Landscaping for Reptiles & Amphibians

Florida cricket frog (Acris gryllus dorsalis)
Florida cricket frog (Acris gryllus dorsalis)

Reptiles and amphibians use plant material for shelter from the weather, as cover while foraging for food, and as a platform for territorial and courtship displays.  A number of plants and other materials can be added to your landscape in order to provide these necessary elements.  Many native plants can be used for dry or wet site locations, as well as full sun to part shade.

green tree frog (Hyla cinerea)
green tree frog (Hyla cinerea)

Frogs usually forage in the evening, but during the day they need to keep their skin moist and cool.  To do this they hide in the foliage that surrounds their hunting grounds.  So if they come out to get bugs around your porch lights at night they will most likely be hiding in the nearby vegetation during the day.

Green tree frogs, and squirrel tree frogs, (the bright green guys) love porch lights. Unlike toads they have grippy toe pads that allow them to hunt on vertical surfaces. So, at night they climb up and down the outside walls of homes, in and, around the porch lights hunting for moths and other flying insects attracted by the light.

Plants that have broad leaves, and a lot of leaf surface area, provide daytime resting sites for frogs in the home landscape.  Actually, whatever plants are around the foundation of your home will do, but these are especially attractive to frogs.

Plants such as string lilies (Crinum americanum), southern blue flag (Iris virginica), and canna lilies (Canna flaccida), have long broad leaves that hold and retain moisture which makes perfect shelter for frogs that are looking for moist foliage to wait out the heat of the day.

Frogs also like to hide down inside the center of large flowers like azaleas (Rhododendron spp), lilies, or amaryllis.

oak toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)
oak toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Toads are generally found in drier areas than frogs and don’t live in water.  However, they do breed in temporary ponds, and other small bodies of water, so they are in the same habitat as tree frogs.

Toads can also be found near lights in the evenings searching for insects, but on the ground.  They like to hang out around path lights or low landscape lighting. 

During the day toads burrow into the soil, underneath leaf litter, to stay cool and moist. Leaf litter, loose soil, hollow logs, and low growing vegetation provide an excellent habitat for toads in the landscape.

Bunch grasses such as Eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) can provide areas of shelter for toads.  Low growing plants and groundcovers are also ideal habitat for toads.  Placing upside down flower pots, or pieces of bark, and logs in the garden will give them a place to hide as well.  They don’t usually get inside closed things because they like to have an entrance and exit that they can access quickly.  

Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) laying eggs in a lawn
Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) laying eggs in a lawn

Fresh water turtles are aquatic and only venture out onto dry land occasionally, whereas land turtles only use water for drinking or soaking themselves.

Land turtles found in our area are the Florida box turtle and gulf coast box turtle.  Box turtles feed on vegetation (berries, mosses & grass), fungi, and insects, and rest in shallow burrows in leaf litter.

Foraging and resting areas can be provided in your landscape by having abundant leaf litter, low growing vegetation and decaying wood for fungi growth.

Low growing plants that provide berries in the landscape are shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites), partridge berry (Mitchella repens), and wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa).

gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

Gopher tortoise burrows can be found in shady or sunny areas and younger tortoises and male’s burrows can even be found in dense shade.  However, females require sunny, sandy areas, in which to dig their burrows to lay their eggs.

Gopher tortoises eat low growing vegetation, grasses and berries much the same as turtles. They also eat the same berries as fresh water turtles however they seem to actually prefer bahia grass.

Read more about gopher tortoises here. 

five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) resting on a sidewalk
five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)

Lizards and skinks like to forage around plants that attract small pollinators such as bees or wasps. They are also very fond of ants. Wooden fences, driftwood, logs, and rocks, provide perches where lizards and skinks can warm themselves in the sun, forage for insects, defend their territories and attract mates.

Trees that provide shelter and foraging areas for lizards and skinks are summer haw (Crataegus flava), Carolina holly (Ilex ambigua), and fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus). Shrubs that provide shelter and foraging areas are buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), and wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa).

Read more about green anoles here.

black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus)
black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus)

Snakes are an integral part of the Florida landscape.  People either like them or they don’t.  I happen to like them.

Things like decks, and sandy areas around the foundations of homes, are spots that snakes love to hang out in for food, shelter and places to lay their eggs.  So parts of most Florida homes are already snake habitat.  

Snakes can occasionally be seen out in open areas of sunlight warming up, but are most often found hiding underneath foliage or garden structures like flower pots, stepping stones, or decaying tree limbs. 

Native bunch grasses, and low growing shrubs, provide areas for snakes to move about freely searching for food without being seen by predators.

Snakes like to lay their eggs underneath flat surfaces like pieces of plywood or sheet metal.  I don’t have those things lying around my garden, but I do use recycled area rugs to set my potted plants on and have found those to be one of the black racers favorite egg laying sites.   Check out my article Recycle Area Rugs in Your Garden.

If you enjoy landscaping for reptiles and amphibians, or wildlife in general, the most important thing to remember is not to use harsh chemicals, or poisons, in your garden because it will kill the wildlife and their food sources. Go organic and enjoy sharing the planet with the other creatures. You'd be surprised at what good company they make.

Native Plants to attract Reptiles & Amphibians

Alligator lily (Canna flaccida) is a perennial flower reaching 4 feet in height at maturity. The flowers are yellow. It grows in full sun to part shade in moist to wet soils.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a deciduous shrub reaching 10 feet in height. The white, round, flowers appear in the spring, summer & fall. Also a nectar source for butterflies. It grows in full sun with moist to wet soil.
Summer haw (Crataegus flava) is a deciduous tree reaching 15 feet in height at maturity. The white flowers appear in late spring. It grows in full sun with average moisture.
String lily (Crinum americanum) is a wildflower reaching 32 inches in height at maturity. The white flowers appear in the spring, summer & fall. It grows in full sun to part shade with moist to wet soil.
Southern blue flag iris (Iris virginica) is a perennial flower reaching 3 feet in height at maturity. The flowers are blue/purple. It grows in full sun to part shade in moist to wet soils.
Virginia saltmarsh mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) is a perennial shrub that reaches a height of 3-5 feet. It grows in full sun with moist to wet soil.
Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) is a native ground cover found in dry to moist woodlands. It rarely gets taller than a few inches and transplants well.
Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) is a small deciduous shrub that can reach a height of 2 feet in height at maturity, but generally stays around 1 foot tall. Small white flowers appear all year. It grows in part shade with average moisture.
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is an evergreen shrub reaching 10 feet in height. It grows in part shade to full sun with dry to average soils. The flowers provide nectar for many insects.
Shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites) is a low growing native blueberry that rarely reaches more than three feet in height. It grows in the part shade of woodlands and sandhills.
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