How To Build An Outdoor Turtle Pond
An outdoor turtle pond is the ultimate habitat for your turtle. A pond is especially beneficial for large adult turtles. However, building a turtle pond is quite different from building a fish pond or just a conventional pond.
For instance, the filtration system for a turtle pond needs to be much more powerful as turtles excrete more waste than fish do. Depending on the type of pond you want to build, you may need expert help.
Also, you need to consider the turtle species you want to keep in the pond as well as your hardiness zone. Depending on your locale and the turtle species, you may have to bring the turtles in for the winter.
If your turtle is one that can hibernate under a frozen pond, then you need to winterize the pond for the winter.
Quick Reference Section
Getting Started (Overview Of Process)
Keep the climate and species of turtle in mind
When it comes to an outdoor turtle pond, it’s best to choose a species (or subspecies) that is endemic to a climate similar to yours.
Species such as mud turtles, map turtles, & snapping turtles live in temperate zones where winter temperatures are below freezing, and therefore such turtles will do well in ponds situated in temperate zones such as a hardiness zone 7.
Choosing the location of the pond
When it comes to location, ensure the area allocated for the enclosure receives direct sunlight and at the same time provides shade. This ensures that the turtle has access to sunlight as well as shade to cool off under.
If you can, build the pond close to a shed, house, or wall. This provides the enclosure with shade. An eastward or southward facing wall also allows the turtle to receive early morning sunlight (which isn’t warm enough to be detrimental without shade).
However, if the location you choose has no shade, you can build a shaded shelter over the enclosure for the turtle to go to when it gets too warm. Remember, turtles are cold-blooded creatures and as such maintain their body temperature by moving between warm and cool parts of the enclosure.
Additionally, too much sunshine encourages algae growth. However, you can slow down algae growth by providing an abundance of aquatic plants.
Avoid building the pond close to trees. Although trees do provide shade, the leaves they shed can end up increasing the bioload of the pond. The rotting leaves in the pond increase ammonia levels.
Determining the size of the pond
There are several things to consider when determining the pond size.
The space you have to work with is a huge determining factor. If you don’t have that much space, you can’t build a large pool even if you want to.
Secondly, a large pool is more expensive to build and maintain. It requires more work and a powerful filtration system.
A small pond is a good compromise if you don’t have a lot of space in your backyard. A small pond is an economical choice and low maintenance.
Ultimately, the size of the turtle will determine the minimal size of the pond. For large turtles, a large pond habitat is a must. For small turtles that are just a few inches in length, a small pond will do just fine.
Similarly, if you plan on housing a community of turtles in the same pond, the pond needs to be large. This ensures that all the turtles have enough room to maneuver.
A small pond usually brings out the worst in turtles as they can get quite territorial. That being said, even if there is plenty of space you may still see them stacking.
Fencing and security
Wild predators such as raccoons and possums also pose major threats to the turtle. Fencing also prevents the turtle from wandering too far from the pond.
The fence around the enclosure should be at least a few feet high and opaque. Wire mesh walls aren’t advisable as the turtles will try to go through them and end up injuring themselves.
Smooth walls such as wood panels are effective ways of keeping the turtle inside the enclosure.
An electric fence around the enclosure can also help keep large predators out.
If the pond is shallow, a wire mesh cover over the enclosure can provide a lot of protection from predators like racoons for example.
If you have a large pond, it will be impossible to build a wire mesh cover over the entire enclosure.
However, the pond needs to be deep enough for the turtle to dive in to escape predators. Also, you can create a basking spot in the middle of the pond (this can be a partially submerged log or an island).
How to Build a Turtle Pond (Practical)
Next up is the actual installation guide. Below you have a materials list and the main thing to choose is whether it is going to be a premolded pond or one you will shape yourself.
There are both guides below. I highly recommend watching the video for the preformed pond installation as this gives a great overview of the entire process which is applicable to the rubber liner option.
If you are doing a rubber liner so you can let your creativity run wild then definitely have a look at the video about how to choose the material. There’s different qualities and thicknesses which play a role in this as well.
- A Preformed hard plastic pond or rubber pond liner
- Stones, pavers, bricks (for the finished look)
- Aquatic plant baskets & marginal plants such as water hyacinth, anacharis, elodea, water lettuce, fairy moss, and etc.
- Basking logs, rocks, and other accessories for the pond
- Shovel (Spade/digging or both)
- Tape measure
- Level (4ft)
- Dustpan for sand distribution (optional)
Installing the pond (Rigid or Liner)
Start out by mapping out, clearing the area, and removing any debris. After that, you can start digging the site for the pond.
If you are doing this by hand, it might take you a while since the soil can be pretty compacted in some parts.
Important: Before digging call your utility companies to come out and mark your water, electric, phone, cable, and gas lines. You don’t want to damage any of these.
Rigid Formed Pond Installation
If you are using a preformed pond then the hole dug out should be large enough for it so it just fits in with just enough room for some sand.
While you are roughing everything in, go ahead and dig any trenches needed for water and power lines if you are doing a filter, lighting, or a fountain setup.
You will need to test fit it a few times filling in gaps and removing excess dirt where needed until it’s a good fit, but not a tight one.
Next pull out the liner and add around a 1 to 2 inch layer of sand.
Then set the liner back in the hole and nestle it into place. The liner should be in place and not move tilting in any direction. If it does, add more sand and pack it down if needed until you achive the result.
This is important to have perfect before filling the pond.
It is level add around 2 inches of water to the tank and make sure the pond is stable and level still. If it isn’t you will need to drain it and add sand again until you get a solid base.
If all is well, continue to fill the liner with water. Keep a lookout for any buckling or creases as this may show areas where there isn’t support.
If it does buckle then backfill the gaps until the liner goes back to it’s natural shape. You can use dirt or sand for this, but my preference is sand since it is easier to work with.
When the liner is half full, back fill the gaps with sand. You can use a dust pan for this for ease of distribution.
The below video covers everything mentioned above with visuals to support it. I highly recommend watching it before doing anything.
Rubber Pond Liner Installation
If you are working with a rubber pond liner, the process is similar, but you have a bit more freedom in designing your shape.
Not all pond liner material is the same as with anything else, so be sure to pick the right type for your job. The below video gives a great breakdown of how to choose the right type for your job.
Once you have managed to finish all of that work you can start adding water.
Fill the pond with water and dechlorinate the water. Hook up the filters and any other water features you prepped for and want to set up.
Water features such as waterfalls aren’t essential to the survival of the turtle, however, they do add to the ponds asthetics.
Cover the edge of the liner with rocks. The liner needs to be elevated above the water level to prevent runoff and from eroding the earth around the pond.
It’s better to do this right the first time, because you don’t want to have to go back and fix it a few months later.
Building the fence around the pond
Now that the pond has been installed, the next step is to protecting the surroundings. If your yard is fenced in that is a great step already, however you can add an additional layer of protection for the turtles in the pond.
You can build a 2 to 3 foot tall fence that goes around the pond. In this case we will say it’s an 8ft by 8ft area (64 square feet).
It is important that lumber treated with arsenic such as Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) be avoided. We don’t want to contaminate the turtles home with chemicals from the materials.
- (4) Posts – 2-in x 2-in x 2-ft or 4-in x 4-in x 4-ft for larger fences
- (12) Cross support – 1in x 12-in x 8-ft
- (1) box of deck screws
- (4) small stakes
- (1) role of twine
- Post hole digger
- Shovel (Spade/digging or both)
- Claw Hammer
- Tape measure
- Drill (if using screws)
- Dustpan (optional)
Using a tape measure, mark out the area and place the stakes in each corner marking where the posts will go.
String twine up from each post in marking the 8×8 sqaure clearly. You now have your outline.
The below video gives an overview in installing a full fence, but the principles are still transferable to our smaller fence around the pond.
Next you can grab your post hole digger and dig the rough holes for the posts followed by digging trenches for the 1×12’s to lay into longways.
Your digging the trenches down around 12 inches so that when the turtles (water or box) try to dig under the border they won’t be able to get out. It’s the same for animals trying to get in.
Lay down an 8-ft treated landscape timber in the trenches on each side of the enclosure and secure them to the posts with the screws.
Repeat this step until the desired height is reached. A good goal is 3 ft.
Optionally you can add a wire mesh over the top of the enclosure to keep predators out, or you can use an electric fence.
It all depends on your location and what potential threats exist. Just don’t make it inaccessable for yourself.
Filling the enclosure with the necessary plants and accessories
Now that the enclosure is all built and protected you can add some foliage to it. Before you decide which plants to add, you need to do thorough research. You shouldn’t add plants that can be harmful to the turtle.
With the help of aquatic plant baskets, you can have marginals around the pond. These oxygenating plants are important to healthy pond life.
Place them on shelves you built or on the shelves that come with preformed ponds. Keep the plants in place using heavy rocks.
As mentioned earlier on, you should provide a basking spot for the turtles by placing partially submerged logs, rocks, or even a floating island in the pond.
Some turtle safe plants to plant within the enclosure include pansies, mulberries, dandelions, roses, and hibiscus. These plants don’t only provide a source of nutrition, but they do provide hiding spots for the turtles.
Place some rocks and hollow logs in the enclosure. These also provide hiding places for the turtles and make them feel safe and secure.
Things to Consider
- Do your research before starting.
- The enclosure should provide both shade and access to sunlight.
- Filter the pond water and maintain an optimum pH level.
- Create basking spots in the pond by placing partially submerged logs in the pond. If the log is on the shoreline then it needs to extend into the pond. Most turtles will only bask on objects that are on the pond or extend into the pond.
- The pond needs to be protected from predators.
An outdoor turtle pond has several advantages over an indoor enclosure. Ponds are larger and expose the turtle to natural light (sun) which is the best source of UV light.
If you are a DIYer you can decide on building the pond yourself. This is a pretty intense project and you should only do if you are either handy or dedicated to learning how to do it. Alternatively you can of course pay someone to do it too.
Before you decide to build the pond, you need to check that the climate in your area is conducive for the turtle you have or are going to choose. Lastly make sure there is plenty of space to accommodate the turtle(s).
Finally don’t forget about the security you need to provide. The pond must be fenced in to protect the turtles from predators such as raccoons, foxes, and even dogs.