Adding a plant to your aquarium can really spruce it up. This article will outline what you need to know about the best plants for turtle tanks.
First of all, let’s address a basic question.
Can live plants be added into a turtle tank? Or, are you stuck with those cheap, plastic fake plants that look roughly similar to the real thing, from about 25 feet away…
The answer, quite simply, is yes.
- You need to get the best turtle plant for your aquarium.
- You need to know the disadvantages and advantages of having live plants in your tank.
Let’s start with some very obvious advantages when it comes to adding plants for turtle tanks.
- It beautifies your tank and makes it funner and livelier 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. Both ammonia and nitrite build up fast in aquariums with turtles.
- Plants help to keep your turtle tank clean by reducing 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, you could end up either losing the plant or even worst, your turtle.
Let’s start with some basic requirements and conditions.
Plant Requirements & Conditions
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.
- 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?
- Is my tank big enough to house a plant?
Let’s start with the first question.
Most plants are not going to harm your turtle if or when they are consumed. Turtles often eat a wide variety of plants 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. Part, or the entirety of these plants contain harmful toxins that can cause a lot of damage to your turtle if eaten.
Avoid These Plants for Turtle Tanks!
Here is a list of plants and vegetables that you should never, under any circumstances, feed or put into your aquarium:
- Onion, avocado and potato
- Boxwood and yew
- 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.
Depending on the plant and the age of your turtle, adding any live plants to your tank may be a lost cause.
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.
Plants Need Light to Thrive
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.
So, now that you know the best time to add a live plant to your tank, as well as the fact that it should be able to grow in low-light, let’s move on to our recommendations.
Certain Plants Will Need Substrate
If you are thinking of using a root-dependent species of plant, you’ll need substrate. And often times a lot more than just an inch or two.
The more substrate your tank contains, the less water you’ll have. The less water, the less space for your turtle.
And that’s not even the worst of it.
There’s still that little four-legged green problem in your tank. You know, the one that just LOVES to dig up your fresh substrate all over the tank, creating a slurry mess of muddy water.
For this reason, I would suggest either plants that float or that can attach themselves anywhere (such as anacharis), or plants that don’t need substrate, such as java fern.
The Best Plants for Turtle Tanks
There are 3 water plants that I have had a good experience with, and would have no qualms about recommending, those being:
- Java Fern Planted on Driftwood (click here for current price on Amazon) – Most turtles won’t eat these, they are quite hardy and don’t need aquarium substrate.
- Anubias barteri (click here for current price on Amazon) – Like Java Fern, these plants are hardy and taste bad for turtles, but they grow a lot slower.
- Imported Anacharis Bunch (click here for current price on Amazon) – Waterweed grows extremely fast, will naturally attach to your tank, but sometimes your turtles will try to eat them.
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, however won’t need a soil-based substrate. Medium to largish pieces of gravel will do.
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.
Any 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.
This is one of the best water plants for turtle tanks as it’s easy to use as a beginner because of its ability to grow in both cold and tropical water.
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.
The Best Floating Plants for a Turtle Tank
If you have a bare-bottom aquarium or just want to forego all substrate, you still have some great options via floating plants. I would suggest looking at these:
- Hornwort (click here for current price on Amazon) – Hornwort grows even faster than anacharis, is very low-light tolerant and most aquarium-based species of turtle, such as sliders, seem to not want anything to do with it.
- Water lettuce (click here for current price on Amazon) – I find that often people either love or hate water lettuce. It tends to grow fast, which is good because turtles love to munch on them and is great at removing waste from water.
Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
This is one of my favorite floating plants for a turtle tank. It can grow in relatively low-light conditions but really prospers under some good sunshine or a strong UV-light.
I have found that a lot of other floating plants can often completely overwhelm your aquarium. Mosses can grow into a mat that covers the water’s surface and even plants like water lettuce can grow a little too much.
It’s also a really great plant at removing nitrites and waste. Definitely one of my favorites.
This tends to grow rapidly and sucks up quite a bit of water as it grows. It also can sometimes overwhelm your tank, however it’s fairly easy to grow and in larger tanks, looks pretty cool.
It’s also a great plant to just stick inside your aquarium to use as an always-present food source. If you have any sliders or painteds, they will definitely munch on these.
All of the above are considered safe plants for a turtle tank, and will not in any way harm your turtle.
Whatever you choose, make sure that you have the following to ensure that your plant can grow and thrive in your habitat:
- A powerful water filter
- A strong UV-A and UV-B bulb that will give off enough rays for good plant growth and health
Hopefully, this article answered any questions or thoughts you may have had. Please let us know in the comment section below!