Dear Miss Floribunda,
I am new to gardening and new to Hyattsville. I was doing a little weeding the other day when I discovered that what I thought was a brown leaf was actually a toad! I shrieked and it flopped away immediately. Neighbors who heard my cry came over to see what was the matter. When I explained, they told me that the former owners of my house had actually encouraged creatures like toads and even bats to live in their garden, never used poisons and even made shelters for them because some are endangered species.
Okay. I don’t want to hurt them,but I want them to leave. Is there a humane way to encourage them to move out of my yard?
Toadily Freaked on Farragut Street
Dear Toadily Freaked,
There is absolutely no reason to fear or hate toads. These dear creatures are a gardener’s best friend, and they eat vast quantities of insects whose removal would otherwise require poisons. As you mentioned, the toads in our area bear an uncanny resemblance to brown leaves and are shy. They won’t hurt you, and they need a home. Some Maryland species are in danger of extinction.
So, try to overcome your amphibian-phobia. There are plenty of positive instances of toads in literature. Think of what Shakespeare invoked when he wrote, “the toad, ugly and venomous / Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” In the referenced legend, the toad’s jewel has healing properties. And, there are examples of charming literary figures such as Mr. Toad from Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows, Neville Longbottom’s pet Trevor from the J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, or Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books.
Indeed, toads and other amphibians are in need of protection. Like bats, they are endangered by loss of habitat, pollution, and fungal disease. Also like bats, they are one of your best bets for controlling mosquitoes and other noxious insects.
We are fortunate that the nearby Magruder Park provides a good environment for amphibians. You can hear the sounds of different species there in the evening. In my own garden, I discovered that a bronze Chinese lantern that was too heavy to hang has provided a home for at least one toad. A dog dish I keep filled with water from a rain barrel must have also been helpful in attracting them. (Toads do not like chlorinated water.) You need not worry about mosquitoes breeding in such spaces, because toads will eat them and their larvae. I credit my toad friends for defending my hostas from slugs, creatures I consider far more esthetically offensive than toads, and certainly more harmful to plants. Unfortunately, you can’t just buy toads and expect them to stay in your garden. You need to make a congenial environment, providing them with toxin-free water, shade, and shelter. Provide it, and they will come. Although a clay flower pot set on its side would do, my sense of whimsy tempts me to buy one of those toad houses that look like adorable English cottages. Putting one in your garden might help change your perception of toads from nasty monsters to friendly caretakers.
For more information, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 20 at the home of Jeff and Marsha Moulton. Their water garden is not only a thing of beauty but it is an amphibian haven.