Building Outdoor Turtle Ponds

Written by b.t. alo
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Building Outdoor Turtle Ponds
Create your own outdoor turtle pond. (turtle 5 image by cherie from

Outdoor turtle ponds add a real feature to a backyard, providing not just the beauty of a pond, but also the unending enjoyment of watching and caring for its inhabitants. Turtles are notorious escape artists so a secure enclosure for your pond is essential so that the turtles can access the pond perimeter, but won't disappear into the yard. Building an outdoor turtle pond is like fashioning a mini-ecosystem; you need to incorporate plant life, bug life and the right mix of nutrients and oxygen to create the perfect haven for your turtles.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Shovel
  • Waterfall weir/pump
  • Pond liner
  • Utility knife
  • River stones
  • Oxygen stones
  • Aquatic plants, mixed
  • Logs
  • Clay
  • Bricks/breeze blocks
  • Surface bonding cement
  • Trowel
  • Feeder fish
  • Turtles

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  1. 1

    Dig your pond in the desired location. There should be a variety of depths: a coping shelf that is around an inch or two deep for the turtles to sun themselves and exit the pond, a shallows around 1/2 foot deep and a deep end between one and two feet deep. If you live in an area with severe winters, make the deep end deep enough so that there will be 1 foot below freezing level. Bigger ponds are better, but between 50 and 500 gallons is adequate for a couple of turtles.

  2. 2

    Dig a small cove into the side of the pond near the deep end which will fit your pump and waterfall weir -- they should be below water level. Use at least a 400 gph pump and make sure it has excellent filtration.

  3. 3

    Place the pond liner over the pond surface and push it into the contours of the deep end first. Fill the deep end with water as this will weigh down the liner. Place river stones along the bottom to weigh the liner down. Make sure the whole pond is lined. Position river stones around the rim to hold the liner in place and trim off any excess with a utility knife. Put a number of oxygen stones into the pond at various heights.

  4. 4

    Position your aquatic plants in and around the pond. Have one or two submerged plants such as lilies in the pond, as well as marginal plants like iris and cattail around the pond's edge. Elephant ear and ferns are good to plant around the pond for decoration and these provide great hiding places for your turtles. Papyrus is another good one.

  5. 5

    Set a couple of logs as ramps between each depth of the pond, as well as one or two leading out of the pond itself. You can also create an island out of river stones and rocks in the shallows. Place a number of logs around the perimeter for climbing and hiding places. Add patches of clay on the bottom of the pond, especially on the coping shelf, to cover up the liner and give the turtles something to dig into. Whole clay kitty litter can be used for this purpose, provided there are no other added elements in it.

  6. 6

    Place the pump into the cove dug earlier and attach its hose to the waterfall weir. Set the pump to "on," but do not plug it in yet. Cover the pump with a couple of stones, then place the waterfall weir on top, surrounding it with stones to obscure it as much as possible without impeding the flow area of the weir. Fill the rest of the pond up and plug in the pump. Let the pond develop and settle for at least a week before adding your turtles.

  1. 1

    Lay your bricks or breeze blocks in a wall around the pond one to four feet away from the pond's edge, depending on space availability. Stagger the joints of the bricks or blocks and make the wall two feet high.

  2. 2

    Mix the surface bonding cement as per the manufacturers instructions then apply a 1/4-inch layer over the entire wall with a trowel, covering both sides of the wall and the top. Smooth over the surface and let cure for three days.

  3. 3

    Add your feeder fish and turtles to the pond. The turtles will feed on the feeder fish. Watch your turtles intently for the first couple of weeks to ascertain any problem areas and adjust accordingly.

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