Garden for a tort?


May 11, 2016
Location (City and/or State)
Hello! I’d like to grow a garden for my sulcata who lives outdoors year round. Was thinking of hardy hibiscus, mulberry, a few greens, prickly pears, hays and grasses, nettles, okay wildflowers, sedum, etc. Has anyone tried this and is there any way to make it more or less self-sustaining while he has free access to it? I just wonder if he’d just mow over everything immediately if he’s always able to get to it.


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Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2018
Location (City and/or State)
Richmond, VA
I am not sure what part of VA you are in but in Richmond most of that doesn't make it through winter here. My Hibiscus plants are dormant and last year our winter killed my prickly pears. Rye Grass does very well though. How is he on bermuda grass and such there are numerous in VA farmers that bale it. For your bulldozer you gotta get a serious greenhouse going. BTW this was originally posted by @Tom and should help greatly
Over and over I type up and answer diet questions and try to get people feeding the right stuff, but I find that the "norm" is grocery store food. Grocery store food is expensive, a hassle to obtain, and very low on the list of what is best for sulcatas.

These tortoises are GRASS eaters. From the moment they hatch, until the day they die, grass should be a large part of their diet. Spring mix, romaine, kale and other greens are okay as a small part of a varied diet, but should not be the bulk of the diet. If someone must feed grocery store foods, the pile should be sprinkled with grass clippings or "Salad Style". For those who like the convenience of pre-packaged, easy to handle stuff, "Salad Style" is basically finely blended up grass hay that can be sprinkled over any other food to add bulk and fiber. I got my "Salad Style" from Tyler at

For those that have a lawn, or access to one: Get a tub, get some scissors, get down on your knees, and go to work! It is so EASY to cut a few handfuls of fresh, green, tender, young grass, and dramatically improve your baby sulcatas diet. Any kind of grass will work. Finely chop it for little tortoises and sprinkle it all over the other food, or feed it by itself in a pile. Do be careful about lawn chemicals and pesticides. If you have a gardener, or its not your lawn, use extreme caution. Live in a condo or apartment complex? Don't do it. Not worth the risk, no matter what they tell you. Just grow your own grass in pots on your patio or window sills. Friends, family and neighbors might be able to help you out here.

For those who still just love the grocery store: Most stores are now selling little plastic pots of live, freshly sprouted, organic wheat grass. You can find it at many pet stores too. This is a great way to add grass to the diet of a young sulcata. Get your scissors, hold the pot over the food pile and chop away. Water it and keep the pot in a window sill, and in a few days, you'll have more. You might need several pots as your baby grows, or you can buy seed from one of our site sponsors (Thank you Carolina Pet Supply) and sprout even bigger trays of it yourself.

Some of you may find that your "grass eating" tortoise wants nothing to do with eating grass. This should surprise no one, since most breeders and most keepers never even attempt to feed actual grass to their grass eating tortoise babies. So sad! I can tell you from first hand experience with literally HUNDREDS of babies, they WILL eat it. It may take a month or more to slowly introduce it, but PLEASE, slowly introduce it.

Other items that are good for babies and young sulcatas:
Mulberry leaves
Grape vine leaves
Hibiscus leaves
African hibiscus leaves
Blue hibiscus leaves
Rose of Sharon leaves
Rose leaves
Cape honeysuckle
Leaves and blooms from any squash plant, like pumpkin, cucumber, summer squash, etc...
Young spineless opuntia cactus pads

There are soooooooo many...
Smooth Sow thistle
Prickly Sow thistle
Milk thistle
Goat head weed
Cats ear
Wild onion
Wild mustard
Wild Garlic
Broadleaf plantain
Narrow leaf plantain
Chick weed

Other good stuff:
"Testudo Seed Mix" from
Pasture mixes or other seeds from
Homegrown alfalfa
Mazuri Tortoise Chow
ZooMed Grassland Tortoise Food

When sulcatas get a little older and bigger, usually around 10-12" for me, they will start munching on plain, dry grass hay, all on their own. I like orchard grass hay the best for this, but I also used bermuda grass hay for years too. When they hit this stage, life gets MUCH easier. Just make sure you have drinking water readily available when they start eating hay, and consider soaking regularly if you are not 100% sure your tortoise is drinking enough, or if you live in a really dry area, like me.

I live in a desert and yet there is still green stuff all around me. I beg you to take a walk and learn about all the green stuff around you, INSTEAD of driving to the store again. Instead of a trip to the grocery store, take a trip to a local nursery for some weed IDs, and tips on growing your own stuff. What could be better than stepping out into your backyard and collecting all the free, healthy tortoise food you can carry? Think of the gas savings! Anyone who is a tortoise keeper, ought to be somewhat of a gardener too.

I beg of you... PLEASE stop the grocery store MADNESS!!! :D


May 11, 2016
Location (City and/or State)
Thank you for the list of things to grow and make available! He’s about 20, lives outside, and keeps our backyard pretty mowed down. I cut from our front lawn in the winter and feed him that with hays as a supplement when he can’t get outside too much or the backyard isn’t growing as much. We live in southeastern VA and have a row of prickly pears that have lived through 4 winters so far. I just wanted to have a more varied diet for him, especially in the winter.

He rarely gets grocery store food, and probably has the best diet of our two torts as it is- I’m also trying to improve my yellow footed torts diet, since she lives inside during the winter and isn’t a grass grazer, it’s a little harder for her. If you have advice on that end I’d greatly appreciate it!


Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2018
Location (City and/or State)
Richmond, VA
FRom the TFO Redfoot Care Sheet DIET as follows

* DIET **
I use the size of their head as a gauge to how much is fed..I figure their stomachs are about the same size..
maybe even smaller! Early on [ even tho' they are 'opportunistic' - meaning they probably think this may be their last meal for awhile.. ( and / or do they know when to stop? ) ".. better eat while I can " ] I have received several emails about how much to feed.. only to find they ended up bumpy / pyramided. How much this had to do with 'quality' vs 'quantity' is unknown. I believe it's better to have them lean / hungry than fat / overfed. That's how mine have grown.. as shown.

Feed: hatchling's 1X ( size of head ).. every-day - juvenile's [ 4" - 6" SCL ] 3X .. 'every-other day' - adult's [ 6+" SCL ] 6X .. every 3rd day. Over-feeding is too common.. and easy to do! Resist overfeeding.. ' wrong / empty in nutrients ' easily causes health issues!
Keeping them 'hungry' is better than feeding too much!!!

Feed your hatchling "once" daily.. whatever they don't eat at one setting.. go ahead and discard.. otherwise it could easily cause "bugs" etc.
A good plentiful water source is Vital also!


FEEDING SCHEDULE.. first 2 days "greens alone".. next day "fruit alone".. next 2 days "greens alone".. next day "fruit treat" - pineapple or something different.. next day "animal protein" ALONE.. ( NOT Mazuri.. protein level too low & not animal source ). Your choice of "animal-protein" is entirely up to you - much is written on best source.
Sprinkle re-hydrated cat food with Calcium Carbonate powder (no D3).
"Chop/slice" everything small enough.. "bite-size"

On "greens" day we do not feed fruit because they often sort thru
and only want to eat the fruit.. like a kid and candy

-- Again.. these are all at least 6 months/3"

" Diet-options "
In order of calcium content:

Grape Leaves, Dandelion Greens, Curly Endive ( not Belgian ) / Chicory,
Escarole, Collard Greens and last but not least.. Hibiscus (blooms & leaves).

Although a variety is good no doubt..feed what is available per season.. or what the "Produce Mgr." can order for you.. you may be surprised what you can get when you ask!
No reason to feel that you are betraying your baby because you can only find a few things in the winter.. for example!

About "Half?" of my redfoot tortoise's diet consists of fruit & protein.. combined! Too many greens alone is not good for 'omnivores' .. is what redfoot tortoises are - a source of animal protein is vital .. ( redfoot tortoises are much more carnivorous than most believe or will accept - believe what you will on that )

Their main source of D3 is derived from their diet... ( if [ young-older ] adults traditionally come out of their hiding place.. in the morning to "bask / thermo-regulate" - hide most of the day out of the sun - and back out just before dark to 'graze' a little... then that seems to indicate that they do not rely on much sun / UVB to supply their D3 needs. And if that is the case ... they can receive their D3 needs thru their diet much easier and less expensive than the cost of "UVB bulbs" - especially for those of us that need to keep ours indoors 5-7 months out of the year.

I also ( per Andy Highfield ) -
use a "weight-management" type dry catfood every 7 days or so..well moistened until soft.. and "dowsed" with pure Calcium Carbonate powder (no D3).. [ most high quality / low fat dry catfood contains some D3 ]
( wait until your hatchling is 6 months old/over 3" or so before "supplementing" with protein and calcium on a weekly basis ) Like any / all writings these days ( considered scientific or otherwise ) - your choice on what you follow.
Always remember.. protein and calcium goes a long way!

Find a DRY Catfood with the highest PROTEIN / lowest FAT % you can find - what I used back then
Is no longer made. A weight management is usually the best. The small amount I have used has not shown any adverse results.

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