Gardening for frogs

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Frogs help to keep the insect population in balance in your garden.

Frogs and toads actually play an important role in the ecology of the garden. “They control the insect population in your garden,” says Kirstenbosch’s Ernst van Jaarsveld. “Insects make up the largest part of the diet of frogs, although they also consume slugs,” he adds.

Frogs are quite harmless. Each species has its own distinctive sound and most frogs are active in the cooler hours of the night or dusk when the air moisture content is greatest and moths and cockroaches are active.

Create a frog-friendly garden

“The current publicity generated by the threatened extinction of certain species of frogs has made us all more aware of these small creatures and their role in the balance of nature. The 21st century ecologically-minded gardener now welcomes frogs and toads into the garden and regards them as fascinating, as well as useful, members of the garden clan,” says Ernst.

How do you create a frog-friendly garden? Start by installing a pond planted up with marginal, floating and submerged aquatics to attract frogs from all the different frog families. These are the plants that Ernst suggests for your frog garden:

*nFloating aquatics. Water lilies (Nymphaea capensis, N. lotus), waterblommetjies (Aponogeton distachyos), wateruintjies (Nymphoides indica) and fonteingras (Potamogeton thunbergii) provide a platform for frogs to perch upon, as well as a hiding place below the leaves. Their flowers also attract pollinating insects for the frogs to eat.

* Marginal aquatics. Reed-like and other marginal aquatic plants provide an attractive habitat for the arboreal reed frog, as well as a good breeding place for toads. Marginal aquatic plants also make the perfect habitat for aquatic and pond margin frogs (Rana spp.), reed frogs (Hyperolius spp.) and running frogs (Kassina spp.). Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus, C. textilis), dwarf papyrus (C. prolifer) and Juncus lomatophyllus are good plants for small urban gardens.

* Submerged aquatics. Water-grass (Vallisneria aethiopica), Potamogeton pectinatus, P. pusillus and P. trichoides provide protection for tadpoles and encourage spawning. They also help to keep the water in a pond crystal clear.

Consider these tips when planting up a water garden:

* Provide hiding places. Frogs, and in particular toads, need a sheltered place to hide during the heat of the day, and also as a place for hibernation during the dry season.

Suitable shelters are beneath stones, in tree stumps or under logs. Rockeries are ideal for frogs.

Any hollow or space beneath a house or veranda and or other fairly deep crevices where sufficient moisture will allow them to overwinter is ideal – many toads overwinter in meter-reading pits!

* Provide dense shrubbery. The average suburban shrubbery is quite appropriate for frogs. In subtropical parts, any dense, tallish planting will attract tree frogs.

* Install an outside light. At night an electric light will attract insects, and the toads will follow.

* Provide an evening shower. Turning on the sprinkler for a few minutes just before dusk during the summer evenings will make your garden attractive to toads.

* Avoid harmful chemicals. Avoid spraying your garden with toxic chemical pesticides and herbicides.

Garden frogs

What kind of frogs or toads will you attract to your garden? Toads congregate in spring and summer around ponds and lay strings of eggs with tadpoles emerging in large schools. The most common garden toads are the guttural toad (Bufo gutturalis), the olive toad (Bufo garmani), the raucous toad (Bufo rangeri) and the red toad (Bufo carens). The running frog (Kassina senegalensis) sometimes enters gardens. They are small colourful frogs with a distinctive whistling call.

Creating a pond with planting reed-like plants will attract the dainty reed frogs (Hyperolius spp.) which live in reeds and water lilies. Any size pond will entice the platanna frogs which live beneath the surface of a water body. Place a few large stones at the bottom of the pond where they can hide. Platannas control mosquito larva. They are scavengers and thereby keep ponds clean. - Saturday Star

* To find out more about frogs, see South African Frogs by Passmore and Carruthers. (Witwaters-rand University Press, 1997) or A Guide to the Identification of Frogs of the Witwatersrand. (Conservation Press, 1976).

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