Plants for turtle tanks are a great way to breathe life into your habitat. Live plants help eliminate waste such as nitrate and ammonia in your tank by absorbing them and helping keep your turtle healthy. We cover the best plants for turtles in our guide below.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- Which live plants can I add to my turtle tank?
- What are the best plants for my turtle?
- Which turtle plants are safe?
- What are the benefits of live plants?
- Are there any disadvantages?
What's In This Guide?
Which Types Of Plants Can I Add To My Turtle Tank?
There are a variety of live plants you can add to your turtle tank. First and foremost, you should choose types that won’t be harmful to your turtle when ingested. Always double check if the plant you plan to add is okay for your turtle to consume because turtles will eat anything green in your tank.
📚 Read More >> Best Tanks For Turtles
Live plants will need extra care but you have the option to go for low maintenance plants that don’t require too much light or CO2 so you won’t need to worry about them too much. There are also free-floating ones if you don’t want to be bothered by having to attach plants to a rock or substrate. If you opt for plants that attach to something, choose one with good, strong roots so it doesn’t easily get dislodged by your turtle and you don’t end up with too much clutter in your tank.
Why Should I Add Plants To My Turtle Tank?
Plants help clean up your aquarium by absorbing excess nutrients (waste by-products) like ammonia and nitrates which easily build up in turtle tanks. They can also reduce algae growth in the water as algae often build up and stick onto their leaves reducing the material for your filter to process. It also keeps your tank livelier and closer to your turtle’s natural habitat. Most turtles even like playing or hiding in and out of plants in their tank.
The Best Live Plants For Turtle Tanks
Java Moss With Stone Pad
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Java Fern Planted On Driftwood
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Anubias Lanceolata XXL
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Java moss (Vesicularia dubyana) is a low maintenance plant that grows well in most aquariums. It provides good filtration because of its dense root system that absorbs a lot of the waste products in your tank. Java moss also grows quite fast so even if your turtle eats it, you won’t have to worry about it too much.
Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus) is a great choice for turtles since aside from being a tough plant that will survive in the conditions of your turtle tank, most turtle species won’t eat it. Java fern can also grow without a substrate either submerged entirely or partially.
We love these pre-attached java ferns! Sometimes they ship larger than expected so if you have a smaller tank you may need to trip it down. Java ferns can be also be propagated, so if you receive a fern that is too large, just remove part of the plant and set it aside in water.
Other java ferns don’t come attached to an anchor, so you’ll have to do that manually. You can do this by attaching it to a large stone using a piece of nylon or floss. Over time, it’ll grow onto where it’s attached. Alternatively, you can also just leave it to float in your tank.
This Anubias is best for medium to large sized stanks. Anubias are slow-growing plant species that also need to be tied down to a rock or driftwood. It’s better if you’re able to secure it with a substrate to make the base sturdier.
Anubia leaves can sometimes be overgrown with algae. Despite this, they remain a good choice for turtle tanks since they have good foliage providing a lot of places for your turtle to explore or your fish to hide in. It will also look good in your tank. They also taste bad for turtles so they’ll likely be left alone.
#4: Anacharis Bunch (Waterweed)
Waterweed (Anacharis) is a good choice for other types of turtles like box species since sliders and painted turtles love to eat these. However, they do grow quite fast so you can probably place them in with your sliders provided that you keep them well-fed and that you introduce the plants at a young age. That way, even if they consume a little bit, the waterweed will grow back fast.
Expect that they will be consumed though! Anacharis plants are great low-light plants if your turtle tank contains dark areas. They can attach themselves to almost anything in your tank as well.
Greenpro’s dwarf hairgrass is a neat addition to your turtle tank because it’s like the grass you see on lawns, beautifying your tank really well. It also provides a good substrate layer that your turtle will not disturb as they don’t like the taste too much.
Greenpro produces their plants using tissue culture, which is just fancy jargon for lab-grown. This ensures that the plant you receive is free of disease, algae, and pests like snails.
It’s a relatively easy plant to grow that requires medium lighting and minimal tank space. Your turtle will love cruising through this carpet like substrate at the bottom of your tank.
Moneywort is a good option for turtle tanks since they can be treats for your turtle but grow quite fast so you won’t have to worry too much about your turtle finishing them off.
It requires a bit more sunlight and CO2 to thrive but is quite durable. It’s also a great way to spruce up your tank because of their bright green color. They do grow tall so they will take up more tank space.
Best Floating Plants for Turtle Tanks
Floating plants are a good choice if you’d like to minimize the substrate in your tank. These plants grow their roots onto the water making them more efficient in absorbing your tank’s waste. They also limit light by shading which in turns helps cut down on algae growth.
Frogbit is a popular choice for floating plants due to its nice rounded leaves and ability to grow quite fast (a new leaf every two days). They look like small water lilies so they liven up your tank quite well helping it look like a nice pond.
It’s quite durable and is a good low maintenance plant. These grow quickly and can overtake a tank if not maintained.
Hornwort is a good plant that can either grow on substrate or as a floating plant. It thrives with a lot of light but can still grow in low-light conditions. These don’t easily overgrow your tank as well like most mosses or water lettuce
It’s a good absorber of nitrates and ammonia because it can grow quite dense. It also provides good hiding places for small fish and shading for your tank if allowed to float.
Dwarf Water lettuce is a fast growing plant that grows best in medium light but tolerates low light. They grow quite big if you have poor tank water flow and can have really long roots that reach until the bottom of your tank.
Duckweed isn’t too popular since it really lives up to its name of being a weed and has become an invasive species in many areas. However, it does have the ability to absorb nutrients (ammonia, nitrate, nitrite waste products) in your water helping keep your tank clean, which is why it made our list.
Duckweed is also a good addition to your turtle’s diet and you won’t have to worry about them being eaten completely since they grow fast.
Benefits of Keeping Live Plants in Your Turtle Tank
✅ Live plants help clean up your tank
Live plants absorb nutrients like ammonia and nitrate which are waste byproducts in turtle tanks that easily build up. Plants actually need these nutrients to grow well. They can also reduce algae growth which helps out with the filtration
📚 Read More >> Best Filter For Turtle Tanks
✅ Live plants can increase oxygen in your tank
Live aquatic plants give off oxygen in the water as they produce their food via photosynthesis. Oxygen is needed by the pets in your tank and it helps keep the water quality good.
✅ Live plants make your tank look like your turtle’s natural habitat
Live plants help keep your tank looking as close as possible to your turtle’s natural habitat which it will appreciate. Most turtles love to swim in and about the plants in their tanks and take a munch off them. Adding live plants in your tank will definitely make your turtle happy.
✅ Live plants provide hiding space for your turtle’s tank mates
Live plants also provide some hiding space for fish or shrimp you may have in your tank with your turtle. If you don’t want your turtle trying to prey on small fish in your tank then a good technique is to add plants
Disadvantages Of Keeping Live Plants In Your Turtle Tank
⚠️ Turtles eat plants
Most turtles are herbivorous and become more so as they age, so it’s better to add plants when the turtle is still young. As hatchlings and juveniles, they’re not likely to consume plants as much since they’ll need to eat more protein to aid their growth. Sliders for instance, typically have a diet consisting of about 75% vegetables and plants as they get older. So you have to consider that you may end up replacing your live plant often if your turtle munches on it a lot.
⚠️ Turtles like to dig up substrate and some plants require substrate
Some plants require substrate to live. This means setting up your turtle’s tank to have about 2-3 inches of substrate for your plant to take root and then adding water. This leads to less swimming area for your turtle and a cluttered tank if it is not big enough.
Turtles also love to dig so they will most likely make a mess of the substrate in your tank, clouding up your water. This also means having to clean up more often and more work for your filter to power through and clean, so make sure you take that into consideration.
It’s better to opt for plants that float or can attach to the walls or rocks in your tank such as anacharis. Some plants also don’t need substrate at all such as the java fern or moss balls.
⚠️ Some plants are toxic to turtles
There are certain types of plants that are toxic to turtles if ingested so you have to check if the plant you are planning to add is safe for your turtle to consume.
⚠️ Live plants need to be taken care of
While most plants are low maintenance, some may have special lighting and CO2 requirements aside from the ones already installed in your turtle tank (which are often low light). Some also require substrate such as soil or small rocks for it to take root. Other plants will need to be manually attached to driftwood or some large rocks in your tank so they can start to grow on it. You will also have to periodically take out dead plant matter such as leaves in your tank so that it doesn’t bring your water quality down when it decomposes.
Which Types Of Plants Should I Avoid?
Most plants should be okay but there are some that you should completely avoid as they can be toxic to your turtle when consumed. These are ivy, milkweed, and water hemlock. Turtles naturally consume a variety of plants and foliage in the wild so they will most likely chomp on anything green you put in their tank. So you should always make sure all plants in your tank are safe for your turtle to consume.
Aside from those, you should also avoid feeding the following plants and vegetables: onions, potatoes, avocados, boxwood, yew, hyacinth, rhododendrons, azaleas, and any plant bulbs and seeds. Seeds and other fibrous matter may be too hard to digest for turtles and cause gut impaction.
Are There Any Plants That Are Poisonous?
Yes, some plants are poisonous to turtles so you should stay away from these. Don’t place ivy, milkweed, and water hemlock since these are toxic to turtles.
What To Consider Before Adding Plants
Before adding plants to your tank, the first thing you have to check is if they are poisonous to your turtle when ingested. Turtles will almost always eat anything green in your tank so you should make sure they aren’t toxic.
Another thing to consider is if the plant can survive the conditions in your tank, specifically the low light levels. Turtle tanks are usually equipped with low wattage bulbs that may not give off enough light for plants to thrive. Plants need lots of light to be able to produce their food and thrive. Choose plants that do well in low light conditions such as hornwort or java moss.
Next is tank space. Some plants may require a substrate which will take up space in your tank, reducing the swimming area for your turtle.
How To Add Plants To A Turtle Aquarium
Are artificial plants safe to use with turtles?
Yes, artificial plants are safe to use in turtle tanks. Just make sure they are the single mold or hard plastic type. Stay away from those with removable or sharp parts that can be ingested by turtles and go for the sturdy looking ones. Artificial plants that resemble silk or cloth should also be avoided as these will probably take on a lot of damage from turtles and cause accidental ingestion. Turtles will still try to eat this but they will lose interest soon after.
If you do not want to take care of a live plant in your turtle tank, these are a good alternative to spruce up your tank. They will also provide an interesting place to explore for your turtle. Its tank mates such as shrimp and fish can also hide in these plants. However, they won’t help improve water quality. They might help keep your tank clean by getting algae to grow in them instead of floating in the water. This way, you can clean the algae off regularly from the artificial plant and help reduce the load from your filter.
Is bamboo safe to add to my turtle tank?
Bamboo (lucky bamboo, Dracaena sanderiana) which is commonly sold in stores, is not safe to add in your turtle tank as it can be harmful when ingested. These aren’t actually true bamboo as true bamboo is from the grass family of plants. Lucky bamboo is actually a type of flowering lily.
Which plants do red-eared sliders eat?
Red eared sliders eat a variety of submerged aquarium plants such as: hornwort, azolla (fairy moss), anacharis or waterweed, water hyacinth, duckweed, frogbit, and water lettuce. They also eat java fern, hornwort, and amazon sword.
Can you put moss balls in a turtle tank?
Yes. Moss balls are actually a type of algae and these can be put in your tank to help it absorb some excess nitrates. Turtles may nibble off them. However, be careful when purchasing these as there have been a number of knockoffs which aren’t real algae (e.g. felt material, fake plant) but are made of a material that may be detrimental to your turtle when eaten.
What kinds of plants do turtles like?
Turtles will most likely try to eat anything green in your tank but these plants are their particular favorites: azolla (fairy moss), anacharis or waterweed, water hyacinth, duckweed, frog-bit, and water lettuce. They also eat java fern, hornwort, and amazon sword.
Can turtles eat succulents?
Yes and no. It’s best to avoid anything from the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae since their sap is toxic. You obviously want to avoid any cacti as well since they can ingest their spines. In general, it’s best to avoid succulents as turtles, especially RES will munch on almost anything green in their tank and aside from the danger of overfeeding them, these other ornamental plants may be toxic. Also, the substrate required to grow succulents could cause gut impaction for turtles when ingested (usually tiny rocks).
Are spider plants toxic to turtles?
No, spider plants are not toxic to turtles but its sap may be a skin irritant.
Can turtles eat aloe vera?
Toxicity of aloe vera in aquatic turtles has not been determined. However, it’s best to avoid these for aquatic turtles since they will not usually encounter them in their natural habitat. Tortoises can eat aloe vera. Tortoises in the wild probably have aloe vera in their diet as these grow in their habitat.
Adding live plants for your turtle tank have a lot of benefits such as extra filtration and helps make the tank look natural. Sometimes, your turtle will also enjoy them as a snack. You have a variety of choices depending on how much care you want to give your live plant, your tank set-up, and whether or not you want your turtle eating your plant. Whichever one you choose, your turtle and its tank mates (if any) will appreciate it. Just remember to stay away from toxic plants.
Comprehensive information on Red Eared Sliders:
Edible plant list for reptiles:
Edible Plants List
Great subreddit for red-eared sliders aquatic plants:
Red-Eared Sliders – Owners and enthusiasts!
Everything you need to know about the planted aquarium!