Keeping Russian tortoises outside in the Pacific Northwest

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 23, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
How are you able to keep them together? I keep hearing that they are territorial and will fight? Help
It's darned near impossible in the house, but outside, if you have a big enough yard for them with plenty of sight barriers, it works out ok.


Feb 15, 2020
Location (City and/or State)
South Florida
Today I would like to show some pictures of my adult Russian tortoises in their outdoor habitat in our yard. My hope is that this will encourage more tortoise keepers to provide their tortoise(s) with an outdoor space.
Our weather is very similar to the climate in much of the UK, as well as Germany, Denmark, Holland, and some of France. It ekes me when I see people posting that it is 'too cold' in their climate to provide their tortoise with outdoor time. In reality, any day that is 65 degrees or above is warm enough for a Russian tortoise to spend at least part of the day outside. If basking is available (artificial or in a sunny spot), they can be outside all day in such weather.

Keeping tortoises in the Pacific Northwest has a unique set of challenges in that it rains A LOT here for part of the year. However, it is actually possible to keep them outdoors from April through September.
@lynnedit deserves credit here - she lives just minutes from us, and was the one who encouraged me to take the leap and build an outdoor enclosure for my tortoises.

The benefits of keeping tortoises outdoors far outweigh the potential dangers, IF proper precautions are taken. The natural sunlight provides heat and healthy UVB, which promotes healthy bones and a good hard shell. Being able to wander a much larger area keeps the tortoise's muscles strong. Wild Russian tortoises live in climates that are harsher than ours! They can THRIVE in our climate.

We built the tortoise yard partially under the eves of our roof - about 2 feet out from our house wall stay completely dry, no matter how hard it rains. I have cut several buckets in half, and buried them under several inches of soil. They provide good hides for the tortoises to burrow into.

Russian tortoises are hardy, and even when the air temperature is only 60 degrees, the ground temperature in a sunny spot is often 30 degrees higher. You can help this by placing a flat dark rock into the area the sun hits first in the morning. I've also set up little cold frames, which I built from polycarbonate scraps I scored from a local garden center.

I simply taped the triangles together using foil ducting tape, and ta-daaaa! Instant slightly warmer, dry basking area!

The tortoises dig in for the night. Then as soon as the sun hits the tortoise garden the tortoises come out to bask. They wander around, graze, explore, and soak. By afternoon it gets HOT, and they retreat to the shady spots under the bushes. In the evening, they come back out again for another snack, or just to take a walk.

I have dug a trench under the wall of the enclosure, filled with cement pavers, so I don't have to worry about the tortoises digging out of their enclosure. The walls of the enclosure are capped so the tortoises can't climb out either.

Some tortoises that are normally picky eaters or have a shy personality really blossom when they are outdoors.

Now that it is summer, the tortoise yard has been grazed pretty bare - however, finding healthy weeds is no trouble here in the beautiful, green Pacific Northwest, so the tortoises eat well. I just throw several large piles of weeds into the enclosure every day.

This year was the first year that my tortoises had babies - Timmy and Roz produced 6 beautiful, healthy hatchlings.

At only about a month old, the babies only spend about an hour per day outside.


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