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Create The Perfect Tortoise Setup

Tortoises setups can be done either indoors or outdoors. You can house the tortoise indoors in a tortoise table or a wooden vivarium or you can build an outdoor enclosure.

If your tortoise is large, like the sulcata tortoise (which grows to be almost 3 feet in length), you need to house the tortoise in a fenced outdoor enclosure that can protect it from predators.

Also, conditions within the enclosure (such as temperature, humidity, and lighting) must be within the right range for your species of tortoise.

Tortoise Setup Guide

Choosing/Building the Tortoise Enclosure

First of all, you need to decide the type of enclosure needed. This depends on the climate of your locale as well as the size of the tortoise, and the amount of space available to you.

These conditions should also be considered even before acquiring a tortoise. As such, if you don’t have a large backyard, you shouldn’t acquire a sulcata tortoise as you won’t have the right amount of space for it to thrive.

For small tortoises, such as the Egyptian tortoise, a tortoise table may suffice, but for large tortoises, a fenced outdoor enclosure is most suitable.

How big does a tortoise need to be for outdoors (Video)

Setting Up A Tortoise Table

Indoor Land Turtle Setup Side

Tortoise tables are open-top enclosures. They are designed to be airy and provide a lot of light. Tortoise tables can be either purchased or built at home.

The size of the table is essential as a bigger table gives the tortoise more space to maneuver. For small tortoises such as the Egyptian tortoise which is about 5 inches in length, a tortoise table with a length, height, and width of  24x24x24 inches is big enough.

However, most small tortoises such as pancake tortoise, Russian tortoise, Indian star tortoise, Hermann tortoises, and greek tortoises are generally bigger than 5 inches.

These tortoises generally reach adult lengths of 5 to 12 inches and require a tortoise table that measures 4ft x 2ft x 8 inches. Also, the bigger the better.

If you want to set your tortoise up in a vivarium, use the same measurements.

Setting Up An Outdoor Enclosure

Outdoor Land Turtle Setup

If you have a large outdoors then an outdoor enclosure is the way to go. For starters. Filtered sunlight is the best source of UVA and UVB light.

Also a spacious and well-planted enclosure removes the need to clean the enclosure. The airy and spacious outdoors is the way to go if you can.

The outdoors however has one major setback and that is predators. Animals such as raccoons and even stray dogs can seriously injure the tortoise if the enclosure isn’t properly predator proofed.

Deter predators by installing hinged and latched covers. These also prevent escape.


The bigger the enclosure, the better. However, a length and width of 8 feet by 8 feet should be a minimum.

The walls of the enclosure have to be deep enough to prevent burrowing tortoises from escaping, about a foot below the ground. Accessories like hiding places, rocks, and plants keep the tortoise occupied and happy.

Happy tortoises are less likely to try to escape. The walls of the enclosure should be about two-tortoises in height. But since tortoises can climb onto one another an overhang the size of the tortoise is good enough to prevent the tortoise from climbing out.

See our in depth guide for setting up an outdoor tortoise enclosure will all the steps.

How to make an outdoor tortoise enclosure (Video)

The below video gives a great walkthrough on how to build a simple outdoor tortoise enclosure. You can of course just use it for inspiration but it is a great concrete example.


Tortoises need ultraviolet light. This allows them to synthesize vitamin D3 and utilize the calcium provided to build strong bones and shells.

If your tortoises are housed outdoors make sure there is access to direct sunlight as well as shaded cool areas.

For tortoises housed in a tortoise table or vivarium, you will definitely need to install light fixtures and UV tubes/bulbs.

There are many lamp fixtures out there. If you want a personal touch, visiting your local pet shop can be very helpful.

My favorite lamp futures for a tortoise table include the Fluker’s Mini Sun Dome if you are going for a terrarium style setup.

When choosing a UVB lamp, a fluorescent lamp is best as it doesn’t produce heat. The ReptiSun Mini Compact Fluorescent Bulb is a good choice.

If you want an incandescent light source that provides UVB light as well as heat, then the Zoo Med Power Sun bulb is an excellent choice.

As you may already know, the light needs to be on for just half the day (about 12 hours). For the rest of the 24-hour day, which is night, the bulb needs to be off.

If you are unable to turn the lights off and on punctiliously every day, then you should invest in a timer.


Fluker's Sun Dome Reptile Lamp - Deep Dome Flush Mount Light Fixture,White, 5.5 Inches,Black

Different tortoises require different temperatures to be comfortable. Regardless of the tortoise, it is best to provide a heat lamp over the tortoise’s basking spot.

Depending on the tortoise, the temperature requirements will vary. Mediterranean tortoises such as greek tortoises and Hermann’s tortoises generally have similar temperature requirements.

For most tortoises, the basking spots require temperatures of 90 to 100 F. Some popularly kept tortoise species that require basking temperatures of 90 to 100 F include Indian star tortoises, Hermann’s tortoises, sulcata tortoises, greek tortoise, Egyptian tortoise, Russian tortoises, pancake tortoises, and red-footed tortoises.

Depending on the species, the temperature lows should be between 50 to 75 F. It is imperative to find out the temperature requirements of your tortoise.

Depending on the size of the enclosure, there are many heating options available. Ceramic heat lamps work for small indoor enclosures. Heat lamps such as the Zacro Reptile Heat Lamp provide the needed warmth Infrared heat lamps and ceramic heat lamps can produce warmth even in the dark.

Create a temperature gradient where one end of the enclosure has a temperature of 90 F and a cool end with temperatures of about 60 to 70 F.

A screw fit holder can be used to keep the heat lamp attached to the side of the wall. You may need several bulbs to maintain the right temperature. Space the bulbs out.

With the help of a thermostat such as the Hagen Exo Terra ON/Off Thermostat, you can regulate the temperature and ensure the temperatures never get too high.


The humidity level for Mediterranean tortoise enclosures should be between 40 to 60 percent. Russian tortoises require humidity levels of about 30 to 50 percent.

Sulcata tortoises and red-footed tortoises prefer humidity levels of about 70 to 80 percent. The humidity level requirements differ from one tortoise to another but you can hardly ever go wrong with a humidity level of about 50 to 60 percent. Keep track of humidity levels using a humidity gauge such as the Zoo Med Labs Digital Thermometer Humidity Gauge.

For tortoises that don’t require very high humidity, you can create and maintain the right humidity level by placing a dish of water in the enclosure and misting the tortoise’s enclosure every other morning or as needed if humidity levels are very low. A plant mister such as the Driew Plant Mister should be good enough.

Foggers such as the Coospider Reptile Fogger and the REPTI ZOO 10L Reptile Mister Fogger are excellent choices for tortoises that require high humidity levels (humidity levels of 70 percent and above).


Indian Star Tortoises
Two Indian Star Tortoises on woodchip style substrate

Tortoises like to burrow so the topsoil/bedding should be about 2 to 4 inches deep. The older the tortoise the deeper, it would dig. There are many substrate options out there such as pellet bedding (which I least recommend) peat moss, sphagnum moss, orchid bark, cypress mulch.

Aspen and other organic substrates such as coco coir are all excellent choices. I recommend sterilized topsoil as well. All of these substrates work well for indoor habitat.

For tortoises housed outdoors, substrates must not only cater to the tortoise but also for any plants in there. Many of the substrates mentioned can be used to successfully maintain and grow many of the plants we discuss later on.


Landscaping Outdoor Enclosures

hibiscus plant
Hibiscus plant with pink flowers blooming

Landscaping the pen not only adds beauty to the setup, but it also provides the tortoise with distractions. Edible plants are a good way to keep the tortoises busy and fed. Plants such as:

  • Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
  • Aloe (Aloe species), jade plant (Crassula argentea)
  • Spineless prickly pear cactus (Opuntia species)
  • Yucca (Yucca species)
  • Grapes (Vitis vinifera and v. labrusca)
  • Pineapple guava (feijoa sellowiana)
  • Geranium (pelargonium species)
  • Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon)
  • Mulberry (Morus alba and M. nigra)
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea)
  • Edible fig (Ficus carica)
  • Ornamental strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)
  • Marguerite daisy (Chrysanthemum frutescens)

Grasses such as Bermuda, orchard, and fescue also make excellent cover plants.

Other objects to aff to the enclosure include rocks and logs. Rocks and logs placed in the enclosure must not have sharp edges that can harm the tortoise.


Depending on the size of the tortoise table or vivarium you can have several decorations and accessories in the enclosure.

Such decorations can be small potted plants (although the tortoise is likely going to feed on them), rocks, and logs. Also, be sure to provide artificial caves that the tortoise can hide in.

Consider the following when choosing any item for the tortoise enclosure

  • Plants placed in the enclosure have to be edible and nontoxic. With that said, artificial/fake plants are a bad idea. The tortoise may attempt to eat these.
  • All objects placed in the enclosure must be incapable of harming the tortoise. Sharp rocks should not be placed in the enclosure. If you must place a rock in the enclosure, make sure it’s smooth with no pointy edges.
  • For indoor enclosures, use sterilized rocks and soil for the enclosure. Heating soil and rocks is enough to kill all organisms found in them. Rocks can be boiled and soil can be heated in the oven. You can also buy sterilized soil from the gardening section of the local department store.
  • Decorations should not be small in size as the tortoise can easily ingest small decorations.

Zoo Med Floating Turtle Log may be designed with aquatic turtles in mind, but it works well for tortoise terrariums as well. Hide caves such as the Reptile Rock Hide Cave not only provide a hiding spot for the tortoise, they are also decorative. Just be aware of the size of your tortoise fully grown, because they only make them up to 6 inches in height.


Even before you adopt a tortoise, consider the setup.

  • Do you plan on housing the tortoise indoors or outdoors?
  • How much space do you have?
  • What is the climate like in your locale?

All these questions are essential when it comes to picking the right tortoise.

For instance, if you don’t have the needed space, a small tortoise such as the greek tortoise may just be best for you.

Other things to consider include heating, lighting, landscaping, and humidity levels. Getting these right will ensure your tortoise is not only healthy but also happy.

Let us know if you have any suggestions or questions in the comments below too!

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Thursday 5th of May 2022

question... i am planting an area with pasture grass for my sulcata to grase... will that be okay as long as it does not have chemicals. help please

Brock Yates

Thursday 5th of May 2022

See the Sulcata care guide: For a list of safe plants, see