How to Keep Turtles in a Pond (What You Need to Know)

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Turtles make a fun and interesting addition to your backyard pond.

But, to keep them healthy, happy, and from running away, you have to provide them with the right habitat.

So, let's learn how to keep turtles in a pond with these important tips!

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What Is Needed for a Turtle Pond?

Pond turtles

The first thing you must do to keep pond turtles healthy and from running away is to create a habitat that meets their needs.

The ideal outdoor pond turtle setup will include:

  • Correct Size & Depth: Your pond should be at least 50 gallons in size - large enough for the turtles to swim unrestricted and help keep the water fresh and clean (the smaller the pond, the quicker it gets dirty). The more surface area, the better, as that will help improve oxygen levels in the pond water. A turtle pond needs to be as deep as the turtle requires. For example, red-eared sliders and other turtle species prefer deep ponds, while others like shallow ponds. Either way, it's important to have varying depths of water with slopes.
  • Proper Climate: Keeping an aquatic turtle outdoors year-round might be challenging, depending on your climate. So, it's important to consider the natural temperature range of any turtle you plan on introducing to your pond or water garden. For example, red-eared sliders are very hardy and will adjust to a range of climates. Other turtle species need warmer temperatures to survive. Some turtle species may remain outdoors year-round in warmer climates, while others can be hibernated outside in an outdoor pond (which we cover below).
  • Basking Areas: Providing a log or basking platform for your turtle to get out of the water is important. The basking area should be partially submerged, easily accessible by the turtle, and be in the sunlight the majority of the day.
  • Hiding Areas: Turtles need plenty of places to hide - some on land and some in the water. Large leafy plants in the water and on land both work well.
  • Land Area: Turtles enjoy roaming around on land, so leave some area to roam outside the pond.
  • Pond Plants: Aquatic plants provide shade, shelter, and food to the turtles in your pond. Water lettuce, water hyacinth, anacharis, and elodea are all great options. Marginal plants like cattails, dwarf rushes, and papyrus combined with a pond edge of natural materials such as stones will help make the environment naturalized. Remember that turtles will eat and swim around aquatic plants, doing a lot of damage to them, so adding turtles might not be the best idea if you enjoy your plants as-is.
  • Oxygenation: One way to ensure your turtles have adequate oxygen in the water is by adding a waterfall, fountain, and/or air stones.
  • Fish Considerations: One major advantage to larger ponds is that you can add feeder guppies and goldfish, which your turtle will be able to hunt. With that said, turtles are sometimes voracious hunters and may even try catching larger fish like koi, which can cause injuries to them. Furthermore, turtles can have a big impact on water quality, which affects the fish living in the pond.
  • Safety & Security: Turtles kept in outdoor ponds require a fence at least 2-3 times the height of their shell. The fence should be sunk into the ground 6-10 inches for greater stability and stop them from digging out. This fence is meant to keep turtles in the pond and help keep predators out.

What Do You Do With Pond Turtles in the Winter?

Pond turtles that originate from temperate climates (for example, red-eared sliders) hibernate during the colder months, usually when the temps drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 Celsius.

important IMPORTANT

Only hibernate turtles that are native to your locale or accustomed to colder climates.

When hibernating pond turtles in your outdoor pond, be sure to consider the following:

  • Pond Size: To overwinter turtles in a pond, it is necessary to have a deep pond with a large surface area to help with oxygen levels in the pond. They will need a pond with at least one foot of unfrozen water at the bottom during their hibernation periods.
  • Oxygenation: Turtles that hibernate in the water need a lot of oxygen during the winter, so adding more oxygen is important. Running a pond pump throughout the winter months will help increase oxygen levels in the pond. Pond de-icers will help prevent the pond from freezing over, allowing for proper gas exchange and help with oxygenation. Just make sure your de-icer doesn't heat the water to over 50 degrees, as this can stress the turtle out and prevent hibernation.
  • A Place to Hibernate: Turtles typically settle at the bottom of a pond for hibernation, so ensure there is proper sediment, leaves, or other vegetation at the bottom of the pond to create bedding. You could even try a pan of sand and soil mix gently placed on the bottom of your pond for the turtle to hibernate in. Just be careful when adding matter to your pond, as it can negatively impact the water quality.
  • Preparation: Your turtles should have lived in the pond for at least 3 months to get used to the habitat and prepare for hibernation. Keep in mind, like pond fish, turtles will eat less as the water temperature drops. So, be sure to stop feeding it once the temp drops below 50 degrees.

Keeping turtles in a backyard pond is challenging as natural conditions are hard to replicate. I typically recommend bringing your turtles inside during the winter months if you don't have the experience or the time to prepare your pond properly.

How to Keep a Turtle Pond Clean

Keeping turtles in a pond is fun and rewarding... but, it can also be messy! Especially when introducing turtles to fish ponds.

Keeping a turtle pond clean is really the same as keeping any backyard pond clean. It may just take a little more work.

To keep a turtle pond clean, you should:

  1. Remove Debris: Regularly remove debris from your pond, whether manually with a pond net or pond vacuum or by using a pond filtration system (recommended). This will help keep the matter from sinking and contributing to the sludge on the bottom of your pond, thus improving water quality.
  2. Don't Overfeed Your Turtles: Never feed your turtle more than it can eat within a few minutes, as any food that goes uneaten will sink into the water and rot, negatively impacting water quality. Check out our guide titled What Do Pond Turtles Eat for more turtle feeding information.
  3. Don't Overpopulate Your Pond: Whether it be just turtles or a mix of turtles and pond fish, do not add too many to your pond, as it can negatively impact the water quality rather quickly. Plus, they will be competing with each other for resources, causing unneeded stress and other issues.
  4. Ensure Proper Aeration: As we discussed above, you need to make sure you are supplying your pond with rich oxygen with a fountain, waterfall, airstone, or simply a pump that circulates the water. The extra oxygen in your pond will improve beneficial bacteria levels, which will, in turn, break down waste in your pond and keep it clean.
  5. Add Pond Plants: Plants not only provide a hiding place and food source for your pet turtles, but they also help oxygenate the water, which we learned above, helps keep your pond clean. So, be sure to have plenty of submerged and emergent plants in your pond.
  6. Use a Correctly Sized Pond Pump: Your pond pump should completely circulate the water in your pond every hour. In other words, if you have a 1,000-gallon pond, you’ll want a pump rated at 1,000 gallons per hour. This will ensure the pond's water is properly filtered.


What Kind of Turtle Can I Put In My Pond?

There are several different types of turtles you can put in your pond. Some include painted turtles and slider turtles like the red-eared terrapin and yellow-bellied slider.

Check out our guide covering the most popular types of pond turtles to find the right turtle for you and your pond.

Is It Bad to Have Turtles in Your Pond?

Having a few turtles in your pond will have some benefits with little to no negative impact on your pond's ecosystem. Turtles will likely eat some of your prized plants if you have any, but that's about it. The exception is common snapping turtles, which may harm your fish, and any children playing in or around your pond.

With that said, it's really up to the pond owner to weigh the pros and cons of having these creatures in their ponds. Check out our guide titled Turtles in a Pond: Good or Bad? for more information.

How Do I Keep My Turtle Pond Warm in Winter?

You can use a pond de-icer to warm the pond's surface and ensure it doesn't completely freeze over. You do not need to warm the pond water, as long as it is deep enough to not completely freeze over. In fact, warming the pond to over 50 degrees can stress your turtle and stop it from hibernating.

If your pond turtle isn't a native species or doesn't naturally live in the temperature range of your location, you may need to move it in your house into an aquarium tank during winter.