Attracting amphibians

Features - Industry Trends

Introduce “frogscaping” to help customers create healthier backyard habitats.

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January 6, 2016

A gray tree frog rests on a cattail.
MICHAEL ZIELINSKI

Did your garden seem a bit too quiet last season? There is something disconcerting about summer nights that are devoid of a single chirp or croak from once abundant garden frogs and toads. Silence in nature is generally not a good sign. One of the fastest ways to judge the health of your backyard is by the presence, or lack thereof, of amphibians. A garden filled with frogs indicates balance and a healthy ecosystem.

Frogs and toads act as indicator species that signal problems in the environment when their population declines or they show specific health problems. With wildlife habitat creation and landscape restoration becoming the responsibility of every urban dweller, IGCs have a unique opportunity to educate their customers about gardening with frogs in mind. For fun, we’ll call it frogscaping.

What’s the problem?

Amphibians, such as frogs and toads, are going extinct at an alarming rate. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one in three out of all amphibians are on their red list of endangered species.

Southern leopard frog
RUSTY WILSON

Jennifer Fields, communications coordinator for The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) FrogWatch USA team, warns that there are a number of factors contributing to the decline of frog populations around the world. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are big contributors to wildlife decline, as are pesticides, pollution, invasive species, increased UV radiation, climate change and over-collection of food by humans. We aren’t exactly making it easy for amphibians to thrive.

Put them to work

Creating a frog friendly backyard benefits us as much as it does the frogs. Mosquitoes, slugs and plant-damaging beetles fall victim in droves to these amphibian predators. Frogs and toads are a supremely effective, natural form of pest control. If your garden center promotes integrated pest management techniques and eco-friendly gardening products, frogs and toads are an important part of the natural pest control arsenal.

Green tree frog
GREEN TREE FROG: LOUANNE ADAIR

However, if you and your customers want to boost frog populations, you’re going to have to make some important landscape maintenance choices.

Clean gardening

Where can home gardeners start first to make a meaningful impact? When it comes to making changes right at your own doorstep, the first thing to do is evaluate chemical use in the garden. Because amphibians have permeable skin, they are highly susceptible to pollutants, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Many pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture and home gardening are either lethal to frogs or can cause serious genetic and birth defects. If your customers regularly use chemical pesticides and herbicides in the landscape, they’ll have a hard time accomplishing a frog-comeback in their yard. Not all organic or natural pesticides are non-toxic to wildlife and so equal caution should be taken when using them as well.

Have you identified frog-safe products in your store for your staff and customers? It may be that you and your staff aren’t really sure what you have on your shelves that could be problematic for backyard amphibians. Now is a good time to inventory your selection and train your staff so you can be ready for spring customers.

Due to their sensitivity to environmental factors, frogs are great indicators of the health of gardens and habitats.
LESLIE F. HALLECK
Habitat matters

Frogs and toads play a very important part in the ecosystems of all wetland environments as well as our own backyards. As homeowners become more invested in restoring habitats for wildlife within dense urban spaces, they’ll turn to their local garden centers for advice and solutions. The FrogWatch USA team advises that when home gardeners want to create frog friendly spaces, anything they do to make their outdoor spaces more wildlife friendly in general will ultimately help frogs as well.

When you consider birds, butterflies, bees, and other native wildlife in your gardening choices, you’ll help frogs and toads by default.

The FrogWatch USA team and the National Wildlife Federation offers some basic tips for creating a frog friendly space:

Encourage customers to build safe spaces for frogs. The structures can help attract them.
LESLIE F. HALLECK
  • · Water is the No. 1 frog attractor, so consider building a frog pond. Specifically, a fishless body of water that is shallow and sloping. Frogs and toads need a lot of moisture in their environments in order to reproduce. But frog ponds don’t need to be large or elaborate. They should be a “left to nature” pond, meaning you don’t want to clean it or add any chemicals. It’s desirable for natural fertilizers and debris to fall into the frog pond, as it enables frog food sources to breed. Frogs and toads also prefer still-water ponds, as opposed to ponds with pumps and waterfalls.
  • · Create cover. Include nearby plantings where frogs and toads can retreat to find shade and places to hide. Plantings of ferns and other understory shade plants around the pond are useful. You can also install toad houses to encourage them to move in more quickly.
  • · Never introduce non-native frogs or toads to your backyard. Not only is this illegal in many places, non-native species can become invasive and destructive. Even transplanted native specimens can disrupt the surrounding eco-systems. Take the “if you build it, they will come” approach. Provide water, cover and reduce chemical use, and over time, local amphibians will find you.
  • · Minimize disturbance of your backyard pond or local wetland areas. Plant native species and keep an eye on pets. Cats and dogs, especially cats, are very destructive to wildlife habitats and will eat frogs and toads.

As you can see, your pest control, water gardening and shade perennial departments will play a big part in your customers’ frogscaping efforts. Early spring and fall are the best times to create a better backyard frog environment, so be sure to get ahead of these selling seasons with your frogscaping education and promotions.

Get hoppin’
Frog monitors record observations.
FROG MONITORING: COURTESY OF GREENVILLE ZOO

What makes FrogWatch USA so interesting and effective is that it’s a national citizen science program. It’s not just a group of researchers who work toward saving frogs. Individuals, groups, and families are all given an opportunity to participate in research and learn about wetlands in their communities. We are all invited to report data on local frogs and when we hear toads calling.

Volunteers select and register wetland sites and then record what they hear and observe during multiple evenings throughout the breeding season, which lasts from February through August. Results are submitted to an online database, which hosts volunteer-submitted data. Your garden center, staff, and customers can each actively participate by joining the closest FrogWatch USA chapter in your area. A complete list of chapters can be found at aza.org/become-a-frogwatch-volunteer/. Your garden center property can become a monitored wetland site as well as your customers’ own backyards. Simply register your space online with the national database.

Still water features like baths help attract frogs.
FROG BATH: LESLIE F. HALLECK

“Striving to conserve amphibians is of the utmost importance in this day and age,” Fields says. “Frogs and toads need our help more than ever, and helping track their populations by participating in FrogWatch USA as a citizen scientist is an enriching and enjoyable way to do so.”

Put all of this together and you’ve got a well-rounded opportunity for frogscaping workshops, themed events and targeted product sales.

 

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, digital content marketing, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies. www.lesliehalleck.com