You’ve got the water, you’ve got the plants, you’ve got the fish, but something just doesn’t seem right in your aquatic paradise. Something seems to be missing -- something that made every childhood vision of a lily pad complete. What natural ecosystem would be complete without frogs?
Well, besides being just plain cute, there’s a valid reason why you would want frogs and other amphibians hanging out in your pond or water feature. They play an important role in the ecosystem. In fact, the number of amphibians in your pond can be a good indicator of the health of your pond. Ecologists are constantly monitoring the frog population in nature, as they are a first-alarm indicator of a problem in the area.
Say Adios To Insects!
Amphibians are instrumental in keeping the undesirable insect population to a minimum. This is certainly a good thing for your neighboring garden, but also for those lazy summer nights when you want to sit on your deck and not have to worry about pesky bugs bothering you and your guests. Frogs and toads will keep the mosquito population in your yard at bay, and will also help with other annoying pests, like crickets. Since they hunt at night, scorpions & centipedes are absolutely fair game -- and a delicacy!
Having these wonderful creatures around reduces the need for harmful pesticides that conflict with Mother Nature! They are what is known as Integrated Pest Management, which means you can, and need to, stop using chemical controls around your yard. In fact, those will harm the good guys, as well as the unwanted ones.
Water attracts amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts, mostly because they need a place to breed and lay their eggs. Since tadpoles need water to live, it seems only natural that a pond is a great place to raise a frog or toad family.
Keep in mind that tadpoles can be a great snack for your Koi. Water features are often built with a place where the eggs can hatch and mature out of the reach of the hungry Koi. Something like a small, upper pond separated by the main pond with a stream, would do the trick. Just make sure that the force of the waterfall doesn’t push the eggs and tadpoles over the edge toward your fish and mechanical filtration system. The force of the pump inside the skimmer could pull your tadpoles straight into it. While tadpoles have been known to make it through the pump unharmed, it can be a wild, shocking ride for them.
Certain species of salamanders also need water in which to breed and raise their young (referred to as larvae). So, come breeding time, you may see these salamanders by your pond as well.
Newts spend half of their lives in water and then, as adults, retreat to land. These part-time pond inhabitants have an interesting way of caring for their unborn. When the eggs are laid, the female wraps each sticky-coated egg in a leaf or other similar material using her hind legs. With as many as 600 eggs per year, it may take her as many as two months to produce her annual clutch.
Going the Extra Mile
Amphibians are complex and need a little more than water to make your pond their permanent home.
Boggy Areas: Biologists suggest a boggy area full of plants to keep them safe and happy in your yard. Local wetlands are great places to check out when looking to mimic the right environment.
Aquatic plants: Plants are very important because they provide food and shelter for both tadpoles and adults, and a breeding site for adults. If you let areas of your garden grow a little wild, it will also provide a shady place for amphibians to relax and cool off.
Permanent Shelter: A well-located rock pile can lure toads, salamanders, and newts to your pond. These small piles can also be made out of bricks or broken concrete. The rock pile should receive both sun and shade, and here in the desert, you’ll want to put the pile in a mostly shady spot.
A ToadalLy Bright Idea!
Frog and toad lovers suggest using a light to draw these adorable creatures to your pond at night. Some people put lights up in their yard to accentuate their evening landscape or to keep animals away. However, for frog and toad enthusiasts, the exact opposite is true. The light should be set no more than 3 feet above ground, and placed near the garden. Insects are attracted to the light, giving your toads and frogs a great place to feed at night.
If You Build It, They Will Come -- And Stay
It is very important that your pond get the right amount of sunlight and shade for your new inhabitants. They need a little of both to keep their body temperatures in check. Since all of these animals love playing around in muck and debris, a perfectly manicured lawn is not their cup of tea. Leaving some tree, shrub, and garden litter out so that they have something to burrow through will help keep them safe from predators.
While they need damp conditions, some frogs can actually drown in water. Make sure that your pond has shelves, complete with rocks and gravel, so you don’t have steep edges. Remember, once they take a dip in the pond, you want to make sure they have a way out and steep edges can be deadly to them. A piece of driftwood hanging in a shallow portion of the pond can make a great dry resting spot for your favorite creatures too. And if you have a larger pond, a floating platform in the middle of the pond anchored to something is a great idea. Salamanders and newts are especially fond of cool, damp spots under logs.
Be cautious when handling these creatures. Some species of amphibians have poison in their skin glands, which can be harmful to you, your children, and your pets. Our touch can be a danger to them, as well. The oils and lotions we have on our hands could be harmful to certain amphibians.
You Can’t Lead A Frog To Water
It’s great to want frogs, toads, and salamanders in your pond to complete an ecosystem, but you should be patient. Don’t go to a store and purchase these animals to put into your pond. In many places, it is illegal to release certain species into the wild because they are detrimental to native plants and animals. In fact, Arizona Game & Fish highly discourages Bull Frogs. Chances are that they will not stay at your pond, and they may not survive in the wild. And by no means do we suggest that you go to a local pond or wetland and catch these animals to bring back to your pond, either – it’s never a good idea to remove them from their habitat because they will undoubtedly try to return to their place of origin and get killed along the way.
Creating A “Winter” Wonderland
In the winter, frogs are attracted to water and they will even over-winter in your pond. One of the myths out there is that frogs need to be in water that is at least 6 feet deep in order to hibernate. Not true! As long as you have mud for them to burrow in, whether it is a deep plant pocket or a potted plant, they’ll be just fine. Make sure the plant pocket or pot is deep enough to keep them away from cold temperatures. If your pond is shelved, they’ll probably go for the pot or plant pocket on the deepest shelf.
So, how do they keep from freezing? Simple: they are ectotherms, regulating their body temperatures largely by exchanging heat with their surroundings. The soil in the plant pocket or pot keeps the frogs nice and warm throughout the winter. Leaving some string algae in your pond over the winter months gives them a nice blankie to snuggle down in, too. It might be a bit unsightly to you, but the amphibians love it!
It’s always helpful to read up on any animals that you are trying to attract to your backyard paradise, so be sure to stop at the bookstore or library and pick up some materials. The more educated you are, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Get ready, because once you get these creatures in your yard, you’re never going to want to let go!
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Ornamental gardening, "stay-cations," and "backyard Living" are at an all-time high in popularity. It seems that, in our high-tech society, everyone wants to get "outside," reconnect with nature, and enjoy the simpler low-tech pleasures. Nothing is better than sitting in a backyard by a water garden and watching the birds and butterflies at play. Many different types of birds visit our garden on any given day and in the summertime the butterflies abound! They eat, play, nest and bathe. And in the process we (and neighbors that walk by our front-yard stream), get to enjoy the gifts of nature.
Backyard Ponds & Gardens Should Work with Mother Nature
Like ALL living things, these beneficial creatures need certain basic things to live and prosper: food, water, shelter, and places to raise young. If you provide these things, you will see your new friends moving in almost overnight.
Want to increase the number of birds and butterflies in your landscape? Here are some brief hints:
Plant some native trees, shrubs and flowers. Using the right plants will provide places for shelter, nesting and food & will add beauty to your landscape. The great thing is that many of the plants that shelter and feed the birds and butterflies are native plants. Most of these natives are long-lived, drought hardy, and insect and disease resistant.
Put in a living water feature. We must ALL have water to live. Your water feature can be as simple as a bird bath or as large as a custom re-circulating waterfall, water garden, or rainwater harvesting system. The main thing to remember is that birds like shallow water for bathing and drinking (2″ to 4″) butterflies like a “seep.” Think about your overall landscape design and get some water in the mix! As a bonus, your kids/grandkids will really engage with a water garden.
Put up some Feeders. Putting up a few feeders will almost immediately draw in some new visitors. Platform feeder are great for black oil sunflower seeds, fruit, bread, nuts, and more. Tube feeders and socks are great for black thistle (a Finch favorite). A large hopper-type feeder is great for general feeding and can be filled every few days with an inexpensive song bird mix. Suet feeders are great and you can hang or mount them almost anywhere. AND don’t forget the Hummingbirds! There are even Butterfly feeders that you can put nectar and fresh fruit in to attract and feed butterflies. Spread your feeders out a bit around your outdoor living/viewing area. It will give you multiple viewing opportunities and it will give the birds a bit of room to move around.
Put up some bird and butterfly houses. Some birds require housing to get their attention! Some birds are particular on the placement, color and construction of these houses, so do some research on the birds in the area and what they like. If you get it right, you will be blessed with some AWESOME birds that will eat their weight in insects and will thrill you daily with their beauty and grace. And don’t forget the butterflies! A butterfly house makes for a great conversation piece and is a really unique addition to your garden.
Want to help your environment and make your little critters healthier and happier? Think organic! Pesticides and other garden chemicals are VERY harmful to birds and beneficial Insects! It’s not easy being green, BUT it’s not that hard either. Try to use organic alternatives like neem oil, insecticidal soap, dormant oil and non-chemical fertilizers (or, better yet, compost). You will notice a difference in the quality of your garden AND in the quality of your life!
Enjoying the abundance of nature is awesome and it’s not all that difficult! In fact, if you do some of these things, you will see an immediate increase in the number of birds, butterflies and beneficial insects in your landscape. These beneficial creatures will make your flowers more beautiful, your vegetables more productive, and your Life more abundant!
How can I tell if I have frog eggs or toad eggs in my Phoenix pond?
To start with, both amphibians make up the order Anura in the animal kingdom, but there are some key differences in the critters themselves. You can tell most toads and frogs apart by the appearance of their skin and legs. Most frogs have long legs and smooth skin covered in mucus. Toads generally have shorter legs and rougher, thicker skins.
As to the eggs you might be seeing in your Phoenix pond, toads generally lay their eggs in very long strands of clear jelly, sort of like small black pearls in a long clear plastic tube (dish on right). Frogs, on the other hand, lay their eggs in a cluster that resembles a bunch of grapes (dish on the left).
Here's a little graphic on what you might see over the next few months after the toad or frog eggs appear:
5 Biggest Drawbacks to an Ecosystem Pond
Ecosystem ponds can be gorgeous and low maintenance. They provide hours of pleasure, while requiring only minutes per week of care. But they have their drawbacks and they’re not for everyone.
Here are the 5 biggest drawbacks to having an ecosystem pond that we hear about:
There are bugs around my Phoenix pond!
Every living thing is attracted to water – including bugs. According to the University of Arizona, there are more than 13,000 identified species of insects in Arizona alone. Don’t worry, only about 8 of those species are problems that people try to control with chemical applications. Surprised? For more information, check out an interesting and fun read titled Insects of the Southwest by Werner/Olson.
Will my Phoenix pond draw mosquitoes?
Yes. And no. Yes, mosquitoes are attracted to any water source. However, most biologists agree that a well-built organic water garden is the cure for the West Nile Virus. Hungry fish will devour any insect that lands on the water. Even bees have to watch their P’s and Q’s. Just make sure that you don’t have anything else around your property that’s holding water where they could breed.
What can I do about the bugs around my Phoenix pond?
We recommend organic remedies, such as integrated pest management (IPM): good guys to eat the bad guys. Hummingbirds, flycatchers, western toads, dragonflies, and damselflies will automatically show up to most water features to help out with pest problems. If you have a pond, you can add mosquito eating minnows to take care of that annoyance. Pesticide chemicals do not discriminate between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” They kill everything.
For more information on integrated pest management, you can contact the Master Gardeners at 602-470-8086.
Can I use a pesticide around my Phoenix pond?
If you must use an herbicide or pesticide, make sure there is no wind and that your application is accurate. We DO NOT recommend you spray any chemical herbicide or pesticide within 50 feet of your pond or water feature. Inform your service, if you have one, of this requirement. Yes, it’s true that the poison is harmless once dry; however, it will never dry out if it hits the pond water, and can cause catastrophic results.