Setting up your tortoise enclosure is a big task! There’s a lot to keep in mind–temperatures, humidity, substrate, accessories… And of course, plants. But do they need to be real ones, or can you get away with using fake plants for your tortoise’s habitat?
So can I put fake plants in my tortoise enclosure? Tortoise experts recommend both real and fake plants. The main difference between the two is the amount of care and maintenance required to keep real plants alive and healthy.
Read on to find out exactly why it’s so important to have plants in your tortoise enclosure, regardless of whether they’re real or fake. We’ll also go over the pros and cons of real and artificial plants. Plus, be sure to check out our guide to all of the other tortoise enclosure accessories you’ll want to include in your pet’s habitat!
Why Are Plants Important to a Tortoise Enclosure?
When you create an enclosure for your tortoise, you’re essentially trying to mimic its natural environment. Although life in captivity will never be exactly the same as your tortoise’s life would be in the wild, it’s important to get as close as possible.
One way tortoise owners do this is by providing a temperature gradient and appropriate levels of humidity. Another is to add accessories such as hides and plants.
Plants, whether real or artificial, add another layer to your pet’s enclosure. They give off a very natural look and feel, and help to make your pet feel more comfortable and secure in its environment.
Accessories in general are great for stimulating your tortoise’s curiosity and brain. They encourage your pet to explore its environment and see what it has to offer.
Another huge benefit to adding plants to your tortoise enclosure is that they provide shade. While you probably know how important heat and UV rays are for your pet, shade is just as essential.
In order to regulate its body temperature, your cold-blooded tortoise needs to alternate between the warm basking area and cooler spots in the enclosure. This allows it to properly maintain its temperature, and in turn, its bodily functions.
What Are the Pros and Cons to Real and Fake Plants?
Both real and fake plants are good options for your tortoise enclosure. Below, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each type of plant so that you can easily make the best choice for you and your pet.
Fake Plants: The Upside
- They’ll never die! This is one of the more obvious plus sides to using fake plants. If you don’t have a green thumb, fake plants are probably the best way to go.
- They require little to no maintenance. You’ll need to clean the leaves whenever you clean out the tank and the rest of the accessories, but plastic artificial plants are very easy to wipe down and sanitize.
- They look great! Fake plants add some color and a natural feel to your tortoise enclosure.
Fake Plants: The Downside
- There is a risk that your tortoise will attempt to eat the fake plants, which means that there’s a small risk of impaction. Generally, plastic plants do better than fabric or silk ones. Many tortoise owners report that their pets only take a few bites of a fake plant at most before they realize it’s not food, while others have shared that their pets will try to eat anything that’s placed in their cage.
- Tortoise owners report that their pets often knock over fake plants. To prevent this, bury the base of the plant under the substrate to keep it in place.
Real Plants: The Upside
- There’s no harm in your tortoise eating them, as long as you’ve chosen plants that are safe for tortoises. A brief list of safe plants includes lemon balm, red sorrel, dandelion, aloe vera, spineless cactus, clover, honeysuckle, pansies, and violets.
- Real plants enable you to imitate your tortoise’s natural habitat even better than fake ones do. While there’s not a huge difference between the two, real plants are simply more similar to what your pet would encounter in the wild.
Real Plants: The Downside
- Of course, you’ll need to care for the plants on a regular basis. Some plants require more care than others, so don’t just choose plants that look pretty! Take the amount of maintenance they’ll need into account.
- Some plants aren’t safe for tortoises and can cause illness or even death. These include amaryllis, ficus, gardenia, and ivy, among others.
Do I Need Any Other Accessories for My Tortoise Enclosure?
In order to have a truly complete tortoise enclosure, there are a few more accessories you’ll want to add. These additions to your pet’s environment will truly make it feel comfortable and at home!
When choosing a substrate for your tortoise enclosure, there are plenty of options! Substrate can help maintain humidity and provide opportunities to dig and burrow like your tortoise would in the wild. Here’s a brief overview of the most highly recommended substrates, as well as a few to avoid at all costs.
- Soil or loam-based substrates. These are considered ideal substrates for tortoises, as long as they don’t contain any fertilizers or pesticides that could be harmful to your pet.
- Coconut fiber is a great choice that is easy to dig in. It’s also great for water retention, or maintaining humidity in the enclosure.
- Newspaper, paper towels, or butcher paper can be used in a pinch, but they don’t allow your tortoise to dig. However, they’re very inexpensive and easy to switch out when cleaning the enclosure.
Substrates to Avoid
- Play sand. This comes with a huge risk of impaction, which is when a chunk of indigestible material gets stuck in your pet’s system.
- Wood chips. Although they’re inexpensive and can be boiled and reused, they come with a risk of impaction. Plus, wood chips are known to carry mold and fungus that can cause health issues.
- Hemp. Again, hemp comes with a risk of impaction and can also be quite dusty.
One essential accessory for your tortoise enclosure is a heavy water bowl. You want to choose one that is easy to wash and difficult for your tortoise to tip over. You’ll also want to make sure it’s large enough for your tortoise to soak in, if they choose to do so. Soaking is a great way for your pet to stay hydrated.
Remember that water bowls need to be cleaned and refilled with fresh water on a daily basis. Many tortoises pee and poop in their water bowls as well as soaking, so it’s possible for the water to get dirty pretty quickly. You definitely don’t want to risk the spread of bacteria, so be sure to stay on top of your cleaning schedule!
Tortoises require two identical hides, one on each side of the enclosure. You want to give your tortoise a hide in the basking area so it can warm up its body temperature and keep a sense of security.
It’s also necessary to have a hide on the cooler end of the enclosure so that your pet can cool down while hiding away. By providing two hides, your tortoise has a place to go and feel safe regardless of the temperature it prefers at the moment.
Background paper can add some visual interest to your tortoise enclosure. Depending on the style you choose, it can really enhance the natural feeling of the enclosure.
Plus, if you have a glass enclosure, it will make your tortoise feel more comfortable to have a solid background--they are confused by glass and will often swim into it, not recognizing that they’re looking at the reflection of themselves and their enclosure.
Rocks and Branches
While rocks and branches aren’t necessary, they can really add interest to your tortoise enclosure. They make it easier to mimic your pet’s natural environment, and they also encourage your tortoise to explore and check out everything that’s going on in its enclosure.
One accessory to stay away from is heat rocks. While they might seem like good decorations, they’re notorious for causing dangerous burns.
When it comes to the decision between using real or fake plants, it’s really up to you! Both kinds are perfectly fine to use in your tortoise enclosure. Keep in mind that real plants definitely require more effort on your part, and that fake plants come with a small risk of ingestion and impaction.
Aside from plants, you’ll also want to choose a good substrate like coconut fiber, soil, or newspaper. You’ll also need a water bowl and two identical hides. If you really want to go all-out with your tortoise enclosure decorations, feel free to add background paper as well as an assortment of rocks and branches!