Turtle Ponds - What Do They Need?

In honor of World Turtle Day, we are devoting a whole blog to turtle pond care and needs. World Turtle Day is May 23rd and was created as an annual observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. These creatures steal your heart away with their charm and captivating personalities and with the right care and environment can become life long companions.

It is important to know that these reptiles are semi-aquatic and spend a significant amount of time out of the water to bask in the sun. Yes, you can relax and sunbathe with your turtle by your pond! A primary place to lie in the sun and completely dry off is a critical necessity in every turtle pond. Placing logs extending into the pond is essential for turtles. Many species, especially map turtles, are wary of predators while sunbathing, and they will not bask on the shoreline. Driftwood is recommended as it serves its purpose but also adds a nice aesthetic to your pond. A proper landing is also important so your turtle can easily get out of the water. This area can also be utilized as a space to forage, comprised of either a compost soil or sand, next to the pond. This is like heaven for turtles, especially for females looking to lay eggs and build a nest. This area may also serve as a basking spot.

Safety first is also a motto relevant to your turtle pond. A turtle tunnel is a key component that should be incorporated into a turtle pond. These turtles are exposed to predators such as dogs, cats, coyotes, birds, raccoons, skunks, opossums and even people! A hideaway in the rocks, at the deepest point of the turtle pond, can be a lifesaver! Building or creating a pond for turtles requires a few changes from the standard garden pond. Sloped sides with a slightly rough surface must be provided so that turtles can easily enter and exit the pond, and to make it secure from predators. Some form of enclosure around the pond will be required to keep predators out and the turtles in. Fencing should also be highly considered because pond turtles love to wander! Build the pond first and then enclose the pond area and surrounding land area with some form of wall or fence. We recommend an area close to the house that provides a good view of the pond from a window or porch and will also provide shade from the harsh sun. A big dog present in your yard at all times is also a good preventive measure against potential predators. Just make sure the fence around the turtle pond is high enough that the dog won’t be able to get inside. A shock wire can also be used to deter raccoons, but it has to be hung in a safe area that prevents human contact.

Aquatic plants and fish, aside from their attractiveness, are important elements in any water garden ecosystem. However, water turtles are omnivorous and like to eat vegetation and fish, too! If you keep turtles well fed, it is unlikely that they will munch on your plants and fish, but it has been known to happen. One benefit of having aquatic plants though is that they provide shade for the turtles. Turtles do need sun for healthy shell growth but need shade just as much. In addition, direct sunlight on the pond over many hours of the day will cause algae growth and lower the water quality, which is essential to turtle health.

The more turtles and the larger they get, the more space they will need in the pond. A pond of at least 80 square feet should be considered for five to 10 turtles, depending on their size, with one side deeper for easier drainage, if desired. Easy shoreline access on the deep side should also be provided. They also need plenty of room for long-distance swimming, which is a favorite pastime. Providing them with an environment with room enough to move around will help increase their chances of living in captivity up to age 40! Because of their ultimate size and large food consumption, these turtles require a filtration system to remove their waste, as they prefer pristine water quality. In contrast to regular garden ponds, falling leaf litter is seen as a good thing as it makes the water more acidic, and over time, the pond will have a PH level that prevents algae growth. Ponds should stay clear as far as algae growth is concerned. You can also use a pet and plant friendly algaecide or pond cleaner tablets to keep the water crisp and clear.

Another option to consider is constructing a walled-in garden pond, which is also ideal for turtles. These usually cover a room-sized area and include bridges, stepping stones, plants and platforms over and around the pond, to create a scenic and secluded area to relax and enjoy nature. Place fairly large plants around the perimeter of the pond as an enclosure, but be sure there is access to them for occasional trimming. Adding a bridge can be a lovely feature and provides shelter and security for the turtles.

If you want a low maintenance, loving pet or already are a turtle owner then consider putting a turtle pond in your home. Their charismatic personalities will be a welcome addition to the family and the pond will provide a relaxing area where you will be entertained for years to come!