Turtle Tank Decorations

Turtle Tank Decorations

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Key Tank Decoration Tips:

Key Turtle Tips:

  • Substrate should be safe for your turtle

  • Decorations should be minimized to optimize space

  • Driftwood is an excellent, natural scape decoration

  • Live plants are at a very high risk of being eaten

  • Turtles will move decorations that are not held fast in place
  • Thinking about adding fish? They might be eaten.


Now that we have a tank, basking area and filtration, it is time to make the tank look spectacular. How do we do this?

  1. Add substrate (the stuff that goes on the bottom of the tank like river stones
  2. Add a background
  3. Add internal decorations (e.g. driftwood)


Let’s dive into each of these one by one:



There are many different tank substrates out there. In the LLYT video to the left, I talk about the most common. These include the following:

  1. Bare Bottom – no substrate. It is the easiest to clean but does not look great and poop really pops when left to decompose
  2. Tile (Ceramic) – Similar to bare bottom but looks more elegant. Tile can be cut at many Hardware Stores (usually for free if it is just a couple)
  3. Artificial Grass (Turf) – This looks great but is not suitable for some turtles who will think it is food and eat/destroy it. It can also collect crap over time.
  4. Sand – Looks natural clean and natural. Turtle’s love to dig through it. Can harbor some beneficial bacterial. Pool filter sand with no additives (100% silicate) is highly recommended as it does not require an exceptional amount  of rinsing (like play sand). Never add sand that has additives or chemicals.
  5. River Stones – Smooth stones that look natural and beautiful in a tank. It is highly recommended that the stone is at least as large as your turtle’s head. This is so your turtle cannot eat them. If a turtle is eating stones that are just the “wrong” size, they can become stuck in the turtles digestive tract. This is called an impaction and will lead to death.
  6. WARNING – Aquarium Pebbles (the colorful ones) have been known to be just that wrong size and could cause impaction. Please do not use these stones.


Turtles are large and in charge of their tanks. Decorating a turtle tank with typical aquarium décor can be difficult. Things like plastic skulls, ships or Sponge Bob houses can and will be smashed around by your turtle. Take heed the words that follow:

WARNING: Do not scape a turtle tank like you would a fish tank. 

Most decorations are relatively light and do not have sturdy bases. Turtles will knock them around and ruin your hard work if not installed properly. My video on the left shows how you can make a turtle proof decoration that cannot be bullied out of place. 

Fake plants are also a tough turtle tank addition. Many are very flimsy and can easily by pulled apart. Stay away from facke plants with detachable stems. Like in the video, I cover the stem to base interface with silicone to ensure that the plant cannot be separated from the base.  

Rocks are a great tank ornament as they are heavy and natural looking. For your turtle’s sake make sure they are not too jagged and sharp as your turtle might injure themselves on it.  Also make sure it does not react with water. Depending on the rock, this reaction could lead to major water parameter changes. Do an acid test (very easy, look it up on the YouTube) if you are not sure if the rock is suitable for an aquarium. For your own sake, do not setup a rock so that it can damage your tank (e.g. come in contact with the glass). If your turtle tips a rock into the glass too hard, it could damage the glass and cause the tank to leak or worse, shatter…

Last turtle tank decoration warning… most turtles will eat plants that you put in the tank. I suggest further research on turtle specific forums if you want to add live plants to the tank as I have never had success.


Driftwood is a beautiful, natural decoration that is excellent for turtle tanks. It comes in all shapes and sizes. There are many different types of wood that can be used (e.g. Malaysian, Mopani, Chollo). For turtle tanks, I suggest using robust pieces that do not have flimsy branches that a turtle could easily break off. You pay for the quality of the piece. You do not want to pay for something your turtle will break. I prefer Malaysian and Mopani. These both look great but come in larger, heavier sizes that are great for turtle tanks. Check them out here:

Malaysian Driftwood: Find it here

Mopani Driftwood: Find it here 

A great thing about driftwood is that turtles can forage and push it around without having it fly across the tank or make the tank look terrible after the turtle is done having fun with it.

BEWARE of uncured driftwood. It will change the color of the water (orange/brown) in your tank if not treated correctly! This is actually how you typically buy it and it requires curing. This is easy but can take some time. Usually the vendor/product directions will tell you how to cure your specific piece of wood. Generally, small pieces can be cured by putting it in a boiling pot of water for several hours.

Larger pieces obviously will not fit in a pot on your stove. These pieces should be put in a large container, covered with water (weigh it down if it floats). Let the piece sit in the container and change the water when it changes color. Keep changing the water every 4-5 days until it stops turning the water orange and is water logged enough to sink. The orange color that you see is due to the release of tannins, a natural biomolecule found in wood. The more you soak the wood prior to using it, the more tannins are released and the less risk of changing your actual turtle tank water orange.

Also note that driftwood can lower the pH of your tank water. This shouldn’t be a problem for turtles but do not let levels get too extreme. Monitor water quality periodically after installing a new piece of driftwood to ensure you water is sustaining adequate water parameters. And if you have fish in the tank, make sure they are also happy with the parameters!


This decoration is very straight forward. A background is simply a picture, poster, or anything that is installed on the back wall of your tank. The simplest design is no background at all which also makes sense if your tank is in the middle of the room. Otherwise, aquarium backgrounds work perfectly here. A cool store that sells tons of cool designs is this one: https://www.deepbluethemes.com/

You can also install 3D backgrounds that adhere to the inside back wall of the tank. These are “3D” because they are not just a poster paper but physically stick out, think a rock wall. The only issue with these backgrounds is that they can use up valuable tank space if they are bulky. They can also be expensive, but I cannot deny they are far superior to any picture background.

Some people prefer solid color backgrounds. This can be accomplished by simply painting the glass (outside face). WARNING, this is permanent.

 Check out a DIY background I made for my 75 gallon tank with Hardware Store supplies!

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