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Build The Ultimate Turtle Pond

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Construct a healthy, attractive habitat for your turtles.


Building an outdoor pond for pet turtles is something that turtle enthusiasts dream of and new turtle owners should consider. Indoor aquariums are the most popular form of housing for many initial turtle enthusiasts and are usually suitable for small turtles, but they present a problem when it comes to staying clean, especially as the turtles grow to adult size. Filtering systems that are suitable for keeping aquarium fish may help, but they are usually inadequate for turtle inhabitants given that the water level must be kept near the top of the aquarium to work properly. Besides, most turtles will outgrow an aquarium, especially a 10-gallon aquarium, and a larger habitat will be necessary. This fact is something that new turtle owners should know when first acquiring their turtles because turtles have a long life span. The truly avid turtle enthusiast is conscious of this and seeks to provide for the turtle’s long-term needs.


If you include a water feature such as a water fall, make sure that it does not cause too much of a disturbance. Research your turtle's needs before installing one. 

Tip 1: Protect from Predators


Over the years, I and the Turtle and Tortoise Club of Florida have encouraged fellow members to build outdoor ponds for their turtles, which many of the members have done. But one factor must always be considered when placing turtles in an outdoor habitat — secure the area from the threat of predators! This is just as important as building the pond. The threat from predators, which are many, requires some form of security around the perimeter of the pond and land area.


Raccoons, birds, opossums, rats, ants, moles, dogs, cats and even neighborhood kids can be a threat. (I am not labeling kids as predators, but they can cause your turtles to disappear if they are not properly secured.) Raccoons are the worst threat, and normally they travel in packs. You rarely see them, but they are plentiful, even in the suburbs, and they can wreak havoc with your turtles! In fact, all small reptiles, birds and amphibians are in jeopardy from their presence. Building or creating a pond for turtles is somewhat of a major endeavor, and it 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. This slope is usually slippery, so take care when cleaning the pond.


Some form of enclosure around the pond will be required to keep predators out and the turtles in. Build the pond first, and then enclose the pond area and surrounding land area with some form of wall or fence. This could even be a completely screened-in enclosure with a small or large part of your yard sectioned off. I recommend an area close to the house that provides a good view of the pond from a window or porch. This requires a lot of work and money, and it also requires some building skill. If you are a dedicated soul, this presents no problem, but for most people, something less complicated may be preferable.


A big dog present in your yard at all times is often a good deterrent for 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.


Tip 2: Provide Sun and Shade :


Having lots of shade should be considered next. Direct sunlight on the pond over many hours of the day will cause algae growth. Turtles need sun for healthy shell growth, but they also need shade when it gets too hot, so a balance of sunshine and shade is needed. Small areas of sun exposure will be suitable for the turtles providing there are basking logs and the like in the water.




Local predators are always an issue. Protect your pond from foxes, raccoons, dogs, and other animals by putting up fence and making it difficult for them to get at your turtles.

Placing the pond next to your home will help block excessive sun rays for several hours each day, and plant vegetation that hangs over the water so it can act as a sun screen. Providing a canopy to prevent excessive sunshine will require some thought. The sun will shine on the pond from many different directions over the course of the day and year, and this must be considered. I built a pond just outside my living room with sliding glass doors to provide a grand scenic view. It has been 20 years since I built the pond, and I still enjoy viewing it.


Tip 3:  Place Logs Around the Edge


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 shore line. 


Tip 4: Build it to Last


A pond may be built with cement to create a visually appealing pond shape that will be durable over the long run. You can use a pond liner, but keep in mind that it is harder to mold into interesting shapes, and it is less durable. It is still suitable, but it won’t last as long as cement.


If using a tarp to build a pond, there are other things to be considered. Black tarps are used for most fish ponds, but black absorbs heat and encourages algae growth, therefore I recommend a canvas tarp that can be bought at an awning shop. These come in many colors and are durable. Select a light tan color for a more natural look. Most of the tarps come in 5-foot widths, but you can have sections glued together at the store for a wider width. The tarp length usually extends 100 feet or more, so you can choose any length desired.


I recommend a cement pond that is built 3 to 4 inches thick, with chicken wire embedded in the cement to enhance the strength. It is also recommended that you have professional cement layers apply the cement to ensure a finished surface. You or hired help may dig the pond area to the your specifications. A cement mixer will be required, and one bag of cement will cover about 2 to 3 square feet.


Cement that is under water all the time will not expand or contract, so it should not crack or leak. Some of my ponds were built more than 30 years ago and they still have never leaked.


TIP 5: Think Big


Think big when building your pond. The more turtles and the larger they get, the more space they will need. 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.


TIP 6: Pond Water Quality


Falling leaf litter may be a constant aggravation for the pond owner, but leaves make the water more acidic, and over time, the pond will have a PH level that inhibits algae growth. This is a good thing. Ponds should stay clear as far as algae growth is concerned. Leaf sediment can be found on the bottom of all my ponds, but it is rarely churned up by the turtles, so the surface water remains clear and the turtles are very visible.


f the pond is surrounded by plants, the plant litter will continually plug up the filter. I opted for a natural pond without a filter. My turtles remain in excellent health in this environment and their laminae plates peel on a yearly basis, exposing their beautiful shells. I have more than 200 turtles, and 20 ponds, and I consider the upkeep minimal because I prefer to leave the ponds in a natural state. I also introduced small fish, crayfish and snails for a fairly balanced habitat.


If a drain is desired, it should be installed with many small holes that enter into a large, 4-inch pipe to prevent clogging. A low or deep drain area will also be needed. A sump pump, which can be obtained at most hardware stores, can be used to drain a pond if there is no drain, but it will need to be enclosed in a container with holes in it to prevent the pump from getting clogged. I found a perfect plant pot at a garden shop with plenty of holes in it.


Always Research First


Cold weather will kill turtles that normally reside in warm regions of the world, so I recommend buying turtles that come from cool or cold climates. Do your research before buying exotic turtles, especially if you live in a northern region of the U.S. The leaf litter accumulating in the pond will provide some warmth and hiding places for cold-hardy turtles during the winter season. Turtles from warm regions of the world will have to be brought inside during cool months.


When I lived in Japan, I observed a lot of small, walled-in garden ponds. The Japanese don’t have the space that we have, so building small garden ponds definitely appeals to them. 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. Fairly large plants placed around the perimeter of the pond are ideal for many reasons, but if you include them, be sure there is access to them for occasional trimming. A bridge can be an added feature and provides shelter and security for the turtles. As with all projects, if you are going to do it, then do it well. Before you ever come home with a turtle, make sure you have the pond finished and running. Habitats for animals should always be considered before acquiring them. By setting up a pond that meets their needs and is built to last, you and your turtles will have an area to enjoy for years to come. 



Marvin Bennett is an avid turtle enthusiast and professional artist, who has painted more than 200 different species of turtles and tortoises. He has made his primary living as a portrait and caricature artist. Contact him at

Pet Aquatic Turtles and Outdoor Ponds

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BY LIANNE MCLEOD, DVMUpdated 10/23/17

Bob Stefko/Getty Images

Aquatic turtles can be great pets, though they're not ideal for young children and do require a good deal of care. Similar to tortoises and box turtles, aquatic turtles can benefit from spending time outdoors in a backyard pond. However, there are some important points to keep in mind.


Climate Considerations


Depending on where you live, putting an aquatic turtle outdoors might be something you can only do for a few months during the summer.


You need to consider the natural range of the species you have. For example, red-eared sliders are quite hardy and adaptable. However, some other species need warmer temperatures, so you must keep the natural habits of your turtle in mind when deciding to house them outdoors. In warmer climates, aquatic turtles may be able to live outdoors year round. It is also possible to hibernate some species in an outdoor pond, although this is not without risk.


Safety and Security


Pet aquatic turtles kept in outdoor ponds do need to have secure fencing. There should be a fence around the pond--at least two to three times higher than the carapace length of your turtle, and sunk into the ground 6-10 inches to make sure there is no chance of escape). The fence should have a solid base so turtles don't get caught up in wire. This fence is meant to keep turtles in since they will wander in search of a mate, and it also helps keep predators out.


You may also want to consider a cover (e.g. chicken wire) over the pond area to protect your turtles, especially if predators like raccoons come into your yard. Hatchlings and small turtles are extremely vulnerable to predators so are best kept indoors until they are a good size.


What Does a Turtle Pond Need?


The depth of a turtle pond will vary a bit depending on the species but should have a relatively large surface area (which provides better oxygen levels in the water).


Red-eared sliders and some other turtles can handle a deeper pond, while some turtles prefer to be in shallower water, so again consider the natural habits of the turtle species when planning your pond. Try to have varied levels of water with slopes between them. A shallow area where the turtle can sit in the water with its head out of the water is desirable as well. You can use a preformed pond liner, a flexible pond liner (get the heaviest one, as turtles have fairly sharp claws), or any large water vessel such as a plastic kids pool sunk into the ground. Considerations for a turtle pond include:


- Basking area: This is very important. You must provide a log, plank, bricks or rock for the turtle to get out of the water and bask in the sun. Arrange your basking area so it is partially submerged so your turtle can easily get out of the water onto the basking area. The basking area should get sunlight for a good portion of the afternoon.


- Land Area: Turtles do like to get out for a stroll, so include some land around the pond in your fenced area.


- Hiding areas: Provide hiding spots and shaded areas both in the water and out of the water. Large leafed plants (aquatic or on land) work well, as do clay plant pots placed on their sides.


- Plants: Keep in mind turtles can do a lot of damage to aquatic plants (both by eating them and swimming around them), so if your pond plants are a source of pride, adding a turtle to your pond might not be the best idea. However, water plants provide shade and shelter as well as extra food so they are a great addition to turtle ponds. Water lettuce, water hyacinth, fairy moss, anarchis or fish weed (sometimes called Elodea), Cabomba, and tape grass are recommended. Marginal plants like dwarf cattails, dwarf rushes, and dwarf papyrus also help naturalize the pond edge.


- Oxygenation: The levels of oxygen in the water can be improved by the addition of waterfalls, fountains, external filters and airstones. This is especially important in cold weather.


- What About Fish? One great advantage to larger ponds is that you can add feeder guppies and goldfish and your turtle can keep busy hunting. However, if you prefer ornamental fish like koi, caution is warranted. Some turtles are quite avid hunters and may even try to nibble on larger fish which can cause injuries to them (especially fins and tails). It is somewhat individual, as some well-fed turtles won't bother chasing fish, while others have a stronger hunting instinct. Also, water quality can be harder to control with turtles in the pond, which can affect the fish.


Hibernating Turtles in Outdoor Ponds :


Many North American aquatic turtles from temperate climates (including red-eared sliders) hibernate during cooler months. Aquatic turtles usually hibernate at temperatures lower than about 50 F. Hibernating turtles can be a risky proposition, so if you are going to hibernate a turtle in an outdoor pond, you must be absolutely certain your turtle is healthy and strong. Some experts believe that hibernating aquatic turtles outdoors is too risky since natural conditions are hard to replicate in a backyard pond and recommend bringing all aquatic turtles indoors during the winter. You should only try hibernating species that are native to your area or colder climates. If you do decide to try hibernating aquatic turtles, there are several important things to consider:


Pond Size: To successfully overwinter turtles, a deep pond with a large surface area (offering the best exchange of oxygen) is necessary. A hibernating turtle needs at least a foot of water that isn't frozen at the bottom of the pond. The pond must also have a large surface area to facilitate sufficient oxygen levels in the water. Aquatic turtles usually settle into the sediment at the bottom of a pond to hibernate and switch to absorbing oxygen through the skin, so the levels of oxygen in the water must be kept high enough.


- Oxygenation: Since hibernating aquatic turtles require high oxygen levels in the water, some method of adding supplemental oxygen is a good idea. Running a pump (to keep water moving) or air pump can increase oxygen levels in the water.


-  Water De-Icers and Heaters: Pond supply companies usually sell submersible heaters which can be used in the pond during winter. De-icers will usually prevent the pond from totally freezing over, which can help with oxygenation as well as make the pond safer. A water temperature around about 50 F seems to be the best for hibernation. Avoid heaters that raise the temperature much above this as a cold and inactive turtle that is not at a low enough temperature to hibernate is likely to be severely stressed.


-  Someplace to Dig: As mentioned previously, aquatic turtles in the wild usually submerge themselves in sediment at the bottom of a body of water for hibernation. Make sure there is something on the bottom of the pond such as a layer of leaves to give the turtle something to dig into for hibernation. Some people even put a pan of sand or sand and soil mixed at the bottom for hibernation. Too much decaying plant matter can negatively impact water quality though, so be careful about having too much.


-  Prepare the Turtle: Only healthy, strong turtles should be hibernated. Turtles should also have been in the pond since at least mid-summer to have time to adjust to the changing season to prepare for hibernation, and they should be older than six months. As the weather cools, the turtle will eat less and less which is normal. As the turtle stops eating and the temperatures approach 50 F, stop feeding.

General videos :

Caring for Turtles in Outdoor Pond

Turtle Pond Design


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By Ben Team

Because they benefit from access to natural, unfiltered sunlight and require large amounts space, housing turtles in an outdoor pond is a great way to maintain them. Turtles are relatively easy to contain; a relatively small, smooth wall will keep them in the area you designate. While large turtles may be safe from most threats, small animals will be safer if you incorporate a lid as well.


Materials and Design


A basic wall made of virtually any smooth, waterproof, non-toxic material will work well -- metal, plastic, cement and wood treated with animal-safe water sealant are all satisfactory materials. All materials have their pros and cons -- wood is inexpensive but difficult to waterproof, cement is incredibly durable but very hard to install, plastic is easy to work with, but expensive and flimsy. You will have to custom design the wall for your pond; in general, you can pour a cement wall, build a cement block wall or construct a frame to hold flat panels of plastic, metal or wood.


Enclosed Area


Don’t place a wall right beside your turtle’s pond. You should provide a land area for even the most aquatic turtles -- even if you provide them with logs, branches and rocks for basking, females should have a place to dig and deposit their eggs. Aside from your turtle’s needs, you'll need to tend to the pond from time to time; a wall complicates the process and represents a tripping hazard. At the very least, the turtles should have a land area that is about half the size of their water area, but ideally the fence should be at least 6 feet away from the water in all places.


Tall Enough


While most turtles are not good climbers, a few species do exhibit some climbing ability. If you make sure the wall is smooth and twice as tall as your turtles are, they are unlikely to climb out. However, unless it's very tall, many predators or unauthorized humans will be able to get in. The only way to guarantee your turtle’s safety is to enclose the entire pond with a lid or roof; however, a large, deep pond provides some safety to the turtles, who will respond to threats the same way they do in the wild: sliding into the water. Branches or rocks in the middle of the pond -- outside the reach of predators -- will give your turtles a pretty safe place to sleep at night. Because herons and other birds will readily eat small turtles, keep turtles less than 4 inches in length indoors if you don't use a lid.


Tunnel Proof


Keeping your turtles from digging out of the enclosure is only half of the battle -- you must keep predators and rodents from digging their way into your turtle’s home as well. Very large turtles are pretty safe from most predators, but small individuals are susceptible to predation by dogs, raccoons, rats and many other animals who may tunnel into the enclosure. You can insert the wall material down several feet into the ground to reduce the possibilities of this happening. Alternatively, a large, deep layer of gravel placed around the inside and outside of the wall will help discourage tunneling by all parties.

Why I Don’t Like Turtles in My Ponds

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By David Curtright, Pond Plants

Published on September 1, 2010 in POND LIFE 

This pond was once a very pretty water garden. Now it is home to Cindy’s new hobby red-eared slider turtles. Water lilies and turtles do not mix well, but she just loves the turtles. So, she has several tub gardens for her water lilies. Photo by Cindy Graham, Editor, POND Trade Magazine.

Having cared for numerous ponds in San Diego County over the past 31 years, I have come to have an opinion about many things related to pond set-up and maintenance. One of those concerns involves which animals and plants we should try to keep in our ponds. I even wrote an article about it in these pages several months ago. Obviously, Manatees and Anacondas are out, as are some smaller creatures, such as children or cats, but one sort of creature always comes to mind when I am asked about what not to include in a water garden. It is the turtle. Specifically, in my experience, the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans). Crayfish run a close second, but turtles are the bane of water gardeners everywhere.


The reason for the disdain with which I regard these creatures is simple. It is their predilection for sampling aquatic plants as food. I know that they are only grazing, as they are supposed to do, but sometimes it seems as if there might even be a little bit of sport in it, too. The damage that can be wrought by one or two turtles in a pond full of water lilies, Nymphaeas, is amazing. The evidence is plain to see as you approach the pond, with detached Nymphaea leaves, or small fragments of oxygenators floating around, or clogging the skimmer, or plants upturned, dug into, and otherwise molested.


It is so bad that in some cases I have refused to work on lucrative ponds because the owner insisted on keeping turtles in the pond. One fellow wanted me to bring a new set of lilies to his pond each week to replace the ones that his turtles had eaten over the course of the preceding week. I told him that that would be far too depressing to deal with, and I quit. His pond was ugly and dangerous anyway.


There are other species of turtles that people in other parts of the country have to deal with, with varying degrees of frustration. I am sure that their complaints will be the same, and will include other horrors associated with having them in their ponds that will make my complaints seem trivial, but when your livelihood depends upon how nice the pond looks, it is nice to not have something tearing your plants apart in your absence. In areas wherein those other species of turtles are endemic, I say more power to the turtle. The sacrifice of a few fish or plants from time to time to support a native species is a good trade-off in many instances.


There are other species of turtles that people in other parts of the country have to deal with, with varying degrees of frustration. I am sure that their complaints will be the same, and will include other horrors associated with having them in their ponds that will make my complaints seem trivial, but when your livelihood depends upon how nice the pond looks, it is nice to not have something tearing your plants apart in your absence. In areas wherein those other species of turtles are endemic, I say more power to the turtle. The sacrifice of a few fish or plants from time to time to support a native species is a good trade-off in many instances.


Each pond owner must make that decision for himself. But, the Red-eared Slider is an introduced species here in San Diego, and so should not be encouraged, in my opinion. It is from the American south, and has been introduced successfully into many areas through the pet trade. They are cute and are very easy to care for in a sufficiently large aquarium. Eventually, though, they outgrow these first containers and are either dumped outside or put into a backyard pond, from which they easily escape to join the already burgeoning population of feral, and now native born, turtles in our area.


I have seen the odd Soft-shell turtle in ponds, and once I found a snapping turtle in a pond whose brand new, and startled, owner was just as glad that I had found it, and not her. The previous owner of the house had failed to mention the nearly 10˝ diameter snapping turtle in that pond out back. But, even so, these are very rare events here in San Diego.


The predominant species in the pet trade is Trachemys (slider family), and because it is hardy and tough, it has done very well here. They can be found wandering all over neighborhoods, and might suddenly appear in a pond in which they had never been. Of course, they might just as suddenly go away, but rarely do. While they are in the pond, they bite through every plant stem that they encounter, especially Nymphaea and Aponogeton petioles. And the irritating part is that they don’t even eat the leaf that they have just severed. I think that they just eat the piece that fit in their mouths when they bite, so the entire leaf or flower is bitten off so that the turtle could eat an inch or so of stem tissue.


It is not that I dislike turtles. I just don’t want them in my ponds. If they are in the pond of a competitor of mine, that is fine, as long as it is far enough away from my ponds that no harm can come to me because, again, I don’t want them in my ponds.


It is easy enough to set up an area that is designated for turtles, and I have offered this suggestion to more than a few people who had it in their minds that they were going to have turtles. The intelligent ones take me up on the suggestion, and can then have both a lovely water garden and a lively turtle collection, just not in the same place.



Videos :

How to Build an Outdoor Pond for Turtles

Keeping your Turtles Outdoors - Proper Care and Diet

Aquatic Turtles Eating Lettuce In Their Outdoor Pond

Top Tips on How To Keep Your Turtle Tank Clean and Algae Free!

How to make a Pet Turtle Pool

turtle pond/pool

How to Keep an Outdoor Aquatic Turtle Habitat Warm

Pond Fish Guide :


Gold fish keeping    ..    Gold fish breeding ( PART one  ..  PART two   ..   Goldfish varieties


Koi fish keeping       ..      Koi fish breeding   ..   Koi fish varieties 


Pond Other fish :  Sturgeon  fish   ..   Sturgeon  fish  species 

                                 -  Sterlet fish 


                                 Other pond fishes  


Turtles in the pond   ..  Part One ..    Part Two  turtles in Indoor ponds 

                 Turtles species : Part 1  ..  Part 2 



Pond Fish Guide :


Gold fish keeping    ..    Gold fish breeding ( PART one  ..  PART two   ..   Goldfish varieties


Koi fish keeping       ..      Koi fish breeding   ..   Koi fish varieties 


Pond Other fish :  Sturgeon  fish   ..   Sturgeon  fish  species 

                                 -  Sterlet fish 


                                 Other pond fishes  


Turtles in the pond   ..  Part One ..    Part Two  turtles in Indoor ponds 

                 Turtles species : Part 1  ..  Part 2 



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