Grow a Living Garden (Pt 1)

Grow a Living Garden (Pt 1)

By Laura Coffee, Marketing & Owner Services Manager, Co-op Owner

A living garden? Isn’t that a bit redundant? Obviously the plants in a garden are living, but a healthy garden can be a haven for so much more! Whether you grow flowers, vegetables, or some mix of the two, your garden can also be a tiny (or not so tiny) oasis for a wide variety of beneficial animals and insects.

It takes more than dirt to make a garden!
It takes more than dirt to make a garden grow!

Growing up my parents always kept a sizable garden. In that garden I met toads, snakes, spiders, worms, bees, frogs, birds, and all sorts of moving, breathing creatures in addition to the attractive and tasty plants that grew there. We had the advantage of living in a rural area, but even an urban garden can attract a lot of wildlife. Not only is this garden menagerie good for the wildlife, it’s good for your plants too! I live in an apartment now, so my gardening space is limited, but many of the techniques we’re about to discuss will work even if all you have is a flower border, porch, or balcony.

One of my favorite garden creatures has always been the American Toad. These friendly little amphibians are pest eating machines, polishing off thousands of flies, mosquitoes, ants, and slugs every year. Large toads can even eat small mice! Of course, if you want a toad on pest patrol in your garden, you’ll need to give it a place to live. You can find ready-made clay toad houses at your local garden store, or online. (Tip: Just be sure the door or opening is fairly large. Female toads may reach up to 4 inches in size.) Many of these ready-made options look like decorative fairy houses, adding a bit of whimsy to your garden along with the pest control. If you prefer to go the DIY route, it’s also easy to make your own toad house.

A cool toad is a happy toad.
A cool toad is a happy toad.

To build a successful toad house you need to know what toads like. American Toads need a cool place to hang out on hot summer days. They also like to burrow into the soil a little. Ideally any toad house you buy or build should have an open bottom for this reason. You should also place the house at the base of a tree, shrub, large plant, or in another shady area to help keep it moist and cool in the heat of the day. The simplest, cheapest option is to simply build a pile of large-ish rocks in a shady place so toads can burrow under or shelter between them.

Another affordable option is to get a plastic flower pot (Tip: Avoid black as it warms up too easily.), cut out a rounded door, and either bury the bottom inch or two in soil, or place a large rock on top to keep it in place. You can also use half of a clay flower pot placed horizontally on the soil, perhaps with a few large rocks near the opening to provide cover if it is quite large. Finally, you can use a whole clay pot. Just bury the pot at an angle so there is an opening at the front and a soil ‘floor’. Support the rear of the pot with mounded soil. This keeps it from tipping over and also allows it to stay cooler and dry out slower during the day.

Finally, you’ll need to provide a water source if there isn’t already one nearby. A shallow dish placed in the soil and refilled daily will please your toad and serve as a bath for small birds too! A miniature fountain or small pond will also do the trick. Toads don’t need to be fully submerged in water like frogs, but they do enjoy sitting in it like a little toad-sized wading pool!

Stay tuned for part two, when we’ll talk about attracting bees, garter snakes, and birds to your living garden!


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