What should I add to my tortoise garden?

Michael Bird

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Salt Lake City, Utah
My Hermann's tortoise was raised mostly on grocery lettuce by the previous owner. They did give him Spring Mix so at least he had a variety and seems to be healthy, but he's also really picky about his food as you'll see from the notes in my list. I'm trying to wean him off of the grocery lettuce but he doesn't seem to show much interest in most of the other staples that I have tried. All of the stores around here only sell spring mix with about 50% spinach, so I'd rather not buy that for him anyway since I'd just be throwing the spinach away.

I spread lots of the Broadleaf Testudo seed mix from TortoiseSupply around his outdoor enclosure this spring and it seems like most of it didn't sprout except for the Arugula. So I've been collecting some other plants hoping they'll grab his attention, and I'm looking for suggestions of other things to add to give him a wider (and healthier) variety. We are in Salt Lake City, Utah and have to deal with hot (sometimes over 100F/38C) summers and cold (sometimes near 0F/-18C) winters, so I need plants that can handle the weather here. Plants that I can grow indoors without direct sunlight would also be welcome, especially to have some variety of food options if he chooses not to brumate in the winter (my old Greek tortoise never brumated).

Currently planted in the 12'x14' outdoor enclosure:

* A ridiculous jungle of Arugula (rocket lettuce) from the Testudo seed mix. He seems to really like this stuff and it's probably the majority of what he eats while grazing outside. Need to cut down on this since The Tortoise Table says it's not healthy to eat a lot of it.
* A very healthy growth of spineless opuntia cactus. I'm not sure which variety, but it's a cold hardy one that Len B sent to me along with some of the other plants on this list. He won't touch it even if I chop it up in small bits and drown it in Mazuri (which he really loves). He didn't even want to eat the flowers when they were blooming.
* Lots of a sedum variety mix that came in a 12"x12" 'tile' planter and after being split up into small pieces in the spring now covers about a 6 foot square area. - He'll nibble on this once in a while.
* About a dozen Echeverria (Hens and Chicks) plants that are slowly growing and expanding. - He nibbles on these once in a while, too, and will eat full 'petals' pretty quickly when I give them to him in his indoor box enclosure.
* One unhappy Hosta plant (too much sun, needs to be fixed). He won't touch the leaves or the flowers.
* One blue Rose of Sharon bush that is still recovering from severe transplant shock from being planted in the ground in early June, but is slowly filling in with leaves and flowers again. He doesn't seem to touch it in the enclosure, but eats the leaves and flowers readily if I give them to him when he's in his indoor box.
* A pink Rose of Sharon (from Len B) that isn't much more than a twig with a few leaves right now but seems to be recovering and will hopefully thrive like the blue one.
* A handful of scattered white clover plants. Not sure if these came from the Testudo mix or were blown in from the neighborhood. He doesn't touch them.
* A few dandelion plants that I managed to transplant from the lawn (no fertilizer or weed killer). He will occasionally nibble on the leaves, and sometimes eats the flowers but only when I give them to him in his indoor enclosure.
* One really healthy Dwarf Mallow plant that has quickly spread out to cover about a 2 foot circle. I found this growing in a corner of the yard a few months ago and transplanted it as it was in a spot that my wife wanted for other gardening purposes. He doesn't seem to touch it in the enclosure, but seems happy to eat the leaves in his indoor box. I haven't given him any flowers yet as I want to try to harvest the seeds.

Currently planted in large pots or in the ground elsewhere in the yard:
(The big "wine barrel" pots all have wheels so I can roll them inside the garage or under the patio cover for shelter in the winter.)

* One really large and really healthy Hollyhock plant. He seemed happy to eat the flowers that I gave to him while it was still flowering, but he doesn't seem to want to eat the leaves at all. Found growing behind a work shed, so I harvested lots of the seeds to plant them in a place where we can enjoy them more next year (wife loves the flowers, too).
* One young Hardy Hibiscus bush (about 18" tall) that I put in a large 24" wide barrel pot about 6 weeks ago. He likes the leaves on this one. Don't have any flowers yet.
* One very young Mulberry tree in another barrel pot that came back from the dead after being just a tiny brown twig in the spring (from Len B). It seems very healthy now and is about a foot tall, but is still too small to do any leaf harvesting and will probably wait until next spring to become a food source.
* Several small Coleus plants growing in a third "barrel" pot. He has eaten a few leaves from these and seems to like them, but the plants are still fairly small and grow slowly so I only give him the leaves that fall off naturally for now.
* A fourth barrel pot that was full of Pansy plants, but they've all died off in the hot summer. He nibbled at a few flower petals and leaves but didn't seem very interested.
* A surprisingly large grape vineyard in the neighbor's yard (six different trellis rows about 12 feet long each. The neighbor said he also doesn't use any fertilizers or herbicides or pesticides so I gave Hermes samples of each of the leaves a few times but he wouldn't touch them.
* One really big Zucchini squash plant that just started producing zucchini last week. He absolutely loves zucchini, but I will only let him have a few bites now and then as a treat since Hermann's Tortoises are not normally fruit eaters. It's too bad the leaves shouldn't be fed as we have a LOT of those!
* A "hedge" of about a dozen different Rose bushes. Hermes hasn't wanted to eat any flowers or leaves from any of them.
* Lots of other plants and trees that are not tortoise friendly so I keep them away from him and won't bother listing them here.
 

wellington

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What you will have to do is keep trying and not feeding what he is used too.
At first, take what he likes and chop it up tiny, along with a better item, about 50/50 and spritz with water. Don't feed the bad stuff without better stuff mixed in. Eventually he will start to eat it and as he does, you slowly start eliminating the bad stuff.
It's a long process, won't happen quickly, but eventually he will start to eat the better stuff.
 

Michael Bird

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I forgot to mention that there is also a bunch of wild Bindweed growing pretty much everywhere, and he chews on that fairly regularly. Although I do pull it out frequently to prevent it from taking over.

I appreciate the suggestion for mixing foods. And I have tried that both with the Spring Mix salad, and by coating other things with Mazuri. But he will not touch a lot of the other foods even when mixed with stuff that he seems to love...
 

Len B

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My Hermann's like wild violets. They are winter hardy and can be grown in shade. I never tried growing them over winter inside though. Honeysuckle is another choice and what I like it doesn't drop it's leaves over the winter months.
 

TammyJ

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My Hermann's tortoise was raised mostly on grocery lettuce by the previous owner. They did give him Spring Mix so at least he had a variety and seems to be healthy, but he's also really picky about his food as you'll see from the notes in my list. I'm trying to wean him off of the grocery lettuce but he doesn't seem to show much interest in most of the other staples that I have tried. All of the stores around here only sell spring mix with about 50% spinach, so I'd rather not buy that for him anyway since I'd just be throwing the spinach away.

I spread lots of the Broadleaf Testudo seed mix from TortoiseSupply around his outdoor enclosure this spring and it seems like most of it didn't sprout except for the Arugula. So I've been collecting some other plants hoping they'll grab his attention, and I'm looking for suggestions of other things to add to give him a wider (and healthier) variety. We are in Salt Lake City, Utah and have to deal with hot (sometimes over 100F/38C) summers and cold (sometimes near 0F/-18C) winters, so I need plants that can handle the weather here. Plants that I can grow indoors without direct sunlight would also be welcome, especially to have some variety of food options if he chooses not to brumate in the winter (my old Greek tortoise never brumated).

Currently planted in the 12'x14' outdoor enclosure:

* A ridiculous jungle of Arugula (rocket lettuce) from the Testudo seed mix. He seems to really like this stuff and it's probably the majority of what he eats while grazing outside. Need to cut down on this since The Tortoise Table says it's not healthy to eat a lot of it.
* A very healthy growth of spineless opuntia cactus. I'm not sure which variety, but it's a cold hardy one that Len B sent to me along with some of the other plants on this list. He won't touch it even if I chop it up in small bits and drown it in Mazuri (which he really loves). He didn't even want to eat the flowers when they were blooming.
* Lots of a sedum variety mix that came in a 12"x12" 'tile' planter and after being split up into small pieces in the spring now covers about a 6 foot square area. - He'll nibble on this once in a while.
* About a dozen Echeverria (Hens and Chicks) plants that are slowly growing and expanding. - He nibbles on these once in a while, too, and will eat full 'petals' pretty quickly when I give them to him in his indoor box enclosure.
* One unhappy Hosta plant (too much sun, needs to be fixed). He won't touch the leaves or the flowers.
* One blue Rose of Sharon bush that is still recovering from severe transplant shock from being planted in the ground in early June, but is slowly filling in with leaves and flowers again. He doesn't seem to touch it in the enclosure, but eats the leaves and flowers readily if I give them to him when he's in his indoor box.
* A pink Rose of Sharon (from Len B) that isn't much more than a twig with a few leaves right now but seems to be recovering and will hopefully thrive like the blue one.
* A handful of scattered white clover plants. Not sure if these came from the Testudo mix or were blown in from the neighborhood. He doesn't touch them.
* A few dandelion plants that I managed to transplant from the lawn (no fertilizer or weed killer). He will occasionally nibble on the leaves, and sometimes eats the flowers but only when I give them to him in his indoor enclosure.
* One really healthy Dwarf Mallow plant that has quickly spread out to cover about a 2 foot circle. I found this growing in a corner of the yard a few months ago and transplanted it as it was in a spot that my wife wanted for other gardening purposes. He doesn't seem to touch it in the enclosure, but seems happy to eat the leaves in his indoor box. I haven't given him any flowers yet as I want to try to harvest the seeds.

Currently planted in large pots or in the ground elsewhere in the yard:
(The big "wine barrel" pots all have wheels so I can roll them inside the garage or under the patio cover for shelter in the winter.)

* One really large and really healthy Hollyhock plant. He seemed happy to eat the flowers that I gave to him while it was still flowering, but he doesn't seem to want to eat the leaves at all. Found growing behind a work shed, so I harvested lots of the seeds to plant them in a place where we can enjoy them more next year (wife loves the flowers, too).
* One young Hardy Hibiscus bush (about 18" tall) that I put in a large 24" wide barrel pot about 6 weeks ago. He likes the leaves on this one. Don't have any flowers yet.
* One very young Mulberry tree in another barrel pot that came back from the dead after being just a tiny brown twig in the spring (from Len B). It seems very healthy now and is about a foot tall, but is still too small to do any leaf harvesting and will probably wait until next spring to become a food source.
* Several small Coleus plants growing in a third "barrel" pot. He has eaten a few leaves from these and seems to like them, but the plants are still fairly small and grow slowly so I only give him the leaves that fall off naturally for now.
* A fourth barrel pot that was full of Pansy plants, but they've all died off in the hot summer. He nibbled at a few flower petals and leaves but didn't seem very interested.
* A surprisingly large grape vineyard in the neighbor's yard (six different trellis rows about 12 feet long each. The neighbor said he also doesn't use any fertilizers or herbicides or pesticides so I gave Hermes samples of each of the leaves a few times but he wouldn't touch them.
* One really big Zucchini squash plant that just started producing zucchini last week. He absolutely loves zucchini, but I will only let him have a few bites now and then as a treat since Hermann's Tortoises are not normally fruit eaters. It's too bad the leaves shouldn't be fed as we have a LOT of those!
* A "hedge" of about a dozen different Rose bushes. Hermes hasn't wanted to eat any flowers or leaves from any of them.
* Lots of other plants and trees that are not tortoise friendly so I keep them away from him and won't bother listing them here.
It seems to me that your tortoise lives in a great place with a good variety of stuff to eat to stay healthy. What more he want, mon? Chef Boyardee?
 

Michael Bird

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Salt Lake City, Utah
I'm pretty pleased with what we have started so far, but it's still a pretty new garden and I do want some more variety, especially for the colder months.
 

Michael Bird

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My wife and daughters wanted to do some fall planting, so we made a trip to the local garden center yesterday. While they were picking out the plants that they wanted, I wandered around and found the "discount" section with a nice variety of tall flowering Autumn Joy Sedum and Echinacea Cone Flower plants.

Hermes only seems to nibble on the sedum varieties that he already has so he may or may not actually eat the new one after I let it sit for a while to clear out any pesticides or other chemicals, but it's really nice looking so it will add some nice color and shade even if he doesn't eat it...

He seemed to be VERY interested when I let him sniff (but not eat) the Echinacea so I'm hopeful that he'll make that one a regular part of his diet after it also sits in isolation for a while. My wife was actually looking for Black-Eyed Susans, but they didn't have any of those, and the Tortoise Table says the Echinacea is healthy to eat (and they look sort of like the Black-Eyed Susan) so my wife accepted it as a compromise. :D
 

Michael Bird

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Location (City and/or State)
Salt Lake City, Utah
We also picked up a really great looking purple/maroon Fountain Grass. Not for eating, but for a nice bit of extra color and shade...
 

CobyDennis

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Adding low-growing succulents like hens and chicks can give your tortoise garden a cool, desert vibe! 🌵 They're easy to care for and provide a nice spot for your tortoise to explore. Also, consider some natural rocks and logs for basking spots. Check it out here for more ideas!
 

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