How To Prepare A Turtle Pond For Winter?

Red Eared Terrapin - Trachemys scripta elegans in the aquarium

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What can be a better habitat than a pond for a turtle? A pond is indeed the better choice in summer or spring for the turtles, but what about winter? If you still keep the pets in an open area during the cold, it will hibernate for sure. Or in the worst cases, the pet can freeze to death. To avoid any unexpected situations, you must prepare the turtle pond for winter.

A turtle can not avoid hibernation in an outdoor pond even if you set up powerful heating sources. You can install bubblers or air stones in the pond so that the pet does not freeze during the hibernation. The best idea is to build an indoor pond for the turtles in the winter.

If you are perplexed about what to do with the pond and the turtle in the cold, then give this article a read. I will share how you can prepare your existing outdoor pond as a safer place for hibernation. Also, you will get a complete guide on how to prepare an indoor turtle pond for winter.

Indoor Turtle Pond For Winter

If you do not want your pet turtle to hibernate, then you must have to transfer it to an indoor habitat. Generally, we use a glass tank or aquarium as an indoor enclosure. But you can offer your turtles the natural vibe by building an indoor pond, especially customized for the winter season.

If you do not know how to prepare an indoor turtle pond for winter or build one, do not freak out. I will show you the step by step process of how to do that.

How To Build An Indoor Turtle Pond For Winter

Step 1: Select The Place

As you will keep the pet in that habitat only during the winter, choose the warmest room of your house. If you build the pond in a cold place, the weather can affect the turtle’s metabolism and survival.

Step 2: Plan For The Construction

After selecting the place, determine how big you want the pond to be. If you have multiple turtles, build an 8 by 8-foot pond. The size will totally depend on the numbers of your turtles.

Step 3: Buy A Surface Mount Pond

Buying a surface mount pond will be the best option for you. The price of this pond is totally reasonable, and you will find it in an online or local shop. While buying the surface mount pond, consider the size of your whole pond area. It must be smaller than the area you have allocated for the indoor pond.

You can use the water-resistant liner as an alternative to the surface mount pond. But the disadvantage with the liners is it can leak water.

See also  How To Get Rid Of Turtles From A Pond?

Step4: Build The Frame

Buying a surface mount pond is not enough to build a winter turtle pond. No matter which species you are raising, it will need both land and water areas. With the pond, you can ensure the perfect water area, but what about the dock? Also, you need to build a strong frame that can support the whole habitat.

To build the frame, you will need the following things:

  • Several pieces of 2 by 4 untreated wood
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • A big plank

Join the beams together by nailing them. You need to form two rectangles with the woods, one for the bottom frame, and another one for the top. To connect the two rectangles, you can use a support beam. Apply glues to stick the plank with the frame.

Step 5: Adjust The Pond In The Frame

Fill the surface pond with water and find out if there is any leak or not. Place it inside the frame. See if everything is alright or not. Make any arrangements that are needed.

Once the pond fits into the frame, build walls around the basking area. The land area can be of any shape and size you prefer. The barriers around the habitat will ensure the turtle’s safety. The pet will not fall from the height because of the walls.

To join the walls with the frame, use nails or glues. You can also install commercial fences to protect the turtles. Make sure the height of the barrier is twice the size of the turtle. 

Step 6: Give A Layer Of Substrate

No matter if your turtle is aquatic or semi-aquatic, filling the bottom of the pond with substrates will always benefit you. The turtles can burrow when they are in stress. However, if the temperature of your indoor pond drops by accident, the pet will burrow into the substrate.

You can use sand or gravel as the substrate of the pond. You will find other options too. Do not put anything dangerous for the turtle’s health. It is because sometimes the pet can eat the substrate.

Step 7: Decorate The Basking Area

You can not leave the land area undecorated. To make the habitat more natural, put substrate, rock, and plant small vegetation in that area. Providing a basking dock is essential for the turtles. The pets sometimes leave the water and spend their time in the dock. Even many turtles sleep or eat in the basking area.

Also, build a ramp so that the pets can easily walk to the basking station. You can use the timbers for making a ramp.

Step 8: Set Up A Heating Lamp

The heating lamps maintain the temperature of the land or the basking area. These lamps are essential for any type of indoor habitat. Many owners use LED or low-quality heating lamps in the tank. When you are raising the turtles in an indoor pond, you have to switch to the proper heating lamps.

No matter which species you are raising, it will come to the basking area to regulate its body temperature or bask. If the pet finds the place cold, it will stop coming up. Do you know what happens to a turtle if it stays underwater all the time?

Yes, the pet falls sick and gets various shell diseases. In the winter, they can suffer from different cold and respiratory infections too.

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In the outdoor pond, the turtles get the heat directly from the sun. But in an indoor pond, you need to provide them with proper heating sources. Buy quality basking lamps and install them in the habitat.

Generally, in the indoor tank, you need to set up one heating lamp. But as the pond area is more expanded, you may need to install two lights. Experts always suggest keeping the basking lamps on 24/7 during the cold season.

Keeping the lamps on all day and night long will eliminate the risk of temperature drop. And so, the pet will stay healthy and will barely feel the cold weather.

The basking lamps can mess with the sleep cycle of the pets if you keep them on at night. That is why I recommend you use red night bulbs for the night time. It will keep the habitat warm without emitting any visible lights.

If you are confused about which brand heating lamp will be the best, check this article.

Step 9: Install A UV Lamp

A turtle can not absorb the food minerals like vitamin D3 or calcium on its own. It needs the help of UV exposure to make the vitamins effective. Without these essential nutrients, the turtle can suffer from metabolic bone diseases.

However, you can use a separate UV lamp or a combined lamp that can provide both heat and UV. It is up to your preference. In the cold season, you have to keep the UV light on only for 8 to 12 hours.

Check this article to get a better idea on UV lamps.

Step 10: Set Up A Pond Heater

Maintaining only the basking temperature is not enough in the winter season. You need to provide a heating source underwater too. The best way to regulate an indoor pond’s temperature is by installing a heater.

You may not need a water heater in the summer or other seasons, but it is a must during the winter. The machine ensures that the water always stays warm and comfortable for the turtles.

You will find different quality tank heaters in the market. Never buy cheap ones. Those heaters can not provide accurate services, and you may face trouble using them. For example, sometimes the heater makes the water so hot that it becomes unbearable for the pets. And so, they leave the water and spend time in the basking area.

Again, the heater can stop working. As a result, the pond will become cold for the turtles, and they will drop their metabolism to hibernate. So what is the solution? I suggest you invest your money in an automatic pond heater. Those heaters can track the water temperature and never let it cross the safe range.

The power of the heater will depend on the size of your pond. Besides installing the pond heater, you need to set up a thermometer in the pond. The thermometer will show if the temperature is accurate for the pet or not.

Step 11: Install A Water Filter

Turtles are very messy. They can make the water dirty with their wastage and food. That is why you need to set up a water filter inside the pond. The filter will maintain the pH and ammonia level of the water. This will keep the pets healthy and away from shell diseases during the cold.

See also  Why Is My Turtle Not Eating In Winter? [6 Reasons]

Check this article to get the best water filter available in the market.

Step 12: Decorate The Pond

Your indoor turtle pond is almost ready for winter. Plant small vegetation in the pond and place small rock, logs around the land area. However, you can install airstone or other oxygenation sources in the pond. As you are building the pond in a closed room, the pet may feel the need for more oxygen.

Additional Note

If you already have an indoor turtle pond, then make necessary arrangements to keep it warm. For example:

  1. Install a pond heater
  2. Set up basking lamps

Temperature Requirements In The Turtle Pond

Now you know how to prepare a turtle pond for winter. But do you know which temperature is suitable for the pets? Though the temperature range totally depends on your species, here are the average temperatures you can follow:

  • Water temperature: 78 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Basking temperature: 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit

If you can provide these temperatures to the pets, their lifestyle will remain the same as before.

Outdoor turtle pond setup guide infographic

For a printable version of this infographic, click here!

Outdoor Turtle Pond For Winter

As I have said before, your pet will surely hibernate in the outdoor pond. When you keep your turtle in an outdoor habitat during the cold, it will survive on the mercy of nature. Most experts discourage you from keeping your turtle outside in the winter. Why? It is because if the temperature touches the freezing point, the pet can die.

Well, if you have no choice but keeping the turtle in an outdoor habitat, make some arrangements first. Make the outdoor pond safe and suitable for hibernation.

Generally, the turtles start slowing down their metabolism once the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The pets hibernate when the temperature falls below the 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Here are some arrangements you can make to prepare the outdoor pond for winter:

  • First of all, make sure the pond is a minimum 18 inches deep. Why? It is because in some regions the temperature can drop below the freezing temperature. And the upper surface of the pond will freeze due to the severe cold, but the bottom layer of the water will stay unaffected. If the pond is deep, the turtle can hibernate at the bottom safely.
  • If the pond surface freezes, it can become low in oxygen content. As a result, the hibernating turtle will feel the shortage of oxygen. To solve the problem, install a bubbler or fountain in one corner of the pond. The bubbler will keep the corner warm and prevent it from freezing. So, there will be no shortage of oxygen anymore.
  • The turtles hibernate at the bottom of the pond. Put a thick layer of substrate and make little caves for them. Peat moss is the most used substrate for a turtle pond.
  • Cover the pond with chicken wire so that no predator can attack the hibernating turtle.

Turtle Care In Winter Infographic

For a printable version of this infographic, click here!


Winter is a challenging season for the turtles. But with care and proper habitation, the pet can survive the cold. In this article, I have discussed how to prepare a turtle pond for winter. I hope the information will help you provide excellent care to your pets.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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