The common box turtle is not so common these days. Fresh water and safe corridors for wild turtles to travel safely through have grown increasingly scarce. They require loose, non-compacted earth to live and breed in which is becoming harder to find. Another issue they face is that land fragmentation has made it difficult for them to breed as they become isolated and trapped in areas. Box turtles are also often stolen from the wild to be kept as pets which has decreased their numbers and chances of diverse breeding. Since they aren’t prolific breeders, box turtles have a difficult time recovering from these impacts. They are now listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List which is one step away from endangered.
If you would like to create a box turtle friendly habitat and Turtle Safe Zone in your backyard, here are a few tips:
Leaf Litter Leaf Litter Leaf Litter!!
Leave as much area as you can natural. Don’t rake your fall leaves but instead spread them out over a ‘turtle safe zone’. Leave small logs and decaying wood, too. Box turtles excavate in leaves to overwinter, they hunt and forage in leaves and dig tunnels under leaves to move around. It’s where they eat, sleep and breed. They won’t used dyed mulch or bark, it’s leaves they are after.
Low Growing Plants
Create low growing, shady spots in the leaf litter so they may safely move around and have places to rest. Box turtles will travel under foliage coverage and plants such as native ferns, wild ginger, black cohosh and other ground level growers are ideal. Consider how they will get from one area of your property to another and plant paths of coverage for them. Please see our article on Hedgerows for more on wildlife friendly passages.
Box turtles are omnivores and they will eat just about anything. They love slugs which makes them welcomed in any garden. Box turtles eat insects, seeds, earthworms, wild fleshy fruit such as blackberries, elderberries, wild strawberry, American persimmon, wild grapes, pokeweed, the list goes on. Another treat for them is mushrooms so allow mushrooms grow in your garden. For food you only need to let nature do its thing and the box turtles will find something to munch on. The rule here would be to not over weed your habitat but first consider if a plant is is beneficial to box turtles before pulling up.
Ground Level Water
Water is mandatory and the most difficult thing for any wildlife to find. Provide ground level water for box turtles and make sure that they have a low growing path of coverage to travel under to access it. Water can be in the form of a creek, pond or water feature. Shallow bog gardens and man made streams are also ideal.
If you don’t have naturally occurring water source and don’t want a water feature, a simple trick would be to build a ground level wildlife puddle. Place your wildlife puddle in an area under trees since wildlife typically does not like to bathe in the open. Locating it out of the hot Georgia sun will also help keep the evaporation rate down.
You can build a wildlife puddle by digging a shallow area out, around 6×6′. You only need to a dig 4″ depth. Keep it shallow because you are trying to mimic a puddle, not a pond. Lay a thick pond liner over your dug out area and line the edges with flat, decorative rocks to make it attractive. Fill with water. Now you have a the perfect wading pool for box turtles.
Occasionally you can clean the puddle out with a broom and change the water. It’s easy maintenance and will attract birds like crazy, too.
Use Common Sense & Care When Mowing
It goes without saying but we are saying it anyway, don’t spray pesticides or herbicides. You will kill the turtles and their food.
If you have lawn, check the lawn before you mow! Many box turtles are killed or injured due to being hit by lawnmower blades. It’s very common and often seen in wildlife rehab centers. Remember, box turtles are short! You might not see them in the grass.
We Can Help
If you are in north Georgia and need help creating a Turtle Safe Zone, Art of Stone Gardening can help. We have experience creating wildlife gardens and extensive native plant knowledge. We can also build small, low maintenance bog gardens or backyard streams to assist with backyard habitat and wildlife garden water needs. Please contact us at: Art of Stone Gardening.