Plants for Turtle Tanks You Need to Know This main picture

Adding live, water-based turtle plants are a great idea to spruce and liven up your turtle’s habitat. Here’s how to do it the right way. 

Java Fern ~$9

Java Fern is the best plant for turtle tanks. It is very durable, and is able to grow completely underwater, as well as on land.

First of all, let’s address a basic question.

Can live plants be added into a turtle tank?

The answer, quite simply, is yes.


  • you need to get the right turtle plant
  • you need to know the disadvantages and advantages to having live plants in your tank 

While plants aren’t necessarily the most essential turtle tank accessories, they help bring your tank to life and can help keep your water clean.

Let’s start with some very obvious advantages when it comes to adding plants for turtle tanks.


  • Beautifies your tank and makes it more fun and lively to look at 
  • Your turtles (if they had a choice), would probably prefer to be in a tank that replicates their own native habitat as best as possible 
  • Live plants help naturally remove waste from the water, especially ammonia and nitrite (which build up fast in aquariums with turtles)
  • Reduces algae growth

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there, because if you are thinking of adding live plants to a turtle tank, you need to do it the right way. If you add the wrong plant, or introduce it incorrectly,  you could end up either losing the plant or even worst, your turtle.

Summary of the best plants for a turtle tank

Aquarium Java Fern

    Price: ~$16

Check Price On Amazon
Anubias barteri

    Price: ~$19

Check Price On Amazon
Anacharis Bunch

    Price: ~$11

Check Price On Amazon

Let’s start with some basic requirements and conditions:

For instance, most turtles become more herbivorous as they age. Sliders for instance, typically have a diet consisting of about 75% vegetables and plants as they get older. For this reason it’s probably better that plants be added to the tank when the turtles are still young.

Moreover, you will need to be conscious of something else, namely, the ability of any plant you get to be able to grow and mature given the low-light conditions of most turtle tanks.

The reason for this is that most store-bought light bulbs are typically in the range of 1 watt/gallon, whereas live aquarium plants normally require at least double or triple that, from 2-3 watts/gallon. Thus, try to look for live plants that will thrive in low-light conditions. Here is a one of our favorite lights for turtle tank plants.

Best Plants for Turtle Tanks

The best plants for turtle tanks are Java Fern, Waterweed, and Anubias Barteri.

plants for turtle tank

Aquatic plants for turtles

Below are some of the best aquatic plants for turtles. These plants will be easy to grow and maintain, and will also give your tank more character. These plants are great for red-eared slider tanks.

Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

One of the best live plants to add to a turtle aquarium. It’s tough, hardy, cheap and is easily found in most pet supply shops. It can be grown both entirely submersed (underwater) or partially. Best of all, most turtle species will not eat it.

Java Fern is not a plant with naturally strong roots and attachments, so you will have to attach it yourself.

The way you do this is to take some floss and strap its roots to an object like driftwood or some stones in your aquarium, and over time it naturally attach itself. By itself however, it will just float around your tank. You can buy a Java Fern online here on Amazon.

Java Fern Live Aquatic Aquarium Plant

java fern for turtle tank

Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

Anubias species

Another good choice for your tank. These are leafy-plants that taste absolutely horrendous to most turtles, meaning they will leave them alone.

They are also incredibly easy to grow and maintain. All that’s needed is to tie them to a rock or piece of driftwood and let them sink to the bottom. If you can, cover the base with substrate to make sure it has a solid foundation.

These plants are very slow-growing, and sometimes will be covered by algae.

Turtles also sometimes knock their leaves off. Here are some options if you want to buy an Anubias Species plant online

Anubias Barteri “Nana” Live Aquatic Plant

Anubias Barteri "Nana" Live Aquatic Plant

Waterweed (Anacharis)

This extremely fast-growing plant cannot be in the same tank with slider and painted turtle species as they will consume them, and consume them fast!

However, if you have other types of turtles, such as a box species, they will probably love them! They look beautiful in tanks, and provides lots of area for a turtle to nestle in and relax.

Compared to the Java Fern and Anubias species of aqua plants, they also will need a bit more light to grow and mature.

The cool thing about this weed is its ability to attach and anchor itself to the bottom (or near anything it can attach itself to) of your tank. Here are some great Waterweed plants.

Anacharis Egeria Densa Freshwater Live Plant

Anacharis Bunch plant for turtle

This extremely fast-growing plant cannot be in the same tank with slider and painted turtle species as they will consume them, and consume them fast! Compared to the Java Fern and Anubias species of aqua plants, they also will need a bit more light to grow and mature. The cool thing about this weed is its ability to attach and anchor itself to the bottom (or near anything it can attach itself to) of your tank.

All three of these choices would make the best live plants for turtle tanks.

Whatever you choose, make sure that you have the following to ensure that your plant can grow and thrive in your habitat: 

Another thing to consider is whether or not you will add fish to your turtle tank. While fish can definitely make your turtle tank more exciting, they may also eat some of the live plants. If you want to put fish in your tank, you should check out my article on can turtles live with fish?

Turtle Safe Plants

It is essential that you have an understanding of turtle safe plants. Before you just throw any plant into your turtle tank, you will need to ask a few questions when it comes to plants for turtle tanks.

  • Will this plant be poisonous or toxic to my turtle?
  •  Will it even be able to grow due to the low-light level and/or my turtle possibly eating it?

painted turtle in grass

Before you just throw anything into your turtle tank, you will need to ask a few questions when it comes to plants for turtle tanks.

Aquarium plants for turtles

Most aquarium plants for turtles are not going to harm your turtle if or when they are consumed. Turtles often eat a wide variety of plant and foliage when they are in the wild, and they often are willing to try something that looks green and delicious at least once. 

That being said, there are certain things that grow in the wild that are just downright harmful for turtles, such as ivy, milkweed and water hemlock. Some plants contain harmful toxins, and if your turtle consumes even small amounts, it can have very damaging effects on your turtle’s health.

Here is a list of plants and vegetables that you should never, under any circumstances, feed or let your turtle eat: 

  • Onion, avocado and potato 
  • Boxwood and yew 
  • Hyacinth 
  • Rhododendrons 
  • Azaleas 
  • All plant bulbs and seeds (they cause intestinal damage and the turtles cannot process them) 

Always double-check to make sure that whatever plant you choose will not harm your turtle.

Additional note: All of the live plants listed in this article will be safe for your turtle to consume.

Let’s move to the second point.

Live plants for turtle tank?

The decision to add live plants to your tank also depends on the age of your turtle.

Sometimes, live plants can result in an algae bloom in your turtle tank. This can be dangerous because it depletes the oxygen levels in your turtle tank water. If you notice that your turtle tank is growing a lot of algae, you should look into getting a moss ball. It helps trap phosphate in your turtle tank and helps remove algae.

turtle tank moss ball

Do turtles eat plants?

Turtles are herbivores, and they do eat plants. In the wild, the majority of a turtle’s diet consists of plants. If you do put live plants in your turtle tank, there is a good chance that your turtle will eat some of them.

What plants do turtles eat?

Some common plants that turtles eat include Duckweed, Waterweed, Java Ferns, and moss. Obviously, you should never feed your turtle fake plants.

If you are worried about putting live plants in your turtle tank, you can always put in fake ones.

Best fake plants for turtle tank?

The best fake plants for a turtle tank are the CNZ Aquarium Aquascape and JIH Aquarium Plastic Plants. Both closely resemble a turtle’s natural habitat.

The advantage of fake plants is that they require less maintenance and last longer than real plants. They usually cost less than $12 and last for years.

If you have an enclosure instead of a tank, I recommend checking out plants for desert tortoise enclosure.

About the Author