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Frogs, toads, and newts are all common visitors to British gardens, and as more natural habitats are lost every year, it’s important to provide a safe environment for them whenever possible. Amphibians prey on pests that can damage your plants, so encouraging them to take up residency in your garden is beneficial for you too.
The common frog and smooth newt will be the most likely visitors to your garden as small ponds are their natural breeding grounds. Toads tend to prefer larger ponds or reservoirs, but may still be found in garden ponds.
Maintaining a pond
A pond is the best way to attract amphibians to your garden, as these provide a natural breeding site for frogs, toads, and newts. Ideally, the pond should be about 60cm deep and at least two metres square. It should be built with tiered sides to allow the amphibians to enter and exit the water easily.
If there is still a large gap between the surface of the water and the upper edge of the pond, build steps or a ramp with stones to provide them with an easy access point. The pond should be located in partial sun and shade for ideal conditions.
One point to bear in mind is that fish ponds will not be amphibian friendly, because the fish will feed on the spawn and tadpoles.
Plants that are frog friendly
A well chosen variety of aquatic plants is essential for maintaining a healthy pond. Plants also provide useful hiding places for tadpoles, who are prey to a variety of wildlife, including birds, dragonflies, water beetles, and newts. In fact, only about two or three tadpoles in every 1000 manage to develop into adult frogs, so it’s important to help them out.
A good mixture of native pond plants that are submerged, floating, and marginal are ideal. Submerged plants such as Hornwort and Willow moss are good for providing cover and will help to absorb excess nutrients in the water, which can encourage algae growth.
Floating plants such as water lilies and Amphibious bistort also provide shelter. Marginal plants that can be placed on the shallow shelf around the edges of the pond also give shelter and make useful access points for wildlife in and out of the water. Varieties that will do well in most British ponds include Marsh Marigold and yellow flag iris.
Newts lay their eggs on plants with thin and easily folded leaves, so you can help to attract them to your pond by including species such as Water forget-me-not, Brooklime, Watercress and Water mint.
If you have a lot of blanket weed or duckweed that is covering most of the surface of the pond, it’s best to try and clear some of it away to allow more sunlight and oxygen to reach the water and ensure that the other plants are able to grow.
To remove blanket weed, twist a stick amongst it and pull it out. Leave any vegetation you do remove to sit at the side of the pond for a few hours to allow any caught creatures to escape back into the pond. A good density of established planting is the best way to keep algae at bay, but if it persists it’s worth trying some environmentally friendly options like barley straw logs or Ecopond Barley-bio liquid. Be very wary of other brands that claim to be environmentally friendly, as if you dig down into the ingredients they often contain nasty chemicals like herbicides.
To remove duckweed filling the pond to overflowing can be a very effective way of washing it out, otherwise an old kitchen sieve or a skimming net will do the job. Again, Ecopond do an environmentally friendly duckweed control product that is effective if used regularly.
Making the rest of your garden a safe space for frogs and toads
Tadpoles usually take about three or four months to grow into adult frogs. Newly emerged frogs will instinctively leave the pond, but unlike toads they do not survive for long out of water, and can be prone to drying out.
Therefore, it’s helpful to have other water features in your garden. This could be as simple as a water trough with a ramp or stepping stones for them to access, or even a bog garden.
In the autumn and wintertime, amphibians will look for places to hibernate. They can’t generate their own body heat, and therefore they survive by seeking out sheltered moist places where they can remain inert.
Sometimes, frogs and newts will hibernate among the debris at the bottom of the pond, so if possible keep a light ball floating on the surface of your pond over winter to avoid it freezing over and suffocating any lingering creatures. Also clear any lying snow from the surface of the pond to allow some sunlight to reach the plants.
More commonly they will find an underground area such as a mammal burrow. In the garden, amphibians may seek shelter under a compost heap or log pile. You can even build your own ‘hibernaculum’ to provide a dedicated place where they won’t be disturbed.
To do this you will need to gather some logs and branches, some large stones, rubble, or bricks, and two or three offcuts of drain pipes which can be obtained from DIY stores.
Choose a place that is not in full sun and has free draining soil, and dig a shallow hole of about 50 cm deep and 1.5 metres wide. Loosely pile the logs, branches, bricks, rubble and stones into the hole, and slot in the drainpipe ends so that they provide ground-level access points.
Finally, cover up the pile of logs and stones with the excavated soil, leaving the drainpipe holes clear for frogs and toads to make their way inside.
Be patient and wait for amphibians to find your garden
The Froglife website strongly advises against bringing in spawn from other ponds or wetland areas to your garden pond. This is because you may inadvertently spread invasive species of aquatic plants, or introduce disease to your pond.
If you have only recently built your pond, the best policy is to stock it with a variety of native plants and wait for nature to take its course. This may take up to one or two years.
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