14 Easy Steps to Make an Outdoor Turtle Enclosure Even If You Know Nothing

outdoor turtle enclosure

Many people want to keep their pet aquatic turtles in an outdoor enclosure. If you are one of them, then this article will help you a lot. In this article, I am going to explain everything you need to know about setting up an outdoor turtle enclosure. Let’s get started!

An outdoor turtle enclosure can be a great way to keep your pet turtles. They replicate the natural environment much more than a glass aquarium or turtle tub. However, setting up an outdoor turtle enclosure can be very confusing and expensive. However, with the right knowledge and steps, you can successfully make your outdoor turtle enclosure spending the least amount of money.

Before we jump into the steps for creating an outdoor turtle enclosure, we need to know when you can actually make a turtle enclosure in the outdoor. There are specific things you need to consider before making one. Let’s learn about these considerations first.

Factors to Consider Before Making an Outdoor Turtle Enclosure:

Think about the climate first:

The first and foremost thing you need to think about before setting an outdoor turtle enclosure is the climate. Climate is the most crucial fact to consider. If you live in a place where there is a large temperature swing in the winter, then it is not recommended to go for an outdoor turtle setup.

Outdoor turtle enclosures are only good for those places where the climate is considerably warm throughout the year. Turtles go to hibernate if the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It is not a great idea to allow your turtle hibernate in an outside pond. Many things can go wrong as an outside pond is not completely a natural area for turtles.

You still can keep your turtle in an outside enclosure only when the temperature is favorable. During the cold months, you need to provide them an indoor setup where the temperature remains constant. Otherwise, your turtles may face numerous health problems.

Always check on what temperature your turtle species prefer. Every aquatic turtle species prefers their own temperature range. It also differs according to the age of the turtle. So, research well and find out what temperature range should you provide for your turtles.

Put emphasis on safety and security:

Safety and security is the next most important thing to figure out when setting up an outdoor turtle enclosure. When your turtles are in an outside enclosure, there are various types of things that can attack the turtle. you should take proper steps to ensure complete safety of your turtles against all types of outdoor harms.

  • The first thing you need to do is a build a fence around your enclosure. Many people want to go for meshed fences. I don’t like them as small turtles can pass through them. I prefer using a solid fence made from high-quality timbers. You’ll have to dig a boundary around the enclosure that is deep enough for setting up the solid fences. The height should be at least 2-3 times the height of the turtle. make sure the fence is constructed well and there is no way for escape.
  • Another thing I like to do is put a cover on the enclosure. You can use a meshed screen for this. It will protect your turtle from various types of predators such as raccoons, large birds, cats etc. it is very important especially if you have hatchling or baby turtles.

What Should Be the Depth of the Pond?

The depth of the pond depends on what species of turtle you have. The first thing you need to ensure is the pond should have a large surface area which allows more oxygenation.

Strong swimmers like red-eared sliders, musk turtles etc. prefer a deeper pond. On the other hand, some poor swimmer aquatic turtles like shallow depth in their pond. So, you should plan to make your pond depending on the species of turtle you want to have.

I always like to provide various levels of depth in my pond. I try to make slopes in my turtle pond. Make sure that your turtle can sit on the pond and stick its heat out of the water.

What Things Do You Need for an Outdoor Turtle Enclosure?

  • Basking Area: Basking area is a must for any type of turtle enclosure. Fortunately, it is very easy to set up a basking area in an outdoor turtle enclosure. You can gather items from nature and use them as a basking place. Some popular natural basking places can be large rocks, bricks, logs, planks, etc. Make sure that your turtle can easily get onto the basking place. it is better if one portion of the basking area sticks inside the pond, it makes getting onto the basking place easier for your turtle. Also make sure that the basking place gets full sunlight. It is extremely important for the healthy growth of your turtles.
  • Land Area: Most turtles, even aquatic turtles like to stroll on a land area during some time of the day. So, your outdoor enclosure should have some land area beside the pond. The land area must be inside the fence.
  • Hiding area: The enclosure should have some hiding area in it. Large leafy plants work great as a hiding place. They enhance the natural environment too. Also, large plants provide shade to the enclosure, which is very important for an outdoor turtle enclosure.
  • Plants: you should not keep prized plants in a turtle pond as turtles are very aggressive towards plants and they may destroy them in an instant. However, you should keep some low profile cheap plants in the pond as it creates a natural environment for the turtle. some good plants for this purpose are water hyacinth, Cabomba, mossy plants, water lettuce, anarchis, dwarf papyrus, dwarf cattails, dwarf rushes etc.
  • Oxygenation: oxygenation is an important thing to ensure in your turtle pond. The more oxygenation there is, the better it is for your turtles. Increasing the oxygenation means increasing the amount of oxygen in the pond water. The more oxygenation you can have, the better. To ensure sufficient oxygenation, the first thing you need to ensure is the turtle pond has a large surface area. The larger surface area is, the more oxygenation there will be. Some other ways to increase oxygenation is using a waterfall, air stone, external filters, fountains etc.
  • Fish: adding some fishes can be a great way to make your turtle pond more exciting. Guppies, mollies, platies, goldfishes etc. can be a great addition to your turtle pond. You can also put ornamental fishes like Koi in your turtle pond. However, I don’t recommend keeping ornamental fishes because your turtle may bite them or nip their fins. Turtles generally have a strong hunting instinct. So, if you want to put fish in your turtle pond, don’t bother getting a very expensive or prized fish. Also keep in mind that, with fishes, it can be harder to control the water quality of the pond.

Steps to Make an Outdoor Turtle Enclosure:

Now that we know what we need to create an outdoor turtle enclosure, it is time to dive into the meaty stuff. Here are all the steps you need to follow for creating a successful outdoor turtle enclosure spending the least amount of money:

1. Think About the Climate:

As I have said earlier, the first thing you need to do is think about the climate. It is better to go for outdoor enclosures only of the weather is warm throughout the whole year. I always recommend getting turtles that are native to your area. It will increase the success rate of your outdoor turtle enclosure.

2. Figure Out the Size:

Figuring out the size of the enclosure is the next most important thing to do. Usually, the larger the size of the enclosure is, the better. However, it takes much more effort to maintain a large size turtle enclosure. So, find a balanced area which is large enough for you to maintain. Your turtle enclosure should be proportionate to the size of your yard.

Many people often do the mistake of thinking turtles grow up to the size of their enclosure. It is a completely wrong idea. The growth of turtles is completely independent and doesn’t depend on the size of their habitat.

For multiple turtles, the enclosure needs to be larger than for a single turtle. suppose, you are making an outdoor turtle enclosure for box turtles. For multiple box turtles, an enclosure of 5 ft. x 5 ft. will do fine.

3. Selecting a Partially Shaded Area:

We know that direct sunlight is extremely important for the healthy growth of a turtle. turtles receive vitamin D3 from the UVB ray of sunlight. It helps them to digest foods and keep various bodily functions moving.

However, the enclosure also needs to have a shaded area where the turtle can go if she feels too hot. You can build the enclosure beside your house, so, it gets shade. Another way to get some shade is choosing an area with a medium to large size tree.

  • When you choose an area primarily, before doing anything else, observe the area for a whole day. Look how much light and how much shade the area gets from dawn to dusk. If the area doesn’t get enough shade, then you may need to build some shelters for providing shade.
4. Gathering All the Materials:
outdoor turtle enclosure timber fence

Now that you have chosen an area, it is time to gather all the materials for building the enclosure. In this article, I’ll talk about the materials to build an 8 ft. by 8 ft. enclosure. It is a pretty standard size outdoor turtle enclosure and can house 3 to 4 medium-sized turtles easily. However, you can increase or decrease the size proportionately.

I am going to build a fence around the enclosure, which is extremely important. The fence will be made of timber. Do not choose timber which has been coated with arsenic or CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate). Timber treated with ACQ (Ammoniacal Copper Quat) is more preferable. You can learn what chemicals have been used to coat the timber from the tag attached to each timber. You can also ask the salesman.

For creating the fence around the enclosure, you’ll need the following items:

  • Timbers (8ft. long)
  • long 2-by-4
  • Stakes (3ft. long)
  • long 2-by-2
  • Box of nails
  • Hammer
  • Shovel
  • Tape for measuring
  • Wire mesh (8ft. x 8ft.)
5. Clean the Chosen Area:

Before doing anything else, clean out the chosen area and remove any type of debris, rocks, etc. from it. You can use the stakes and the measuring tape to mark the area well. It should be a square shaped area.

6. Digging the Parameter:

Now it’s time to dig the parameter and make a trench around it. The trench should be at least a foot deep inside the ground. Otherwise, the fence walls won’t stick well enough and may break down easily. Moreover, most turtles are skilled diggers and an artist of escape. So, if the depth is not enough, your turtle will be able to escape through digging a hole.

7. Starting with the Base:

Now that your trench is ready, it is time to construct the base. Start by placing the 8ft. long landscape timbers in each side of the trench, it should resemble a square shape. Now, take the 2ft. long 2-by-2s and place them in each corner. Use these to attach the corners of the base. Use hammers and nail to secure each of the four corners tightly. Creating a well-constructed base is very important as the rest of the fence is built upon it.

8. Building the walls:

Now that the base and corners are ready, it is time to build the walls of the fence. There are four 2ft. long stakes at each of the corner, right. Now, we’ll use these stales to build the walls around them. Take the 8ft. long 2-by-4s and place them on both sides of the 2ft. long stakes. Nail the sides together with the stakes. Make sure the walls are secured well and tight.

  • The height of the wall depends on your preference. However, the height should be at least twice the length of your turtle. So, if you have a turtle that is 10 inches long, then the wall should be at least 20 inches high. It ensures the enclosure is escape proof and your turtle can’t crawl over the wall.
  • Turtles are not that smart animals. They don’t get the concept of walls and barriers. If they can see through the fence (glass fence or meshed wire fence), then they’ll try their best to go through it. By choosing a solid wooden fence you don’t have to go through this problem.
9. Cover the Enclosure:

Now that the fence is ready, it is time to protect the enclosure from outside predators. We don’t want to cover with anything that is solid, as sunlight is extremely important for a turtle enclosure. A meshed cover will work perfectly for an outside turtle enclosure. It will ensure your turtles are safe from all kinds of predators and at the same time let sunlight pass through it. If you want, you can make the cover removable and foldable. However, it will take some more time and money.

10. Make a Rough Plan about the Habitat:

Now it’s time to plant the habitat of your turtle. when planning the turtle habitat, the goal should be to mimic the natural environment as much as possible while keeping predators out of the enclosure. Most aquatic and semi-aquatic turtle species need both land area and water area in their enclosure.

You should design the plan of the turtle habitat depending on what species of turtle you want to keep. Research their natural environment and try to replicate that environment as much as you can in the outdoor enclosure. I always recommend getting a native turtle species for an outdoor enclosure. Depending on the species of your turtle, the proportion of land to water area in the enclosure will vary.

11. Put some plants:
hibiscus plant for outdoor turtle enclosure

I think plants are a must for every outdoor turtle enclosure. It is what makes the enclosure more natural and realistic. Without plants, you can never replicate the natural environment of your turtle. plants also work great as a hiding place. They provide shade to the enclosure too!

You can put any plants you like in the enclosure. However, keep in mind that most turtles like to eat and munch on leaves. So, get a plant that is not expensive and toxic for turtles. The ground can be covered with green grass or mulch, whatever you prefer!

  • Some great plants for a turtle enclosure are roses, geraniums, hibiscus, dandelions, pansies and mulberry trees.
  • Never use pesticides inside your turtle enclosure.
12. Adding some Logs and Rocks:

Rocks and logs are a great addition to any turtle enclosure, whether it is indoor or outdoor. As we know turtles are cold-blooded animals, they need to bask in the sunlight to keep their bodily functions performing well. Rocks and logs work great as a natural basking place for turtles. Just get some large rocks, logs and place them around the enclosure. Your turtle will automatically get onto then and bask in the sunlight.

You should place the rocks and logs in such a way that your turtle can actually get onto them. Such as, place a large log across the pond with one end sticking inside the water. It will help the turtle to get onto the log and bask.

13. Provide some interactive items:

These are not a must, but you should give some items in the enclosure that are interactive and your turtle can pass time with them. It will improve the life quality of your turtles in so many ways. After every couple of weeks, change the position of the items so that your turtle doesn’t get bored with them.

  • A nice soft rubber ball can be a great interactive toy for your turtle.
  • Treat dispensing toys also work great for turtles.
  • Some hideaways are interactive and fun for the turtles.
14. It’s Time to Think about the Pond:

As I have said earlier, every turtle enclosure needs to have a land area and a water area. Till now we have talked about how to create the land area. Not it’s time to put our focus on the water area.

Like I said before, the size of the water area depends on what species of turtle do you want to have. If it is an aquatic turtle, then the water area needs to be larger than the land area. On the other hand, for land turtles such as box turtles, only a small water area will do fine. So, research well and find out what your turtle species prefer.

The depth of the pond should be at least 2.5 times the adult length of your turtle and the length of the pond should be at least 5 times. Make sure that your turtle has enough space to swim, move around and drink in the pond. For more than one turtles, the pond needs to be bigger. You’ll not need such a deep pond for land turtles, such as box turtles. Make sure that the turtle can dive into the pond and come out of it easily.

  • The pond shouldn’t have direct sunlight access throughout all the day. It will heat up the temperature of the pond and cause unwanted algae to grow. Choose such a place that the pond receives both shade and sunlight throughout the day. It is better to make the pond alongside a shelter or your house.
  • The shape of the pond really doesn’t matter once you have chosen the place. Go for any shape you like. Personally, I like irregular shapes as they are more natural looking and appealing to the eyes. The depth of the pond will depend on your turtle species. Strong swimmers like red-eared sliders, musk turtles, mud turtles etc. like to have deeper ponds where they can swim freely. on the other hand, poor swimmers like box turtles prefer shallow ponds. So, find out what your turtle prefers and dig the pond on that way.
  • I don’t recommend to allow your aquatic turtles hibernate on the outside. However, if you want them to hibernate in the outside, the pond must have at least one foot of water below the ice layer. Check on with your local weather report to know how thick ice layers generally get in your area.
  • For a good, long lasting pond, you’ll need a high-quality pool liner. Pool liners are available in online, large retailer store or in outdoor gear stores. The liners help to prevent the water leaking into the ground and making a muddy mess. It also helps to keep the pond water clear. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install the liner. If you want, you can go for a concrete pool. However, I don’t like them as they are expensive and requires more materials.
  • Now it’s time to fill the pond with clear water. You can use a hose to fill the pond with water. Make sure that the water has the same temperature as the natural habitat of your turtle. you need to do partial or complete water change regularly to keep the pond healthy and clean.
  • Place some logs in and around the pond. It creates a more natural appealing look to the pond. These logs are also great for basking in the sunlight. Logs also make the enclosure look decorative.

Hibernation of Turtles in an Outside Enclosure:

Most species of aquatic turtles go into hibernation if the temperature falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why most turtles in North America hibernate during the winter months. Hibernating a turtle in an outdoor enclosure can be pretty risky. I don’t recommend hibernating your turtles in an outdoor enclosure as it is almost impossible to replicate the natural environment in the backyard pond.

However, for any reason, if you want to hibernate your turtles in an outdoor enclosure, make sure that your turtles are fully healthy and active. You should only attempt to hibernate your turtles in outside if the species is native to your area. Here are some of the important things to consider if you want to hibernate your turtles in an outdoor enclosure:

  • For hibernate purpose, turtles need a deep pond with a large area for more oxygenation. The turtle needs at least one ft. water below the icy layer. The larger the surface area is, the better as it creates more oxygenation which is important for the turtle. during hibernation, turtles settle in the bottom of the pond and start to absorb oxygen through their skins. So, they need higher oxygen dissolved in the water.
  • As I have told earlier, oxygenation is very important for hibernating turtles. The large surface area allows more oxygenation. Some other methods to increase oxygenation are adding a filter, waterfall, fountain etc. to the pond.
  • If the temperature gets too cold in your area during the winter, you can use a submersible pond heater. It will help to prevent the pond from freezing over completely. You can also use a de-icer to prevent the pond from completely freezing over. If you are using a heater, try to maintain the temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit range. It is the best temperature range for hibernating.
  • As I have mentioned earlier, during hibernation, turtles settle in the bottom of the pond. They like to burrow into the soil. So, if you plan to hibernate your turtle in the outside enclosure, you should put something in the pond to let the turtle dig. A layer of leaves can work great. I have seen some people even using a bag of sand or soil mixture for digging.
  • Always remember that only the strong and active turtles should be allowed to hibernate on the outside. Make sure that the turtle is at least six months old. When the temperature starts to go down, the turtle will eat less and less, which is completely normal. When the weather goes below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, stop feeding the turtle. You do not need to feed the turtle during the hibernation period.

So this is my detailed guide to setting up an outdoor turtle enclosure. If you have any more question, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comment box below. I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Good luck with your next outdoor turtle enclosure.

My Top 3 Turtle Products To Make Your Life Easier (And Your Turtles Happier)

1. Fluval FX6 Canister Filter

Turtles are quite messy creatures. And you need a powerful weapon to cope up with the mess. Fluval FX6 is a giant beast equipped with multi-stage filtration system. Fluval FX6 is my #1 recommendation to keep your turtle tank cleaner & healthier.

2. Penn Plax Turtle Topper

If you are keeping a turtle, you’ll need a basking place. The good thing about Penn Plax Turtle Topper is, it won’t use any space inside the tank, so your turtle can enjoy the full swimming space. The design and functionality make this basking dock my top recommendation!

3. Zoo Med UVB & Heat Lighting Kit

This one kit will solve all your lighting needs for the turtle. You’ll get everything you’ll need including Polished aluminum dome, dual ceramic sockets and two lights: ReptiSun UVB Light (for UVB) & Repti Tuff Halogen Lamp (for Heat). Zoo Med UVB & Heat Lighting Kit will slash half of your burden!  

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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