We talked recently about adding indoor plants to your herp’s terrarium. That’s one way to combine gardening and pet enrichment. Another is aquascaping. Aquascaping is basically just indoor gardening done underwater.
You absolutely can add live plants to your turtle’s tank. The issue is that turtles are not going to be delicate with those plants, so you need to pick species that are hardy. Read this guide to learn how to provide live plants for your turtles.
Keeping plants in your turtle tank helps to filter the water and oxygenate it. Both of these things reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and algae. Keeping the water clean and free of unintentional growth fosters a healthier environment for your turtle, which spends most of its time in the water. Having live plants in the aquarium will also provide hiding spots for your turtles, which is necessary regardless of whether you provide live or artificial décor.
What plants to use
A huge number of plants are safe for turtles, even when they eat them. You should still check each plant that you intend to add to make sure it’s not toxic. Many aquatic plants are non-toxic to turtles, which is why their habitat can be a wonderful place for your aquascape garden.
Turtles tend to eat more meat when they are young and growing and more vegetation as they get older. You can use this to your advantage by starting your underwater garden while the turtles are still young and less likely to tear up the plants. By the time the turtles are fully mature, the plants will be well-established.
The easiest plants to care for are those with the fewest requirements. Some aquatic plants can survive floating at the water’s surface. Hornwort is one of those. All it needs to grow is a good source of light. Turtles also don’t tend to eat much of the hornwort.
Java fern is a plant that is easy to find and inexpensive. It usually attaches itself to other objects as it grows. A good way to establish java fern in your tank is to tie it to a piece of wood or rock. It does need to be planted in substrate, but its roots are weak, so it often ends up being uprooted if not attached to another object. (In fact, turtles sometimes pull up plants intentionally.)
This moss grows quickly and has undemanding light requirements. It will attach itself to various objects in your tank, meaning you don’t have to do a lot of work to get it established. It should grow back quickly even if your turtles eat it.
Glosso grows as a carpet across the bottom of the tank when planted right. But beware that some turtles will eat it up quickly. You may have to experiment to see which plants your turtles will leave alone long enough to grow.
Remember that plant filtration is not a substitute for a proper aquarium filtration system. It is a backup that provides extra water filtering. The aquarium is a closed, indoor system, so it doesn’t naturally filter itself the way that a wild turtle habitat would. Check out The Tye-Dyed Iguana for aquarium plants and supplies.