Turtle and Tortoise Pen Construction

Posted by in Terrariums and Housing

There are many reasons to house turtles and tortoises outside. More room can be offered than indoors. Unfiltered sunlight contains high amounts of beneficial ultraviolet radiation. Certain turtles and tortoises will also feed on the weeds and grasses that grow in their pen, adding variation to their diet they would not normally receive if kept indoors.

Keep in mind some environments are not suitable for keeping turtles and tortoises outside. To keep your turtle or tortoise outside year-round, the climate you live in must match that of where the turtle or tortoise is native to. Tropical species may have trouble coping with the dry conditions found in arid regions. Additionally, in temperate regions it is necessary to bring your turtle or tortoise indoors for half the year, housing it outside only when it’s warm enough.

See the Box Turtle Care Sheet for additional information about box turtle care.

The finished pen planted and with turtle inside

Turtle Pen Construction

I built this pen in 2001 for a box turtle. It worked well, though if I did it again I might increase the height to allow for a variety of plants to be grown. The turtle pen measured 6 feet by 4 feet. The materials needed to construct it cost roughly $100 (US) and included:


  • 1 12′ cedar 1×12
  • 1 8′ cedar 1×12
  • 1 8′ cedar 4×4 post
  • 3 12′ cedar 1×2
  • 1 4′ cedar 1×12
  • 30 8in wide by 16in long patio bricks
  • 10 regular sized bricks or rocks of that size
  • 25′ of 2′ wide chicken wire
  • 5′ of 4′ wide garden screen with 1/2 inch holes
  • Peat Moss
  • Plastic Paint Tray

Step One — Location

First I looked for the location that I wanted to build the turtle pet. I wanted a location that was in direct sunlight for most of the day, but always would have an area that was shaded. I chose to build it near the house because the spot receives sunlight all day long but the house keeps another part of it shaded.

First dig a hole for the turtle penpen06Step Two — Dig a Hole

Next, a hole was dug that measured 6′ long by 4′ wide by 1′ deep. We then took an edger and made the sides of the hole as straight and even as we could so that the bricks would stand up on the sides straight. The bottom of the hole doesn’t have to be perfectly even because you’re just going to lay chicken wire over it.


Sides of the box turtle housingSides of the box turtle housingStep Three — Sides

After digging the hole we made the frame of the enclosure. First we cut the 12′ and 8′ long 1×12 boards in half so we had two 6′ and two 4′ long boards. Then we cut the 8′ long 4×4 into four equal pieces so that we had four 2′ long 4×4 posts. Then we attached the 4′ boards to two of the 2′ long 4×4 posts leaving a foot of the 4×4 post sticking out below the boards. After that we put the 6′ foot boards on the sides to complete the frame. We then carried the frame over and stuck it inside the hole.

Chicken wire in the hole to prevent the turtle from digging its way outChicken wire in the hole to prevent the turtle from digging its way outpen12Step Four — Add Chicken Wire Underneath

After the frame was completed we cut the chicken wire into three 8′ long strips and then took the wooden frame out of the hole. The chicken wire is to prevent my turtle from digging his way out of the pen. We laid the chicken wire in the bottom of the hole and folded the extra foot on each side down. Then we put bricks over parts of it that were sticking up. In some cages people use perforated bricks on the bottom but they didn’t have those at the store we went to and they are probably more expensive than chicken wire. Once the chicken wire was in we put the wooden frame back in again.

Patio bricks along the sidePatio bricks along the sidepen17Step Five — Patio Bricks

Next we put the 8 inch wide and 16 inch long patio bricks on end around the bottom of the sides to prevent the turtle from escaping.

Turtle pen filled in with dirtpen23Step Six — Fill With Dirt

Refill with dirt. Peat moss was added to change the consistency of the soil.


pen24pen25Turtle pen coverStep Seven — Make the Cover

After filling the cage up with soil it was time for us to make the cage cover. I chose to use a cover mostly to protect my turtle from our dogs and other animals although some people choose not to use a cover. First we made the frame of the cover. We cut the 12′ 1×2 boards into two 5′ 1×2 boards and two 44 inch boards. Then we took those pieces of wood and the 5′ 1×12 and laid them out on the ground. We attached it all together with right angle and T brackets. Then we stapled the metal garden screen to the cover.

Turtle pen with cover closed

The finished turtle pen

All we did after that was attach the cover to the cage with three brass hinges, plant the cage and put the water dish (paint tray) in. The whole project took about seven hours to do with two people.