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
      Potted ponytail palm Several smaller ponytail palms in a nursery pot
    • African spear plant (Sansevieria cylindrica)
      Sansevieria cylindrica 'Starfish' in a nursery pot Large potted Sansevieria cylindrica
    • Spiderworts (huge variety)
      Tradescantia 'Nanouk' in a nursery pot Densely growing Callisia repens plant
    • Clovers
      Clover plant in a bioactive enclosure
    • Grasses
      (I'll add pics soon, but tbh you know what grass looks like)

    Other decent options:

    • All sorts of sansevierias (snake plants)
      Snake plant variety in a nursery pot Snake plant in nursery pot
    • Spider plants
      Spider plant in a bioactive setup Spider Plant
    • Haworthia succulents
      Haworthia in nursery pot Haworthia variety in a nursery pot
    • Eschevieria succulents
      Eschevieria succulents Assortment of small potted Eschevieria succulents
    • Sempervivum succulents (hens and chicks)
      Small assortment of hens and chicks plants in 2" nursery pots Sempervivum plant variety

    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:

    Image shows two planters before and after being buried under the substrate.

    Avoid Overwatering

    Don't forget to use a moisture meter to check if your plants need watered! Plants need less water than you might think.

    Two images showing a moisture meter reading "moist" in the root zone and "dry" outside of the root zone.

    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.

    Plants recently added to a bioactive setup

    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.

    A half gallon pump sprayer held in front of a bioactive hedgehog setup A pump sprayer misting a ponytail palm in a bioactive setup


    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!

    Assortment of 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!

    Assorted branches and rotted wood

    Everything Else

    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.

    Martin the hedgehog in front of his basin wheel Top-mounted basin wheel in bioactive tub setup

    Martin peeking out of his plastic hide

    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. 

    Head to another Hedgehog Bioactive section:

    1. Overview
    2. Substrate
    3. Cleanup Crew (CUC)
    4. Heating and Lighting
    5. Plants and Accessories (this page)