My family have kept and bred tortoises for over 200 years, and it’s not uncommon for my mum to demand that we stop on our bikes whilst out and about so she can leap off and pick the dandelions and other delectable items for our tortoises.
Providing the perfect diet for our pet tortoises is one of the most important tasks we have for their well-being. We need to give the right amount of greens with all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and strong.
Finding a diverse menu of vegetation, including different leaves and flowers, can be easy said than done though if you don’t live in a place where there is an abundance of wild plants to forage.
That is why we encourage tortoise owners to consider growing a range of plants in their gardens, windowsill, or in the living room for a more interesting and rewarding experience.
What can I feed my tortoise everyday?
In an ideal world, you could forage daily for plants for your pet tortoise. Foraging is an excellent way of getting some free greens of different types that are currently in season.
Dandelions are always going to be a big favourite and easy to find. Nettles and bramble leaves work too, although you need to careful there are no thorns on the latter.
You can forage in local hedgerows and verges around your home, as long as you are careful not to strip an area of a resource needed for local wildlife.
The problem with this approach is that you are reliant on getting out and finding enough variety in large enough quantities throughout the year.
There will be times where it isn’t easy to get out to areas that are normally great resources for foraging. This could either be because of time constraints, bad weather, or other restrictions. Or, you may get somewhere and find that local authorities strimmed it within an inch of its life.
We can help you solve this with a fun and rewarding activity that all the family can join in.
A tortoise-friendly plot in the garden is a great project.
How can I feed my tortoise at home?
Growing tortoise-friendly plants in your own garden is a great way to ensure a great supply of diverse plants within easy reach. Even if there is a storm and you and your tortoise are stuck inside, you can still run out for 5 minutes to harvest.
You could even make a point of having one flowerbed completely dedicated to your pet – like a little reptilian kitchen garden.
A good additional project is to grow some houseplants on your windowsills. This is great for plants that aren’t so hardy but could add additional benefits to your pet’s diet.
Create your own tortoise weed garden for foraging
15 great plants to grow to feed your tortoise.
Geraniums are a great choice for any home because you can grow them indoors and outdoors. There are also lots of different varieties so you can have a nice array of them in a pot inside, on your windowsill, or out in a flowerbed.
Another bonus here is that this plant is a perennial, so you will get a lot out of it. You can use both the flowers and the leaves as food, providing different textures and nutrients.
These plants also flower a little earlier than some other bedding plants, so you can create a more diverse and seasonal diet plan with the different plants you grow.
2) Lemon Balm.
Lemon Balm is really easy to grow indoors in pots, and you can pick from it all year round. Many homeowners love to have this in their kitchens because it has such a pleasant scent and is great for culinary experimentation.
But, there is no reason why you can’t pick some leaves and add them to your pet’s plate too. They are full of vitamins and should help keep your pet healthy.
Plaintain is an interesting choice because it has such large, fibrous leaves that can be highly beneficial to tortoises. Many tortoise owners even place the plant in their pet’s enclosure. You can do with a more established plant to great some interest and shelter for the tortoise, as well as something they can graze on if they want to. Few other plants for tortoises offer this level of enrichment.
4) Turtle Vine.
This is an option that you may have seen mentioned on forums or other guides by keen reptile owners. Also known as Callisia Repens, this plant is a big favourite with all kinds of reptiles which you can add to a pet’s diet with ease.
It isn’t the easiest to grow because it needs to have shaded, moist conditions similar to the tropical climate from which it originates. You could grow it in a greenhouse if you have one.
However, there are warnings not to put this in an enclosure, as you would with the Plaintain as it is tasty and there is the risk of tortoises eating more than is good for them. Cut it into small pieces and feed in moderation.
5) Aloe Vera.
Aloe Vera is a great plant to have in your home if you have tortoises. Tortoises are prone to dehydration, with many owners misunderstanding the bathing and humidity needs of their pets.
A good way to rehydrate a tortoise is to provide something with high water content. Aloe Vera is juicy and tasty and will be very much appreciated by your tortoise.
Cacti are similar to Aloe Vera in that they can offer juicy pieces of leaves that are a substantial part of a meal and a good source of moisture.
Cacti aren’t too hard to grow and provide great interest to those in the household. There are loads to choose from and established plants can be grown in your tortoise enclosure.
Cut off a healthy section from the plant and add that to your tortoise meal. However, you do also need to be careful to remove any spines. This can be done by simply using a match to burn off the finer spines, larger spines can be removed by hand.
Try and look for spineless varieties when choosing the best cacti for tortoises to save on time and stress. This is a great shop on Etsy for Cacti and Succulents
Prickly pears (Opuntia) are a firm favourite with our tortoises and there are lots of different varieties. Opuntia is a cactus that is highly nutritious with calcium, vitamin C, fibre, and low in fats.
I’ve have already mentioned the popularity of dandelions for tortoises because they are so common and a nutritious source of food all year long.
You could make a point of leaving space in a garden for them to grow. Or, you can cultivate your own crop indoors. This might seem odd to visitors, but it is the ultimate way to ensure a good supply.
You can grow them on a windowsill or put the pot in the enclosure. Just be mindful that dandelions can act as a diuretic so not too many!
Clover is similar to dandelions in that you can grow this plant pretty easily with little to no effort. It all depends on how attached you are to the idea of a pristine lawn. Clover flowers are high in protein and a great addition to any tortoise’s diet. Don’t let your baby tortoise eat too many of them though.
You can leave the clover to grow naturally and pick what you find. You could also take your tortoise out for outdoor enrichment (where appropriate) and let them graze.
Gazanias are one of my favourite plants. Their flowers are big, bold with a lot of different varieties. You can grow them in your garden with ease and pick the flowers in the height of the summer. Those that aren’t quite perfect enough for the vase can go into your tortoise’s salad!
The nasturtium is a plant that is either loved or hated by humans when it comes to salad. Some people really enjoy eating the peppery flowers and leaves because they are a little bit different. Others hate the taste. It seems that tortoises aren’t as fussy about them and will gladly eat them if offered.
The great thing about this plant is that you get flowers for quite a long time from summer into autumn. This gives it even greater value as an option for your pet’s diet.
So far, you’ve got gazanias in summer and nasturtiums into the autumn. Eventually, the flowering plants in your garden will become a little more scarce. So, it helps to plant something that is a little later in flowering.
You can get some really nice pansies that are colourful and full of nutrients that flower in autumn and into the winter. This is just like adding edible flowers to salads, just on a larger scale than the tiny violas. Violas work too, but your pet would probably go for the pansy if given the choice.
This is an option that isn’t as popular because there isn’t the same value or visual appeal. Yet, a well-established hebe can produce a lot of leaves and flowers. This means that you can keep many in place for the local bee populations and still take a few to add variety to a diet.
A different way of adding a new texture and some variety to a tortoise diet is to bring in some rose petals. This is a simple thing to sprinkle into a meal and easy to prepare. The availability depends on when your roses bloom. It is important not to do this with any shop-bought rose or those from florists as you don’t know what has been sprayed on the flower or how it was grown. Grow your own organically instead.
The hosta is a plant that some tortoise owners will mention as a potential addition to a diet and others won’t. It seems that tortoises can be a bit pickier about eating these. However, a single hosta leaf can turn into quite a substantial snack for a tortoise to lazily munch on. You can put one in their enclosure and let them enjoy it at their leisure. Give it try and see what they think.
Finally, we have the osteospermum. Otherwise known as the Cape or African daisy, is a brilliant choice for long-lasting, colourful blooms..These plants are similar to gazanias in that they are bright, bold, and easy to grow for some colour and last through summer and into the autumn.
Plants not to feed your tortoise
It isn’t just the plants with spines and other health hazards that are problematic for tortoises. Some plants are dangerous if ingested and could even prove to be poisonous to your pet.
Do not feed your tortoise any flowers or leaves from these common garden plants:
If you have any doubts about something in your garden, carry out further research or get guidance from your vet. On that note, your vet can also guide you on adding specific plants to a diet for different dietary needs.
Choose organic gardening for growing plants for your tortoise.
Whichever plants you choose to use, you need to be sure that they are safe for consumption – either by your tortoise or by any wild creature in your garden. This means avoiding using any sort of pesticides or chemical fertilisers. These can leave trace elements on the leaves and flowers and could put your pet at risk.
Go organic and natural, even if that means a few more slug and snails to deal with.
Should you wash the plants before feeding them to your tortoise?
Yes, if you grow your own plants for feeding tortoises you still need to wash them before prepping their meals – even if you have an organic approach.
The truth is that you don’t know what is on those leaves regarding environmental pollutants from external sources, bacteria from creatures that have come into contact with the plant, or small creatures and parasites themselves.
It is better to be safe than sorry and to wash everything first. You aren’t going to remove any nutrients by rinsing everything under the tap.
Choosing the best plants for your tortoise.
It is up to you which of these you decide to grow. You could be adventurous and go for a wide range within your garden or stick to a smaller selection of houseplants. It all depends on your space, growing conditions, and your dedication to caring for these plants. Inexperienced gardeners can always start with a few easy ones and build from there. Have fun with it your tortoise will thank you.