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Slow and Steady for our future Tortoise

BackYardTortoise

New Member
Joined
Feb 29, 2020
Messages
3
Location (City and/or State)
Mesa Arizona
Hi all! I found this forum about a month ago when I was researching into tortoise care and I've already learned a ton and love the community here. We just bought a house with a large backyard (large for Mesa, Arizona) and want to get a backyard tortoise. We are going to apply to adopt a Desert Sonoran Tortoise with the AZ Fish & Wildlife.

Instead of being hasty though we decided to take things slow and steady to prepare our backyard to make it a paradise for our future Sonoran Desert Tortoise, starting with it's food!

The house came with a very large grass plot, but I wanted to add shrubs. We now have 9 hibiscus plants (4 desert blue and 5 of the typical variety), 6 globe Mallows (more to come), 3 fairy duster bushes, 2 ruella bushes, and lots of evening primrose planted. We also have 4 pads of the spineless variety of prickly pear almost ready to plant once they scab over at the bottom. Not all plants are pictured below but I mostly wanted to show the amount of grass since that's a lot of a tortoises diet.20200322_075113_HDR.jpg
20200322_075127_HDR.jpg
20200322_075210_HDR.jpg
Question! Is it reasonable to assume that all this landscaping should be sufficient to keep a Sonoran Desert Tortoise full and happy all year round? We weren't planning on doing much supplemental feeding other than the occasional treat. Of course no fertilizers/weed killers on our plants!

Our next step is to get the burrow created (doing an in-ground one) and getting the grass much greener. Our ETA on getting our tortoise is May/June of this year after we give our plants a chance to establish. Again, we don't want to be hasty and want this to be done right.

Just wanted to say hello officially and gauge if it's realistic to think a tortoise can thrive with the amount of plants listed above. I'll post again once the burrow is built and another post once we have our tortoise! We're very excited!
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
47,042
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Hello and welcome.

It is shocking how much they can eat some times. If the tortoise is allowed access to these plants, they will eat as much as they can reach day after day until the plant is dead, or the living part is unreachable. You'll have to block access to the newly planted cactus pads and I'd block access to the others too. Then cut off and feed what you want.

Here is another issue: Decorative plants in our country are all grown with systemic pesticides. This protects all the crops grown by farmers, and also keeps the plants looking pretty for market. The growers and sellers of these plants do not intend for them to be used as food. This being the case, all these store bought plants are full of systemic pesticides that cannot be washed off. The chemicals are taken up by the roots and integrated into the plant's tissues. It takes a year for it to dissipate to safe levels. The tortoise shouldn't be fed, or allowed access to these plants, until at least that much time has passed. I got this info form a tortoise keeping member here who also works at a commercial nursery where many of these plants are generated. You can make a border around the new plants using cinder blocks, or 2x12s with stakes in the ground.

In such a large yard, here is another idea. Block off 8 or 10 sections that are 4x8 ish, and plant different plots of various tortoise seed mixes. You could do an alfalfa plot, a Testudo seed mix plot or several, a grass mix plot, and any others that appeal to you. Let the plants spout and grow, and then either cut off what you want to feed for the day, or open up one or two plots at a time and let the tortoise self graze. When one plot is grazed enough, close it back up, and open another one. Rotating through this way should allow enough time for each plot to recover. I use seeds from these places:

Here is one more suggestion. That big yard is wide open and it is going to literally bake in your intense summer sun. Plant a big fruitless mulberry tree right in the middle of it away from the house and fence. Mulberry leaves are excellent tortoise food, and these trees make very heavy shade under them which will allow your tortoise to be out and about a lot more during the day before overheating and having to retreat back underground. Mulberry trees do great in your climate. They somehow survive that intense heat as long as you keep them watered. I make a basin around mine and the tortoises like to come play in the water when I water them.

Also be aware that a lot of the care info that is offered for this species is old, outdated, and wrong. Many of them die because of that old wrong info. They need a lot more water than what is suggested. Living above ground in our yards is not how they live in the wild, and the temperature extremes and dryness are not good for them. Regular soaks, wetting their food, and making puddles in the yard are all good ways to keep them hydrated.

This is a lot to take in. Questions and conversation are welcome! :)
 

BackYardTortoise

New Member
Joined
Feb 29, 2020
Messages
3
Location (City and/or State)
Mesa Arizona
Good advice. Thank you. We will as the post title says do it slow and steady and get a tortoise next year once the plants have grown quite a bit bigger and are safe to eat from. We already have a fenced off portion on the other side of the house where we intend to plant our prickly pear clippings. We have a patio for shade and we still intend on doing a burrow soon to see how it does heat wise during the hottest part of this summer and winter, but we may consider putting a tree in the middle of the grass (perhaps a mulberry like you advised). Thank you and see you all next year!
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 23, 2008
Messages
83,703
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
My desert tortoises live in a large lot that's planted in Bermuda grass. They shelter under a large mulberry tree. Those two items are their main diet. I occasionally supplement with grocery store greens. They get along just fine on the grass and leaves.
 

maggie18fan

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2018
Messages
544
Location (City and/or State)
Corvallis Oregon
Hi all! I found this forum about a month ago when I was researching into tortoise care and I've already learned a ton and love the community here. We just bought a house with a large backyard (large for Mesa, Arizona) and want to get a backyard tortoise. We are going to apply to adopt a Desert Sonoran Tortoise with the AZ Fish & Wildlife.

Instead of being hasty though we decided to take things slow and steady to prepare our backyard to make it a paradise for our future Sonoran Desert Tortoise, starting with it's food!

The house came with a very large grass plot, but I wanted to add shrubs. We now have 9 hibiscus plants (4 desert blue and 5 of the typical variety), 6 globe Mallows (more to come), 3 fairy duster bushes, 2 ruella bushes, and lots of evening primrose planted. We also have 4 pads of the spineless variety of prickly pear almost ready to plant once they scab over at the bottom. Not all plants are pictured below but I mostly wanted to show the amount of grass since that's a lot of a tortoises diet.View attachment 288616
View attachment 288617
View attachment 288618
Question! Is it reasonable to assume that all this landscaping should be sufficient to keep a Sonoran Desert Tortoise full and happy all year round? We weren't planning on doing much supplemental feeding other than the occasional treat. Of course no fertilizers/weed killers on our plants!

Our next step is to get the burrow created (doing an in-ground one) and getting the grass much greener. Our ETA on getting our tortoise is May/June of this year after we give our plants a chance to establish. Again, we don't want to be hasty and want this to be done right.

Just wanted to say hello officially and gauge if it's realistic to think a tortoise can thrive with the amount of plants listed above. I'll post again once the burrow is built and another post once we have our tortoise! We're very excited!
I like what you are doing...let the lawn grow...don't cut it as it's too short now for them to bite...you also could plant Rose of Sharon bushes...they eat the blooms and leaves...104.JPG103.JPGRose of
 
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