0. Pond basics
To learn about pond building, get one of many available
books on the topic. I don't know of any book that focuses
on turtles. However, a book that includes fish in its
pond designs is suitable. There are many options on how
to build your pond, and most are suitable for turtles.
An easy way to get a pond is to buy one of the
pre-fabricated pond shells. However, they limit the shape
of your pond and might not be suitable for turtles.
Plastic liner can be torn by large turtles. If you use
plastic liner, make sure it is high-grade.
Concrete is suitable only if covered with dirt and
I have been told about using a combine technique of
a plastic liner with a flexible mortar covering. This
sounds like a good solution, if you can afford to do it.
Make note of the following when designing your pond:
If you are planning to hibernate your turtles, the
pond must be deep enough for the water at the bottom
to remain liquid.
See <A HREF="pondhib.htm">Outdoor Hibernation for Water Turtles</A>.
Unless the pond is huge, it is recommended that you
install a pond filter if there are turtles in the
pond. Otherwise the water will get too dirty.
Alternatively, you could do regular water changes
or have continuous flow of water through the pond.
Also, if the pond is huge, a filter won't be
Note that the turtles will munch on most any plants,
and they will chase the fish. However, I have my
Reeves turtles co-exist peacefully with goldfish
(the fish got smart and the turtle gave up).
If you put enough plants into the pond, they will
grow faster than they get eaten. You can also put
some plants into pots so that the turtles can't get
The turtles need a way to get out of the water an
bask. The best way is to build an island in the
middle. This will keep them save, and they cannot
To keep your turtles from escaping and wandering,
choose a pond with vertical rims and build the island
in the center. Alternatively, allow the turtles to
leave the pond and fence the surrounding area; the
fence should reach at least 1 foot/30cm into the ground,
since turtles like to dig.
If you predators visiting your yard, the best way to
protect your turtles is a pond with vertical sides,
at least 3 feet/90cm deep, with an island in the
middle, out of reach of a predator. Don't plant too
many plants to discourage wading. You can cover the
whole pond with netting, but that will reduce the
attractiveness of the setup. Accept that you will
occasionally lose a turtle to predation if you have
an outdoor setup.
Put some rocks/hiding place in the bottom of the pond
to help your turtle escape from predators.
Reader tip from email@example.com:
"Here's a good idea for one: dig a small pond, and line it with two or
three layers of plastic. The top layer must be of white or gray plastic,
so the water doesn't get too hot during the noonday sun."
Another reader asks:
Q: "I am wondering what to do with my turtles for the summer. My
pond does not have any fencing. Is there any chance they would stay in
A: If the turtles can climb out to the surrounding yard, there is a good chance
they will do so. Whether they'll stay around the pond or not depends
on the turtle. No predictions here.
Q: "If I keep my turtles in a tank for another year, would that make them
more apt to stick around?"
Q: "A Heron ate the big fish in the pond.
Would he eat my turtles too?"
A: He might try, depending on how big the turtles are. Racoons, too, love
to catch and eat turtles. They are actually the greater menace.
Q: "Would it make a difference if I put enough
plants in the pond first."
A: Yes, plants and hiding places, like a few stacked bricks or rocks, really
An effective, but not quite sightly solution, is to cover the pond with
The turtles will also eat the frogs and fish if they can catch them.
I have goldfish in my turtle pond. I put in about 40, and now I have
about 10 healthy, fat fish. Those were the smart ones. The stupid ones
got eaten. I bought feeder fish to spare my wallet.
Q: "Also, since the one of my turtles is such an herbivore, would he devour
the plants faster than they can grow? The last plant I put in his tank
lasted 2 days. Any other suggestions?"
A: Yes, they will eat the plants. Especially the hyacinths. I actually
grow hyacinths, just for the turtles. I grow them in a separate tub,
then give them to the turtles as they overflow the tub. That way I
always have a healthy supply.
Since I currently don't have a racoon proof pond, I have an outdoor
day enclosure for my box turtle; with a cover. When the weather is
nice, I put him out in the morning and take him in at night. One of
my water turtles has a small pond in the atrium, where the racoons
can't get in. Once I build my new outdoor pond, I'll probably put in lots of
plants, make the outside rim very steep, and put an island in the
middle for the turtles. That's the safest to be done, unless one
covers the pond with chicken wire.
Q: "Do I need to feed the turtles in the pond?"
A: Depends. In a large, diverse pond may only need to supplement
with extra food a bit, especially in the beginning, until the pond is established.
In a small pond, you'll have to feed the turtles extra. Don't overfeed!
Q: Can my turtle stay out of the water? What's a good place
for a pond? How warm can the water get? How do I cool a pond?
A: Your turtle can certainly stay out of the water for 15 minutes of
more. She may blink her eyes because they get dry, or because she is
getting sleepy and ready to fall asleep. Make sure she has shade
available. The best position for the pool is under some bushes or
trees with partial sun only, especially in mid-summer when it gets
really hot. I keep my pond in a place where it gets some full sun,
some partial sun, and some shade. I was worried, too, when I saw
the temperature of the water rise to 93 last week. First I simply
covered the pool with a large piece of cardboard during midday.
Then I saw my turtle out basking in the full sun! The temperature
there was positively over a hundred. Also, all the goldfish didn't
mind the warm water. So, now I just let nature do what it does,
since I was too worried. My turtle is a Reeves turtle which is
native to SE Asia.
However, I would put the limit for the water temperature at about
Don't run cold water into a hot pond.
I suggest you move the pond into partial shade or put a cover on
it during the hottest parts of the day. This is true no matter
what species of turtle you have.
DROPPING GASOLINE IN POND (not me, a colleague): The way to clean it is Paper towels. LOT AND LOTS OF THEM. Buy a case. Gently place a paper towel on the surface of the water and lift straight up. The oil will stick to the towel. Keep repeating it. Another option is cotton balls, again lots and lots of them - - the oil sticks to the fibers.
DROPPING CEMENT IN POND: If your cement contains limestone, you have a problem. Remove all animals from pond. Completely drain. Get rid of all cement. Let pond dry out, if possible.
The plastic cement I used doesn't have limestone, and it is harmless to fish and turtles, I was told. Well, I did a good water change and I didn't lose any animals.