Adventures in Gardening: Building a Frog Pond

With the unlimited free time of summer, I can finally get some work done in the yard.  I’ve finally transplanted my potted tomatoes and peppers into my flower beds—probably way too late—after getting up weeds this weekend.  I need to get out with the weed trimmer soon to get the edges of the house and around the grapevines and fig tree, but the beds are looking good, if a bit bare.

While pulling weeds Saturday, my girlfriend’s dog started nosing at a little frog—possibly a toad—hopping around in one of the rocky beds along the side of the house (I thought it might be a gopher frog, but now I think it’s more likely a Southern toad; if anyone can tell from the video, please leave a comment):

I get quite a few of our amphibian friends around the house, often hiding out in planters and shady spots in the yard.  After the Spooktacular in October, I found quite a few hunkering down inside of the ceramic and red clay Jack O’Lanterns and votives I had on the porch.

Indeed, one morning I found one chilling on my toilet seat!  I sucked him into my vacuum’s canister and emptied him safely outside.

I have always loved frogs (just not when they’re hanging out in my bathroom), and I’m delighted that so many of them live around my house.  In doing some research on frogs and toads in South Carolina, I stumbled upon a WikiHow article entitled “How to Make a Frog Home in a Garden.”

Given my free time and desire to spruce up the yard, I jumped at the opportunity to put together a small frog pond of my own, which I installed Wednesday.

The WikiHow article calls for using flexible pool liner to create a water-tight underlayment; other how-to guides suggested a similar approach, or suggested a layer of underlayment and then pool liner on top of that.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have pool liner sitting around my pool-less house, and it’s apparently quite pricey (although, if I expend Frogtopia, I might buy this cheap stuff).  To improvise, I used three pieces of Tupperware I had sitting around.

Frogs and toads like shady areas with lots of places to hide, so I picked the side bed that spends most of the day out of direct sunlight.

The instructions indicated that frogs and toads like some deeper areas to swim in and to lay their eggs, but need to have a gently sloping exit path.  I tried to create a system of tiered Tupperware, putting the largest piece lowest in the ground.

For shelter, I took some old plastic planters and cut out little entrances in the sides, just large enough for our hopping friends to squeeze in, but small enough to make it difficult for larger predators to make it inside.

Frogs, naturally, eat insects.  I planted a little $4 sprig of oregano last September, and it has absolutely exploded into a gloriously overgrown mass just off of my front porch.  The oregano—which I use regularly in pasta and on pizzas—has flowered, and attracts bees, dragonflies, moths, butterflies, and all manner of flying insects throughout the day.  Dodging the fat bees, I managed to remove a few sprigs by their roots, and transplanted them next to the watering hole.  I also found some random, grassy plant (it might be a weed, or it might be an ornamental that jumped loose and made it into my yard) and uprooted it, relocating it next to the makeshift pond.  Finally, I had a little piece of folk art from the Blue Ridge Mountains that I put out for some local color:

Initially, I thought I would just fill up the Tupperware with my garden hose or even some bottled water, but apparently the chlorine content in tap water is dangerous to frogs.  Even my Member’s Mark bottled water contained sodium chloride—salt—but my girlfriend the chemist informed me that the chlorine ions could separate.  Fortunately, my mom mentioned using distilled water, of which the experts at WikiHow approved.  I dumped a gallon of the good stuff into my froggy world, which then required ladling in some more dirt and stones to maintain the gently upward slopes that would allow any amphibious visitors to crawl from out of my homemade primordial soup.

To improve the look of the area, as well as to provide some additional ground cover to trap in moisture and give frogs and toads more hiding places, I sprinkled some cypress mulch around Frogtopia, and even topped the towers with them for additional insulation.  I used the rest of the mulch to refresh and replenish my front beds:

photo_2021-06-29_12-14-44

I was hoping for a typical afternoon thunderstorm to dump some more water into the Tupperware.  One of the pieces had a sliver cut into it, which I attempted to seal with some wood glue, and then pack tightly with dirt and rocks.  Unfortunately, drained off after a few hours, but it did leave behind a delightfully muddy sludge.  The lowest, largest Tupperware container had begun to lose some water due to evaporation by the time I returned from teaching lessons for the evening, so I replenished all levels with another gallon of distilled water.

If a large downpour comes along, I think the water level should be easy enough to maintain.  My concern at this point is that I have not done enough water sealing beneath the Tupperware.  I’m also curious to see if my little kingdom is big enough.  It might be a nice place for a toad to splash about for a bit, or to hide out during the day, but I’m not sure if there is enough room for her to lay her eggs.

My hope is to attract a few of the toads and frogs I know are already slinking around my property to this little watering hole.  It can apparently take a year or two for frogs to find their ways to such places, so I don’t expect immediate results.  However, if I continue to see lots of water loss or evaporation, I might break down, buy some pool liner and underlayment, and rebuild—bigger and better.

For now, Frogtopia seems pretty nice.  I mean, if I were a frog, I’d probably hang out there, appreciating the subtle aesthetic choices.  But I’m not a frog—I’m a big, dirty, hairy human:

photo_2021-06-29_12-15-50

Stay Hoppy!

—TPP

6 thoughts on “Adventures in Gardening: Building a Frog Pond

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