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  • Writer's pictureBesa

Gardening for amphibians and reptiles

The American toads in my yard are so loud I can hear them all the way down the block. Their chorus echoes between my brick house and the neighbors. I’m surprised no neighbors have complained of the noise, maybe it sounds like home to them also.

The toads arrive because of my pond. In spring the pond is full of black masses of eggs and then tadpoles. I need to be careful to check on the pond regularly to maintain the water level, so the babies don’t dry out. I also have tree frogs which I don’t see so much in the pond but find them hiding in my pots or in the rainbarrel. Last summer I was entertained by having two tree frogs serenading each evening, one calling from either side of my deck. Every time I find a toad or frog in my garden, I feel is a special moment. I can’t help but to pick them up or at least give them a pat between the eyes.

The amphibians need moist areas to live. They like the water of my pond and rain barrel. Keeping fish in a pond will discourage toads and frogs because the fish eat tadpoles. I also find them buried in the leaf mulch in winter or sheltering in a rotten log in summer. They also are very sensitive to chemicals used on the garden that they can absorb through their skin, so I keep my garden chemical free to protect my amphibians. I always top off the pond from the rain barrel because there are chemicals in the tap water that can kill amphibians.

The amphibians may find our gardens naturally, traveling in from neighboring gardens or natural areas. They can also be introduced by taking a cup of egg masses from a friend’s pond and putting them in our own. Be sure to transport the eggs quickly, never leave them in a hot car. Acclimate the eggs slowly to the new pond. Don’t take eggs from the wild as it will harm natural amphibian populations. I have never found a salamander in my garden but hopefully someday I will be so lucky.

My backyard garden also provides habitat for reptiles. I’m not sure if I have any permanent resident snakes but I find a few each year. Species I commonly find are the ring neck snake, rough green snake, midland brown snake, and the earth snake. They are all very tiny and usually curled up under a stone I am moving. I enjoy our chance encounters and wish them happy hunting before carefully replacing the stone. I hope some day to have a resident black rat snake that can help manage the rodents and maybe even terrorize the squirrels.

Lizards have not found my yard yet. I have put out rock piles for them to bask on but I think that my island of native plants is just not big enough for a lizard territory. Gardens with more sun and rocks seem to be better at attracting lizards. I also do not have any resident turtles. The occasional turtle passes through, once a box turtle painted yellow passed through, someone’s escaped pet probably. Turtles should not be moved into our yards because they will try to return to their home territory. So I will have to wait for one to show up on its own and hope that it doesn’t get run over in the street on the way. When I’m moving mulch and compost I always check for eggs first since the snakes and turtles think these piles are good nest sites.

Having reptiles and amphibians take up residence in our gardens is a good sign of creating a healthy habitat. They eat a lot of insects, worms, and rodents so need a complete food web in place. They can also be picky about their habitat, requiring fresh water, hiding rocks and logs, mulch piles, and protection from predators as well as poisonous chemicals. As gardeners we do our best to make everyone feel welcome and just hope that they come.

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