Grit Blogs > Going Native

Ode To The Toad

We all want a healthy garden, a garden that provides food for the table; adds beauty to the landscape; and contributes to the native ecosystem.  The health of a garden can be gauged by the size and color of plants; the quantity and quality of harvestable fruits, vegetables, and herbs; and the presence of frogs.

A frog in the garden is a welcome sight 

Frogs breathe and drink through their skin. On land, adult frogs use their lungs to breathe, but they rely on the extra oxygen they absorb through their skin, especially when they are underwater. They transfer oxygen through their skin directly into their bloodstream. This makes frogs especially vulnerable to water pollutants. Frogs do not swallow water; they get the water they need solely through their skin.

Because of their physiology, frogs are considered an indicator species of the health of an ecosystem because they are the first to be affected by changes in the environment. If you have healthy frogs, you know you have clean water and air.  Also, since frogs are predators and prey, thus affecting many animals, frogs are a good indication of the health of an ecosystem.

Frogs As Environmental Indicators 

Frogs that are deformed indicate unhealthy changes in the environment.  The U.S. Geological Survey studied malformed frogs in Minnesota and found that a combination of factors cause frog deformities.  These factors include parasites, chemicals, and increased ultraviolet light.  “It is likely that one or more combinations of chemicals, biological, and physical factors are responsible for causing the malformations in Minnesota frogs. Chemical combinations may be mixtures of natural and human-made organic chemicals, each of which is harmless on its own but toxic when combined. The number of possible combinations of chemicals, biological, and physical factors is enormous, which may explain why finding the causes for frog malformations has been a difficult task.”

According the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Amphibians, such as frogs, toads, and salamanders, are highly susceptible to contaminants, including fertilizers, weed and pest killers, and detergents, released into their environment.…Amphibian eggs and larvae (tadpoles) are especially susceptible to these toxic substances”.

Keeping Frogs Healthy

To keep frogs healthy, it is important to use sustainable and organic methods to grow food.  Anything you add to the ground surface will eventually make its way to ground water, creeks, streams, wetlands, or lakes and affect that ecosystem. Clean water means healthy frogs. So grow your garden in a way that does not add additional chemicals to the environment. Use compost and organic fertilizers.  Use beneficial insects, rather than insecticides, to manage garden insect pests.  To attract beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, ground beetles, and lacewings, add a border of native plants next to your vegetable garden.  Other methods to prevent insect damage is to pull out weak plants, build healthy soil, clear out debris and weeds, and interplant and rotate crops.

Frogs In The Garden

Frogs are carnivorous as adults and are a natural means of pest-control.  They eat moths, mosquitoes and their larvae, snails, slugs, flies, beetles, and cockroaches. In fact, frogs remove many crop-damaging insects from your garden each summer.

To attract frogs to your garden, you need to have a body of water—wetland, lake, or pond—nearby. Frogs must keep their skin moist; otherwise, oxygen cannot pass easily through their skin and the frog suffocates. Frog skin secretes mucus that helps keep it moist. Even so, their skin tends to dry out easily, which is why they usually stay near bodies of water. In a pinch, frogs rely on dew for moisture, or burrow underground into moist soil.

Once you have the water source, frogs need a cool, shady place to stay. Vegetable leaves provide the cool shade frogs need, as do ‘toad houses’.  You can construct a simple toad house by using stones or bricks to make a three-sided house.  The house will not have a bottom so the toads can burrow into the soil.  You can set a pot for a container garden on top of the toad house.  This method provides height and color to the vegetable garden and a cool spot for the frogs.   Frogs will borrow in mulch and they also like compost piles.

As gardeners, we strive to sustain our communities, our environment, and ourselves.  A basket overflowing with produce picked from the garden is one way to assess how well your gardening methods work.  Another way is to find a healthy frog or two in your garden.  A healthy frog means a healthy garden and a healthy environment.

Mary Pellerito is a freelance garden writer living in Michigan.  Check out her blog, Muse, at