one of the most common. All those little triangles trying, Frogger-like, to make it across the road before your headlights descend? I offer 5-to-1 odds it’s a Southern Toad.
The good news is that they’re plentiful. The better news is that they love to dine on some of our least favorite garden visitors: Ants, bees, beetles, crickets, roaches, snails, and other invertebrates. While we don’t mind the crickets and bees, the rest of those insects eat our veggies before we get a chance! The ants, especially, like to farm aphids on our bean and pea plants and okra for the honeydew (sweet excrement) the aphids leave behind after many good meals on their leaves.
(Note: The minute you see aphids, spray them with Neem Oil because once an infestation gets a toehold in your garden, it is very hard to get rid of. Just don’t during it during the hottest parts of the day or before rain.)
It’s not hard to attract Southern toads, Oak Toads, Eastern Spadefoots or any of the other 20-plus varieties to your yard; leave places for them to hide (like bushes or pots), don’t kill off all their food with pesticide, and don’t hurt them or get in the way when it’s time for them to mate and go create some baby frogs. It’s really that simple!
Having a water source like a pond or lake nearby helps, but you could also get a fountain with running water. Bird baths and other still water sources are no good, because they breed mosquitos.
If you don’t have enough toads already and don’t seem to be attracting as many as you’d like, here’s an article from Mother Earth News about how to Shanghai, er, encourage some toad populations to live in your garden).
Tree frogs can also help your garden. We have 9 different types of tree frog here, some of which aren’t satisfied just singing on the porch, like the Cuban tree frog in the video below.
Some of the most common in Northeast Florida are the green tree frog and the aforementioned Cuban tree frog. The green is a native and the Cuban, shown below, is invasive, slowly edging out the green.
While the Cuban tree frog is invasive, it also eats smaller things like beetles, roaches and spiders, according to the University of Florida site about North Florida frogs. While they are bad for native frogs, their voracious appetites are good for the garden.
Like tree frogs, toads are easy to attract. You might have already seen them hanging out on your porch, where the porch light attracts all kinds of tasty bugs.
The recommendations for encouraging them in your garden are the same, other than this: Be Like Motel 6. Leave the light on.
Coming up next in part II: How to attract birds to help with pest control.