Bioactive Hedgehog Enclosure, Part 5: Safe Plants and Accessories
There isn't anything better for enclosure inspiration than the natural environment our pets are adapted to! Here are a few photos of habitat from a hedgehog's-eye-view in Kenya and Tanzania, taken during our trip to East Africa in 2021.
Plants for Bioactive Hedgehog Setups
When putting together an authentic bioactive setup, many keepers prefer to pick plants that are native to the same area, or replicate certain textures of the natural foliage. Of course, attempting a "perfect" replica of the wild isn't safe or feasible - so even though hedgehogs encounter tons of sharp, thorny plants in the wild, you don't need them in your enclosure!
There are TONS of plants in hedgehog habitat that are easy to find, or have comparable species available. Keep in mind that you might be looking for "weeds" - hardy, tolerant plants that live despite the elements. That's what you want in your setup!
Some steps for narrowing down plant options:
- What do I have access to?
- What is safe for my hedgehog?
- What will survive indoors with the lighting I have?
- What will survive a trampling/anointing by a hedgehog?
- What is my budget?
Here are my top recommendations to start:
- Ponytail palms
- African spear plant (Sansevieria cylindrica)
- Spiderworts (huge variety)
(I'll add pics soon, but tbh you know what grass looks like)
Other decent options:
- All sorts of sansevierias (snake plants)
- Spider plants
- Haworthia succulents
- Eschevieria succulents
- Sempervivum succulents (hens and chicks)
Understand that your plants are gonna get trampled, anointed with, dug up. You might have to try a variety out to see what will work in your conditions. For example, succulents prefer a LOT of light, and leaves can break off easily. Pre-established grass is hardy and can tolerate trampling. Plus it still looks great, even if all the grass dies and dries out!
Where to Buy Plants
Ideally, it's best to buy plants that you know are pest free, pesticide/herbicide free, etc - but that's not always easy. You can buy plants from nurseries and garden centers for very reasonable prices, and wash / quarantine them before adding them to your setup. That said - plants are a very fun hobby, and I encourage you to order from a local business or find a plant person on Facebook Marketplace to support with your plant dollars! It may be easier to find a seller who can confirm that the plants haven't been chemically treated.
Taking Care of your Plants
Bought your plants? Good! Now let's set them up for success.
Plant your Plant Planter (and say that ten times fast)
I highly recommend putting your plants inside a buried pot/planter that has a drainage hole. This will help the plant feel more stable, make it less likely your plant is upturned in various hedgehog adventures, and will help retain moisture around the roots so you don't have to add as much water to the whole enclosure. The drainage hole on the bottom will allow excess water to drain out and soak into the rest of the substrate.
In this photo you can see two planters I used before and after adding the plants and smoothing the substrate over the tops to "bury" them:
Don't forget to use a moisture meter to check if your plants need watered! Plants need less water than you might think.
Even if the substrate is dry on top, there's a good chance the plant still has plenty of water below the surface. Only water once the "root zone" dries out.
Let them Settle
Plants can take a bit to adjust to new soil, different lighting conditions, etc. Before setting your hedgie upon them, it helps to give your plants at least a few weeks to establish. This gives their roots some time to fill out and anchor in, which I find to be the most helpful part. It's nice for them to get to grow a bit, too, despite hedgies generally not acknowledging my aesthetic efforts.
Use a Pump Sprayer
I do almost all of our watering with a pump sprayer. A lot of plants appreciate getting wet all over, not just their roots! It helps wash dust off the leaves, gives a spike of increased humidity, and lets the water soak into the substrate more evenly. You can use this to "water" your main cleanup crew hiding areas, too.
Branches, Rocks, and Extras
Adding rocks is easy. Find a cool rock, wash it, add it to your setup. We are the weirdos who go to huge landscaping companies and hand-pick like 10 individual rocks, rather than buying a truckload. If you're reading this post, maybe you are also the type of human who enjoys picking out fun rocks!
Branches and sticks and logs are wonderful, but just be careful - some trees have natural compounds that make them unpleasant for cleanup crew or other plants to be around. You'll want to avoid anything that may have been sprayed with chemicals, or exposed to a lot of animal waste (potential disease spread). They also are almost guaranteed to bring along a little assortment of inverts and microorganisms - most are harmless, but you might want to be safe and soak them for a few days in water, or bake them if they fit in your oven. Often spiders or centipedes or ants you didn't see will come out to ask why their house is moving. If you opt to soak/bake, don't worry too much about killing off the beneficial microorganisms - it'll be repopulated quickly. The existing CUC in your enclosure will gladly migrate over onto the new items you add.
One of the benefits to branches/small logs is that they've often already undergone some decomposition, which makes them more nutritious and useful for your cleanup crew. If you lift a branch in a bioactive enclosure, you'll usually find that the underneath is teeming with happy bugs!
You'll obviously still need a secure place for your hedgie to sleep, and I strongly recommend still offering a wheel. Our 10 square foot bioactive is awesome, but definitely not big enough to allow the level of running most hedgies do! We've found that hedgehogs offered additional space and enrichment will actually run MORE on their wheel, rather than less.
Think about other fun enrichment you can add depending on the space available. Maybe you want to add a dedicated dig box that you'll add feeder insects to, tunnels, or additional logs and branches to break up the space.