Can You Add Live Plants To Turtle Tank?

Can You Add Live Plants To Turtle Tank

Providing UV bulbs, basking dock, and placing a few stones in the turtle terrarium do not make the habitat as natural as wild. The best way to replicate the native environment is to add live plants to the turtle tank.

The plants also increase the aesthetic value of the enclosure. But are the turtles okay with plants inside their habitat? It leads us to one of the most frequently asked questions. Can you add live plants to the turtle tank?

You can add live plants to turtle tank. However, the plants need to be safe for turtles. Live plants provide hiding spots for the turtles. Besides, they filter the ammonia and nitrate from the water.

Which plants are safe for your turtle species? Is there any disadvantage of adding live plants to your turtle tank? I am sure you have questions like these on your mind. Read on to this article to find out all your answers.

Can You Add Live Plants to Your Tank? 

You certainly can add live plants to your turtle tank. Many turtle hobbyists are keen to learn more about aquascaping in a turtle terrarium. Aquascaping refers to indoor underwater gardening with stones, rocks, caves, driftwoods, and aquatic herbs. With time, enhancing the aesthetic value of the turtle’s habitat with plants has become popular.

As a beginner turtle keeper, you can also try aquascaping in your turtle tank. In that case, first, get comfortable with your turtle’s care sheet. Taking extra responsibility for the live plants may seem like a burden to you.

Once you get familiar with your pet turtle’s routine, go with the easy maintenance live plants. If you have experience in turtle keeping and have handled aquatic plants before, try adding the advanced plants to your turtle’s enclosure.

Putting live plants inside a turtle’s tank has its own benefits and drawbacks. The plants definitely purify the tank water by decreasing nitrate and ammonia level. They also eliminate the risk of unwanted bacterial growth.

However, turtles do not go easy on the plants. Your curious little pet may devour the whole plant. Entangling with a loose plant may drown the turtle.

In the next section, I will discuss the advantages and all the possible threats of putting live plants in the turtle tank.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Adding Live Plants To Turtle Tank

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Improved water qualityHealth hazard
No more algae
Messy enclosure
Source of oxygenMore cleaning
Aesthetic and more appealingUprooting plants
Visual barrierPlant care
Turtle snack

Advantages

1. Improved Water Quality

The responsible turtle owners mostly add live plants to the tank to improve the water quality. Live plants filter the harmful compounds, such as nitrate, ammonia, and other unnecessary organics, from the tank water.

Large amounts of ammonia and nitrates create toxicity in the tank environment. It can irritate the turtle’s eyes and cause other diseases. Hence, the risk of unwanted illnesses reduces as you add live plants to the turtle enclosure.

2. No More Algae

You know, plants and algae have the same carbon dioxide consumption cycle. But the process of absorption for algae is a bit different. They absorb carbon dioxide and form more algae.

The formation of algae in the turtle tank is not uncommon. Actually, the water and temperature of the enclosure are suitable for these aquatic organisms to spread and grow. Generally, the algae do not create any trouble for the turtles. But sometimes, the it may cause sickness to your pet.

Algae may grow under the partially shed scutes. As a result, water will accumulate in the region and lead to shell problems, like shell rot. Adding live plants to the enclosure can end this issue. The plants will compete for carbon dioxide and reduce the growth of algae.

3. Source of Oxygen

More live plants in the tank mean additional oxygenation to the water. The higher oxygen level in the water benefits the turtles in many ways.

For instance, the growth and spread of anaerobic bacteria get hampered due to the presence of oxygen. Most of the anaerobic bacteria are harmful. They cause ear infections and some other diseases to the pet turtles. Hence, oxygenation aids the turtles in staying safe and healthy.

Besides, you know some turtle species can breathe underwater. Take the painted turtles and softshell turtles as examples. It will be easier for these turtles to absorb oxygen underwater provided by the live plants.

4. Aesthetic And More Appealing

Turtles prefer living in an environment that resembles their native habitats. The best way to replicate the wild nature is to decorate the enclosure with rocks, live plants, docks, and other necessary supplies.

You have to admit that adding live plants to the tank makes it more lively, appealing, and beautiful. The turtles also feel more comfortable and homely as the habitat looks more natural with the plants.

5. Visual Barrier

You can not deny the necessity of visual barriers in a turtle tank. Particularly when you are raising multiple turtles in a single tank, you must provide several hiding spots for the pets. Otherwise, the turtles will fight, and there will be a mess in the enclosure. Turtles also use visual barriers to hide from the external chaos if they are stressed.

The live plants in the tank can be great hiding spots for the turtles. The pets shield their mental stress and anxiety by hiding amid the plants. It makes them safe and more homely.

6. Turtle Snack

Most turtle species are omnivores, which means they are dependent on both animal and plant matters. Some turtles stay carnivorous in their primary life. Later, they prefer eating vegetation more than animal-based protein. For example, a red eared slider’s diet consists of 50% to 75% of plants when they are older.

For those turtle species, live plants are the source of snacks in the enclosure. You will find them munching on the leaves from time to time. Hence, it is better to add plants that are edible and nutritious.

Requirements To Add Live Plants To The Turtle Tank

Disadvantages

1. Health Hazard

Not all aquatic plants are edible and safe for turtles. Some plant species are proven toxic for the turtles and cause diarrhea, vomiting, choking, and even death. So, you have to research the plants before adding them to the tank.

2. Messy Enclosure

Turtles are experts at creating a mess. They may want to make a salad of the foliage by tearing them up. Remember, it’s you who will have to clean the mess.

3. More Cleaning

You will require a proper substrate layer at the bottom of the tank for the plants. Layering up the base with substrate brings out several issues. For example, your curious little pet may taste the substance and get sick.

However, to ensure a healthy and hygienic enclosure, you must vacuum and clean the substrate at least once a week. Otherwise, the foodscape, poop of your turtle will start spreading bacteria and foul odor. Eventually, your turtles will get sick.

It means you will have more cleaning responsibility once you add live plants to the turtle tank. As an alternative, you can use those plants that do not need substrate and are still safe, for instance, hornwort.

4. Uprooting Plants

Turtles are calm and innocent, but they do not go easy on the plants. Your pets can dig out and uproot the plants out of boredom.

5. Plant Care

Taking care of turtles is not an easy task. Adding the live plants to the tank will increase your responsibilities. Also, the lighting requirement for aquatic plants may not suit the tank environment.

You know the bulbs in the turtle enclosure are not that bright. Most lights range 1 watt per gallon. However, some aquatic plants need 2/3 watt per gallon power to survive in the tank. In that case, you have to choose those plants that can thrive in a low light condition.

Requirements To Add Live Plants To The Turtle Tank

You know, not all aquatic plants are suitable for a turtle tank. So, how will you choose the perfect plant for your turtle species? There are six requirements for selecting an aquatic plant for your pet turtle. Such as,

  1. Find out if the plant species is toxic or safe for the turtles. Get as much information as you can on the particular plant. Here is a list of poisonous plants that you should avoid at all costs.
  2. The plant should be edible and nutritious to the turtle. Sometimes, turtles end up eating the leaves before giving the plant a chance to grow. You should be careful in selecting those plant species.
  3. The pets may uproot the plants even before they grow fully. That is why you should choose the tough-rooted aquatic plants.
  4. Some aquatic plants can not match the low light condition of a turtle tank. Without proper lighting, those plants will not thrive in life. For example, water hyacinths need full light and hot temperatures. So, go for the plants which can grow underwater in relatively lower brightness.
  5. Cleaning the substrate is a burden for a beginner. Again, some turtle species care sheets do not require substrate at the bottom of the tank. In that case, you should go with the plants that do not need substrate to grow.
  6. Consider your turtle’s habitat type. Some plants do better in the outdoor habitat than an indoor one.

17 Best Live Plant Recommendation For Your Turtle Tank

I have been keeping turtles for years now. Throughout these years, I have researched which plants are better for the turtles and which are not. In this section, you will get 17 aquatic plants that are easy to maintain in a turtle tank. Such as,

1. Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)

If you are a beginner and thinking about adding plants to your turtle tank, hornwort is your easy option. Even the experts prefer planting hornwort in their pet’s tank. You can blindly trust this plant for your aquatic turtle’s habitat.

The hornwort goes by different names, such as coon’s tail or coontail. This plant has gained popularity because it requires little or no care at all. Also, the hornwort is inexpensive and affordable than most other freshwater aquatic plants. The minimum tank requirement for this plant is 15 gallons.

Hornworts can grow without any substance. To anchor the plant, you can tie it with either a suction cup or a rock at the bottom of the tank. However, the hornwort will do just fine if you let the plant float. I recommend the floating condition because the turtles will rearrange the pattern even if they are rooted.

The hornworts need additional lights to thrive. For that, an additional plant light will work. The hornwort will play a significant role in keeping the tank water clean by removing a considerable amount of nitrates.

You should not worry about your turtle’s feasting on the hornwort. Usually, this hardy plant species have fast growth, and most of the turtles do not like the taste of the hornwort. But do not worry, as this plant will not upset your pet’s stomach. The hornwort leaves are edible and safe for the turtles.

2. Duckweed (Lemnoideae)

Duckweed is another affordable, inexpensive, and easy to grow plant option for your freshwater aquatic turtle tank. Like the hornwort, the duckweed also has a swift to multiply. The duckweed is handier because it can thrive in any condition. For instance, low to high light and soft to hard water.

As the turtle tank environment favors the duckweed, the plant requires no additional care. It will grow on the surface and coat the whole water body in a few days.

Planting duckweeds has several benefits. It filters the nitrates or harmful elements and keeps the water healthy for the turtles. Also, the duckweed can outcompete the growth of algae in absorbing light and carbon dioxide.

Moreover, duckweed is a favorite snack for many turtle species. The Diet chart of most of the omnivore turtle species includes duckweed. This plant is high in protein.

However, planting duckweed in your turtle tank has downsides too. As the plant covers the water surface with a green mat, the UV rays can not get into the few inches of water. Also, a single strain of the duckweed can coat the whole tank surface within a few days. So, removing the duckweeds from the enclosure is challenging.

If you consider both benefits and drawbacks, duckweeds are better for beginner turtle hobbyists.

3. Red Ludwigia (Ludwigia repens)

The red ludwigia needs a proper substrate to thrive. Apart from that, this plant is low maintenance and does not require any special light, aeration, nutrients, or care. The red ludwigia lives on the nutrients it gets from the tank water. The affordability and least care consideration have made this plant quite popular among turtle keepers.

The red ludwigia is a mid-sized stem plant. To make the plant stable underwater, you have to add a few bushes around the root. Do not stuff the area with this plant or weeds. It will create trouble for the turtles to swim.

You know turtles can dig or uproot the plants underwater. The benefit of red ludwigia is you can replant the leftovers. This plant has a moderately fast growth in a suitable environment.

The red ludwigia can not grow in low light conditions. A 2 watt per gallon bulb will be better for this plant.

Most turtles do not like the taste of the red ludwigia. Even if they munch on the leaves, the plant is safe and non-poinsonus. I recommend planting red ludwigia in large tanks. Painted turtles, mud turtles, and map turtles are most comfortable with this plant.

4. Anubias Barteri (Anubias barteri)

Anubias barteri is available in 5 different variants. Each one has leathery leaves that can grow tall and adds more beauty to the tank. Nowadays, the anubias species has become the prime choice of the new and expert turtle keepers due to its versatility. This plant is inexpensive and available in any pet store.

Anubias barteri requires 78 to 82 degrees temperature to thrive. This temperature is easily accessible in a turtle tank. Besides, this plant can grow in both a submerged or emersed condition in a minimum of 10 gallon tank.

The anubias species stands out because it has the ability to adapt to any light condition. Also, the plant is hardy and inedible. The trouble is less with the anubias as it does not need any substrate. Tying the plant with a rock or driftwood at the bottom of the tank is enough.

Turtles tend to chew the plant leaves out of boredom. The taste of anubias barteri is horrendous, and most turtles do not like it. So, there is no chance of a mess in the tank.

This plant species has a slow growth, which sometimes works as a downside. It is because the algae may take over the leaves of the plant.

5. Marimo Moss (Aegagropila linnaei)

Marimo moss is an advanced level planting option for the experts. It is basically a cold form of algae originating in Japan and Northern Europe. Marimo moss requires a cold temperature (75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit) to grow.

The wastage of your turtle may hamper the growth of the marimo moss. Tanks with efficient water filters and a considerable low temperature are suitable for this algae. This moss does not need sunlight to grow. Instead, indirect and low light is preferable for the marimo moss.

Turtles love munching the moss ball, and it is totally safe. But feasting on the balls will not allow the mosses to grow. Hence, using it on the carnivorous turtle tank will be a better decision.

Another benefit of marimo moss is, it can keep your tank water clean. I have seen many turtle keepers using these balls for healthy tank water.

The marimo moss balls grow brown because of direct sunlight or filth. In that case, place the balls in a water cup and refrigerate them for a week. When the green color is back, you can reuse the balls in the tank.

6. Java Fern (Microsorium pteropus)

Java fern is quite popular and common for a turtle tank. If you are a beginner, you can start decorating your pet’s tank with this aquatic plant. The minimum tank size for growing java fern is 10 gallons.

As java fern does not require substrate due to the loose root, you have less responsibility for cleaning. Simply attaching the plant with a rock or driftwood will keep it stable. The java fern thrives in a low light condition. So, you do not have to buy additional plant lights, and the usual turtle bulbs will work.

The java fern filters the nitrates and other harmful elements from the water. Hence, the water stays clean and hygienic. This plant is hardy but edible for the turtles. The taste of the leaves is not great. Most of the time, turtles avoid eating the java fern.

Even if your turtle snacks on the java fern, it will not suffer. This plant is safe for pets. The java fern has moderate growth and lives a long life. As it consumes less oxygen, the algae may spread on the leaves.

7. Anacharis (Egeria densa)

Common waterweed or Anacharis is another common aquatic plant for your turtle tank. This plant has both its good and bad sides.

On a good note, the waterweed is cheap, low maintenance, fast growing and adapts well to the turtle tank light and temperature. As the name suggests, the weeds will take care of themselves. All you need to do is plant them at the bottom. These plants anchor on their own.

The Anacharis provide a good hiding spot for the turtles. Turtle species like adult red eared sliders and painted turtles love feasting on the waterweeds. They might not give the plants a chance to grow. However, musk turtles, mud turtles, and other carnivores do not prefer eating the anacharis.

The waterweed works as a natural filter and keeps the water clean. This plant is able to produce carbon dioxide for itself.

On the other hand, anacharis is an invasive species. It means the weed can take over other aquatic plants in the tank. The plant sometimes lowers the water pH level and spreads the parasite population.

The root of the Anacharis is thin. So, turtles can make a mess by uprooting the weeds.

I personally do not prefer Anacharis in my turtle tank. But some experts find the waterweed perfect in their mud or musk turtle tank.

8. Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

You can grow water lettuce in both an indoor and outdoor turtle tank with moderate lighting. These floating plants provide shelter, shade, and resting areas for the submerged turtles.

The water lettuce can outcompete the algae by consuming its share of nutrients and carbon dioxide. This plant uptakes ammonia, nitrates, and other wastes from the tank. Also, the herbivore and omnivore turtles, for example, adult red eared sliders, love snacking on the broad, crispy water lettuce leaves.

On the other hand, mud turtles, musk turtles, softshell turtles, and snapping turtles do not find the water lettuce tasty. Putting this plant in their tank will work better. Though the snapping turtle or softshell turtle does not bite the leaves, it can damage the dangling roots.

The problem with water lettuce is its fast growth. The plant will take over your indoor tank within weeks. Also, direct sunlight burns down the leaves of this plant. Even the water lettuce can not stand the powerful UV bulbs.

9. Amazon Sword Plant (Echinodorus amazonicus)

The Amazon sword plant comes in different varieties. Each one is easy to maintain, available, and perfect for turtle tanks. The Amazon sword grows relatively slower than most other aquatic plants.

This plant requires substrate to grow. But plain gravel substrate does not suit the plant. Instead, the Flourite substrate works better. To anchor the root, place rocks around the plant.

Light is an issue for the Amazon sword plant. It needs a decent amount of light. The plant will die if you put it under the dock or on the shady side of the tank. So, you have to choose a well-lighted spot.

Turtles are more likely to nibble at the amazon sword plant. The roots are resilient and hardy, so it is not easy to uproot the whole plant. Even if your turtle manages to dig out the plant, you can replant it.

The Amazon sword plant is an excellent biological filter. It eliminates the nitrates from the tank water. Turtles sometimes bite off the leaves of the sword plant, but these are not tasty at all.

Adding amazon sword plants to the turtle tank makes the terrarium elegant. The broad leaves provide hiding spots for the turtles. You should use this plant in large tanks, especially while raising multiple turtles.

10. Cryptocoryne Species

The Cryptocoryne Species consists of a large group of plants. Each plant is low light tolerant, resilient, and perfect for the turtle tank environment.

Most turtles do not like the taste of the Cryptocoryne plants. Still, the pets may try to uproot them by digging. 

11. African Water Fern (Bolbitis heudelotii)

African water fern has similarities to java fern and anubias species. The forked or scalloped-like leaves give this fern a unique look. Growing African water fern in a turtle tank is trouble-free because this plant does not need any special lighting.

The African water fern will attach to any hard surface like rock or driftwood and spread its root-like threads. This plant grows at a slow pace and creates young sprouts along with the leaves. So, the fern will eventually increase in number.

12. Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)

If you think marimo moss is too much to handle, java moss can be your option. This hardy moss is easy to care for and grow even in the low-lit murky water. The java moss has a rapid growth and covers the rock, rock, substrate, and other tank items in no time.

Java moss thrives best when it is attached to a hard surface. The swarm-like leaves provide hiding spots for small turtles and fishes in the tank. Some turtles do not like the taste of java moss, while others snack on it. As the moss has fast growth, being eaten will not be a problem.

The java moss has a few drawbacks. Due to the rapid growth, the java moss will cover the substrate. It will make gravel cleaning impossible. Also, the moss may entangle other plants.

13. Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae)

Frogbit is similar to the duckweed, except for the larger leaves. You can use Amazonian frogbit as an alternative to duckweed. This plant grows at a high temperature (78 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit), which is acquired easily in a turtle tank.

The frogbits outcompete the algae with their fast growth. Also, this plant is efficient as a biological filter. Frogbits remove ammonia and other nitrogenous waste from the tank water. Turtles may snack on the broad leaves sometimes.

14. Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia)

Moneywort is an excellent aquatic plant choice for beginners. This plant adds elegance to the terrarium with its versatile beauty.

The moneywort grows in the simple tank set up and with the least care. That is what makes this plant the prime choice for turtle keepers.

Moneywort thrives in both low light and bright lighting conditions. In lower brightness, the growth rate of the plant gets slow. This plant does not depend on supplemental carbon dioxide.

The moneywort is non-toxic and edible. The turtles love biting off the leaves every now and then. As the plant has fast growth, it is not an issue.

You will face problems if you have planted many moneyworts in your turtle tank. The plants will grow tall and occupy the enclosure space. It will cause an issue in turtles swimming or moving.

15. Dwarf Hairgrass (Eleocharis parvula)

Dwarf hairgrass looks like your lawn in your turtle tank. The green carpet covers the whole substrate and provides the pets a soft surface to walk on. Usually, the turtles are a big fan of dwarf hairgrass.

This grass does not require much light or carbon dioxide to thrive. Still, it is not easy to grow hairgrass. Turtles avoid eating this grass due to the bland taste. As this grass has a slow growth, the risk of invading your indoor turtle tank is zero.

16. Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)

The common water hyacinth is a good adoption for large indoor turtle tanks and outdoor habitats. This plant floats on the top of the water surface, and the back root provides resting spots for turtles. The water hyacinth has similarities with the water lettuce.

The water hyacinth is effective in filtering the tank water wastes. Turtles may mess with the leaves and roots, but his plant is resilient and hard.

The herbivore turtles find the hyacinth leaves really tasty. Water hyacinth makes the tank look more beautiful when its flower blooms.

17. Glossostigma

Glossos give the turtle tank an aesthetic look. This plant grows at the bottom of the tank as an elegant green carpet. Besides, some turtles are fond of eating the glossostigma because it tastes damn good.

Which Substrate Should You Use For Plants?

You already know most aquatic plants require substrates to grow. Thus, you have to choose such a substrate that will suit both your turtle and the plants. Usually, people get confused among the following substrates,

  • Sand
  • Dirt
  • Aquarium gravel
  • Flourite

Among all these substrates, sand is my least favorite. It is so densely packed that water can not circulate the roots. Moreover, the cleaning is challenging, and once it gets stirred up, the enclosure will become a mess. Also, the sand can damage your tank filter.

However, softshell turtles prefer sandy substrate at the bottom of their habitat. In that case, you can put a shallow layer of sand.

Many owners use dirt as the substrate. Dirt works fine, but you have to do a lot of work. For example, you need to sterilize the dirt before layering it up. Also, when the turtles dig the dirt, it makes the whole tank water muddy.

Many aquatic plants grow well in gravel. But the sharp edges of the substrate may injure your turtles.

Personally, I prefer flourite as my turtle tank substrate. I know flourite is costly. Still, it provides the best service for both turtles and plants. Also, the stuff makes the tank look more beautiful. This substrate is non-toxic, good bacteria friendly, and nutritious for the plants.

The flourite tastes bland, and so your turtle will never eat it. You need to read the label instruction before putting the flourite layer at the bottom of the tank. At the first use, the water will get muddy and sandy. So, you have to wait for three days or more before opening the tank for the turtles.

Can You Put Plastic Plants In Your Turtle Tank?

Maintaining both live plants and turtles can be challenging for beginners. For them, adding artificial plants to the tank is a better idea. Go for the strong, one-piece, and colorful plastic plants. No matter if the plants are plastic or live, your pet turtle will still bite and pull them off.

Artificial plants do not provide any nutrients or filtration to the tank. But these plants will make the terrarium more attractive and aesthetic.

Conclusion

Adding live plants to your turtle tank benefits the pets. Those plants filter the water, provide hiding spots for the turtles, and so on. While shopping for the plants, select the ones that suit your turtle species. Ask help from an expert if you needed. 

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

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