Has that cute little turtle in your aquarium grown far bigger than you ever expected? If so, maybe you are ready to build an outdoor pond. Building a pond can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. It all depends on the size of your yard, the amount of money you want to spend and the energy you want to expend. There are a few factors you need to keep in mind when planning your pond.

  • You will need to secure the pond area with a low fence or wall so that the turtles can't get out and get lost.
  • The pond area must also be secure from entry by tortoises that might drown if they get in. Depending on the size of your turtles you may need a covering of some kind to protect them from predators such as cats, crows or opossums. Where raccoons are known to prowl, the whole pond area must be caged.
  • You will need to provide a basking area, a place that turtles can climb onto to get out of the water. If you expect them to nest, they will need also need a dirt area in which to dig their nests.
  • You will need some way to keep the water clean.
  • You will, of course, need something to hold the water.

Small turtle pond

Small pond made from a sunken cement mixing tub.
Photograph by Michael J. Connor

The simplest outdoor pond (and the most common first pond for many turtle keepers) is a child's rigid plastic wading pool. You can set it on a flat surface (patio, lawn or ground), put in some rocks, bricks or a cinder block that extends above the water line for basking, add water and you're all set. For added security, a chicken wire covering will keep the turtles in and the neighborhood cats out. To keep it clean you can simply drain the pond and replace the water as needed, depending on the size and number of turtles.

Other above ground ponds that hobbyists use include specially constructed cement ponds, horse troughs, cement-mixing tubs, barrels, and even old bathtubs. With an outlet pipe placed through the bottom of the container and fitted with a spigot or valve these ponds can be drained easily. Of course, the above ground location means that the turtles are restricted to the inside of the container. However, such an arrangement may be ideal for turtle keepers who have limited space or who need to confine turtles such as hatchlings that could be at risk in more exposed locations.

When you are ready to get out your shovel and dig an "in-the-ground pond" you have three options. You can use a pre-formed container, a plastic pond liner, or you can mix and lay concrete.

To use a pre-formed container, you choose the container and dig a hole to accommodate its shape. Anything that holds water can become a pond. The child's plastic wading pool that you've been using as a pond above ground, might be your first choice. A plastic dish pan or a cat litter box will make a nice small pond. A plastic under-bed storage box will make a bigger pond. Cement-mixing boxes cast from tough plastic are available in several sizes and can be bought from your local do-it-yourself store. Fiberglass sheep or horse troughs make a fair-sized deep pond and are available at feed stores for under $100. California Art Products1 makes a variety of beautiful fiberglass fish ponds, with and without waterfalls and built-in plumbing, priced from $100 to $1,500. They make custom orders to your specifications, or you can choose from their stock items.

Peggy Nichols, the turtle lady of Long Beach, has ponds made of the fiberglass picnic umbrellas that McDonald's used to use for their outdoor tables. Her husband picked them up at a swap meet; she turned them upside down and dug them in.