The Accidental Gardener: Y’all get your turtle on!

Add some personality to your garden with a turtle planter.

Here in the Lowcountry, we are crazy for turtles! Great fanfare is made with the first turtle nest sighting of the season, and everyone checks in for the daily nest tally. We couldn’t be prouder grandparents. Volunteers set their alarms for 4 a.m. and happily go out on predawn turtle patrols. Almost everyone is diligent in turning off their porch lights during the nesting season, and we wouldn’t be caught dead digging holes on the beach where our poor hapless baby turtles might fall in and not get back out. And while we are renowned for gardening to promote our pollinators and birds, you might ask what could we possibly plant for turtles?

So glad you asked. To show your support of our turtle population, plant a turtle topiary! You can order a turtle topiary form online (even prefilled with moss) or you can make one yourself using a few basic materials. If you plan to order one online, simply get out your credit card and away you go. To make one yourself, you will need a few basic materials:

Turtle topiary


Wire basket with cocoa liner
Chicken wire
Landscape cloth
Rust free wire
Potting soil
Sphagnum moss
Green spray paint (optional)
4 small clay pots (optional)
4 washers

Directions [1] Begin by stuffing your basket with soil and sphagnum moss that has been soaked in water and then cover the top (which will become the bottom of the turtle) with landscape cloth. Cut the cloth leaving 1/2-inch seam around the rim. Using wire or fishing line, sew the cloth to the frame of the basket. [2] Next, cut chicken wire to fit over the landscape cloth you just attached and wire it to the rim of your basket. Then cut chicken wire to form the head and tail of the turtle. You can spray paint the head and tail and simply stuff them both with sphagnum moss (that has been well soaked in water) if you like the natural look. If you plan to plant the head and tail, line them both with the landscape cloth and stuff with soil and then attach them to the basket using wire. [3] The head should point up and the tail obviously goes on the other side pointing down. For the feet, you can make little legs out of chicken wire (repeating the steps above) or use four small terra cotta pots. To attach the terra cotta pots, wrap a long strand of your wire around a washer and then insert the wire through the bottom hole located on the inside of the pot. Attach each pot appropriately to mimic the legs – two in front, two in back. You can cover your legs using the landscape cloth, leave them natural or paint them with a buttermilk moss mixture. [4] Now that you have your shape complete, you can begin planting your turtle. Simply place slits in the cocoa liner which will require a very sharp knife or nippers and insert the roots of your plants into the potting medium. I have found that creating a slit in the shape of an “X” makes for the easiest planting. Succulents are a fun way to cover your turtle and are readily available in small sizes with shallow roots. If you plan to cover your turtle in flowers, be sure to keep in mind the plants’ natural shape and stature. Water your turtle regularly and place him or her in the garden to admire. So, go get your turtle on, y’all, and happy planting!

Trim a turtle

The next time you reach for the hedge trimmers, consider trimming a bush or shrub into a fun shape. Turtles are easy to do. Wrap different sizes of wire frames around your plant. Form the perfect turtle shape, then trim any branches sticking out of the frame. You also can have fun with turtle shapes in flower beds.

Ask & Answer

Dear Accidental Gardener,
I bought a beautiful basket of petunias this spring but now the whole thing looks stringy and scraggly. What should I do? Is there any way to save it?
— Put Off by Petunias in Palmetto Hall

Dear Put Off,
The silver lining is that it’s your petunias that are looking stringy and scraggly, not your hairdo. Unfortunately, petunias do take a beating during the heat of our summers, but I have found that by cutting the plants back by a third, fertilizing them and moving them to the shade, they will recover, flush out and reward you with blooms through the fall. I only wish it were that easy for my hairdo.

Got a question for the Accidental Gardener? Email

Similar Posts