With their tiny noses and prickly spines, hedgehogs are adorable and enormously entertaining garden visitors. But did you know they are some of the best critters to attract to your garden for natural pest control?
Often nicknamed “a gardener’s best friend,” the humble hedgehog is a backyard pest’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, pesticides, and other factors, hedgehog populations are on the decline. But there is something you can do about it.
By taking simple steps, such as providing shelter and other resources for visiting hedgehogs, you can make your backyard and garden into a hedgehog paradise. Not only will your garden benefit from their presence, but you’ll be providing hedgehogs with the necessities they need to make a comeback.
- Tell me more about hedgehogs
- Why are hedgehog populations declining?
- The benefits of attracting hedgehogs to your garden
- Top 13 ways to make your garden hedgehog friendly
- 1. Create “hedgehog highways”
- 2. Make sure your pond is hedgehog-safe
- 3. Cover up any holes
- 4. Provide a water feature
- 5. Give hedgehogs a treat
- 6. Add a feeding station
- 7. Let plants get a bit wild
- 8. Add shelter
- 9. Take care while mowing
- 10. Be wise with bonfires
- 11. Choose the right plants
- 12. Make your garden tangle-free
- 13. Go organic
Tell me more about hedgehogs
Are they porcupines? Rodents? Relatives of squirrels? What are hedgehogs, exactly?
The answer is none of the above. Despite their spines, hedgehogs are not related to porcupines whatsoever. Nor are hedgehogs rodents, like chipmunks and squirrels. Instead, hedgehogs belong to the Erinaceidae family, which includes the moonrat (also known as gymnures) of southeast Asia. If moonrats don’t sound familiar, that’s okay. Hedgehogs are also distantly related to shrews.
Today there are 17 recognized species of hedgehogs. Categorized as omnivores, hedgehogs are opportunistic hunters and will scavenge fallen fruit, bird eggs, and carrion when available; however, more than anything, they have an insatiable appetite for insects. From slugs and snails to worms and beetles, hedgehogs will eat just about anything “creepy crawly,” which makes them one of the best natural predators to attract to your garden for pest control.
Although occasionally seen during daylight hours, hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal, meaning they hunt at night, largely to avoid being hunted themselves by predators like hawks. Incredibly active little animals, hedgehogs are not territorial, but they do have regular routines and tend to visit the same gardens and backyards at the same time every night. In a single evening, one hedgehog can travel well over a mile for food and, in any given night, your backyard may be visited by ten or more hogs on the prowl for an insect meal.
When temperatures drop in late fall, usually around October or November, hedgehogs will begin preparing for hibernation by eating more to store up fat for winter. In mild winters, hedgehogs may not begin hibernating until December, but once they nestle down for the season, they usually stay in their burrows until spring arrives in March or April.
While hibernating, hedgehogs are not entirely asleep, but rather in a state of “torpor” during which their temperature drops and their bodily functions slow to conserve energy. But, because they are not truly asleep, they will occasionally venture out of their burrows.
Often, in a single hibernation period, hedgehogs will change burrows at least once and they may also be spotted about scavenging for food if their food reserves become depleted. Just remember that disturbing a hibernating hedgehog can be particularly dangerous to their health as they need their conserved energy to survive the winter and don’t have much to spare for eluding predators, like humans.
After emerging from hibernation in spring, hedgehogs will usually mate, giving birth to litters ranging from three to seven “hoglets” in June or July.
Fun fact: Hedgehogs have relatively poor eyesight, but they make up for it with their other senses. Using their keen sense of smell and hearing, hedgehogs can detect insects underground and can even find them in pitch dark.
Why are hedgehog populations declining?
Hedgehog numbers are on the decline due to a number of factors; however, two issues stand out above the rest: loss of habitat and pesticide use.
Hedgehogs naturally travel quite a bit during their nightly foraging, but their territories are being massively reduced as a result of agricultural intensification and residential developments. Once, hedgehogs had natural areas to roam, where trees and shrubs provided protection against predators. Today, large farm fields have taken the place of smaller family farms and hedgehogs have difficulty navigating those wide-open spaces.
What’s more, residential developments interrupt hedgehogs’ natural movements with fencing and roadways, creating highly fragmented habitats that are difficult for roaming hedgehogs to navigate. And if hedgehogs do find their way into suburban backyards, they may discover little shelter there due to some homeowners’ habits of making their yards “too tidy,” by removing all brush, leaf litter and overgrown plants where hedgehogs would naturally hide.
But beyond habitat loss, the growing use of pesticides and herbicides poses a significant risk for hedgehogs too. Increased pesticide use has caused plummeting insect numbers which translates into less food for natural insectivores, like hedgehogs. Even worse, if hedgehogs eat insects that have been sprayed with or have ingested insecticides, hedgehogs can be poisoned too, which can result in serious health complications and even death.
But there is hope. By creating your own backyard oasis for hedgehogs, and encouraging your neighbors to do the same, you can do a lot to help hedgehogs make a comeback. Just provide them with a little shelter, a ready supply of insects and a bit of understanding and hedgehogs will reward you with a pest-free garden.
The benefits of attracting hedgehogs to your garden
Hedgehogs’ cute little faces and amusing habits make them a delight to watch if they decide to visit your backyard, but hedgehogs offer very tangible benefits to your garden space as well.
Roughly 75% of hedgehogs’ diets consists of insects, making them some of the best natural predators to attract to your garden. While hedgehogs are not particularly picky eaters, some of their favorite pests to munch on include:
- Crickets and grasshoppers
- Centipedes and millipedes
- Slugs and snails
- Hornworms and other caterpillars
Top 13 ways to make your garden hedgehog friendly
Like any wild animal, hedgehogs need a naturalized environment to feel safe and happy. In your own backyard, that can mean letting plants get a bit a wild, providing ready access for traveling hogs on the move and discovering ways to ensure that any hedgehogs that take up residence have plenty of insects to munch on.
Read on for our top 13 tips for turning your garden into a paradise fit for hedgehogs. In no time at all, these prickly little insectivores will be prowling your property and you’ll reap the benefits with a thriving garden.
1. Create “hedgehog highways”
In nature, hedgehogs travel a lot, roaming well over a mile every night in search of food. However, fencing and rock walls can make the journey difficult, if not downright impossible, for hungry hedgehogs.
Make sure that hedgehogs can move freely about your space and enter your yard by creating small holes in your fencing, approximately 5” square. These hedgehog holes will guarantee that hedgehogs can move from yard to yard and find their way into your space. Better still, because of their size, these hedgehog holes should be large enough for hogs, but too small to permit access to larger predators and household pets.
If you don’t want to cut a hole in your fencing, or you have a rock wall, consider digging a hole underneath your perimeter for hedgehog access, or look for a gravel board with a premade hedgehog hole to use with an existing fence.
For a little extra charm, try decorating your “hedgehog highway” entrance or plant it with mini plants for a precious, fairy garden look. You can even order a snazzy little hedgehog doorway to accentuate your design.
2. Make sure your pond is hedgehog-safe
While hedgehogs are excellent swimmers, pools, open ponds or other large water features can pose a serious hazard to foraging hedgehogs, especially if those ponds are manmade and have steep, flat walls that hogs can’t climb out of.
To make your ponds and pools hedgehog-safe, add a ramp or other inclined surface to give hedgehogs an easy exit if they accidentally tumble in.
If you’re more inclined towards DIY, or if you’re working with a natural pond aesthetic, try making a homemade ramp by piling up some small stones or craft one out of chicken wire or untreated wood.
3. Cover up any holes
Small holes and open drains in your yard may not look dangerous to you, but they can be disastrous for tiny hedgehogs.
To make sure your yard is hedgehog-proof, check for any large depressions, open drainpipes or other holes that hedgehogs may accidentally get trapped in and fill them in or cover them with screening if possible.
If you can’t cover up certain holes, be sure to check them daily for any hapless hedgies that may have gotten trapped.
4. Provide a water feature
If you already have a backyard pond or water feature, hedgehogs will gladly stop by for a drink, especially on a hot, summer day. However, if you don’t have a pond already, you can easily add a small water feature that hedgehogs can’t resist.
While birdbaths are obvious choices, you can make a super simply water feature or two by simply filling up small dishes, bowls or terracotta saucers with a bit of water and placing them around your garden or near known hedgehog burrows.
To prevent disease spread, make a habit out of cleaning your bowls daily and replenishing them with clean, fresh water.
5. Give hedgehogs a treat
While hedgehogs are primarily insectivores, they have a hard time resisting other tasty, protein-rich treats.
To supplement hedgehogs’ natural diet, try putting out saucers of quality wet cat or dog food in your backyard, or crush a bit of dry kibble and sprinkle it on a plate. Or, for a special treat, you can purchase hedgehog food that is specially formulated for your spiny garden friends.
And, as always, for the safety of your garden visitors, be sure to clean your bowls and provide fresh food daily to prevent disease or issues with mold.
Note: While you may be tempted to feed your resident hedgehogs human food, try to resist. Milk and bread, in particular, are not great for hedgehogs as they are naturally lactose-intolerant and bread has little nutritional value for them.
6. Add a feeding station
Adding a bowl of water or hedgehog food to your garden is fine and all, but if you want to take it a step further, why not build a dedicated hedgehog feeding station instead?
Open bowls of food are subject to the elements and may become soggy in rain or be gobbled up by other garden visitors. However, creating a covered feeding station will not only guarantee that food stays fresh and dry longer, but it will also provide hedgehogs with some predator protection while they are feeding.
Premade hedgehog feeding stations can be purchased online or you can make one of your own with some scrap wood.
For a super inexpensive option, you can also make a simple feeding station using a plastic storage tote.
Make your own DIY feeding station
What you’ll need:
- A plastic storage tote with lid, at least 18” x 12” in size
- A utility knife
- A bit of newspaper
- Duct tape
- Measuring tape
- A brick or stone
- Two feeding bowls
What to do:
I. Decide how you want to orient your feeding station. Do you want the lid on top or on the bottom? It’s really just a matter of personal preference and totally up to you.
II. Cut your entrance hole. Using your measuring tape and utility knife, carefully measure out and cut a hole in the side of your tote, approximately 5” square.
III. Tape your hole for safety. After cutting your entrance hole, the sides will likely be sharp and jagged, which could scratch or cut your wild hedgehogs. To prevent any sharp edges, simply apply duct tape to the edges of your hole so that your entrance has nice, smooth sides.
- Fill up your feeding station. Place a sheet of newspaper in the bottom of your feeding station for cleanliness and add your food and water bowls, topping them off with some nice, fresh goodies for your hedgehogs.
- Locate your feeding station. For safety, locate your feeding station’s entrance near a fence wall or under some shrubbery so that there is just enough space around the entrance for hedgehogs, but not enough space for larger predators, like cats, to hang out. As an extra precaution, place your stone or brick on top of your feeding station to prevent cats or other predators from pushing the lid off.Once a day, check your feeding station, replacing the newspaper as needed and cleaning out your bowls to prevent bacteria. With the help of your feeding station lid’s, food should remain fresher longer and won’t get soggy due to rain and inclement weather.
And that’s it! You’ve made yourself an easy and inexpensive feeding station hedgehogs are sure to love.
7. Let plants get a bit wild
An overgrown hedge, a loosely stacked pile of logs or a patch of long grass and native plants can all provide much-needed shelter for hedgehogs during the heat of summer, as well as a cozy place to burrow down when it comes time to hibernate. Although some may value tidy gardens and perfectly manicured lawns, when it comes to attracting hedgehogs, the wilder, the better!
Instead of bagging old plant matter and hauling it away, resist the temptation and leave some of it in place for your garden visitors. Hedgehogs will not only shelter in loose plant material, but they will also gather fallen leaves and grass clippings in autumn to line their winter nests with.
Beyond providing shelter, letting your garden get a bit wild is a great way to encourage insects to take up residence in your space, which will provide a ready food source for your local hedgehogs.
8. Add shelter
While log piles and areas of unkempt grass and plants can provide shelter for hedgehogs, spaces under sheds, porches or patios make great hibernation burrows too. For this reason, if you suspect hedgehogs have taken up residence in your yard, try to not disturb them if possible.
If you have yet to attract hedgies to your space, you can make your backyard more desirable by adding additional shelter. Large shrubs and beds of leafy, evergreen plants are great choices, but you can also make a simple hedgehog hibernation burrow with some bricks or untreated scrap wood. These homemade burrows are similar in structure to the feeding station mentioned above, but a bit larger and more permanent. For extra insulation, shelters can also be buried slightly underground, just be sure to use material that can stand up to moisture and won’t collapse if you choose to go this route.
For the less handy among us, there are plenty of premade hedgehog shelters available online as well. The model made by Fallen Fruits, which features a small tunnel entrance, is a great choice, as is the more modern design of the Hoglio by Wildlife World.
Note: As hedgehogs frequently move into outdoor buildings and sheds for shelter, be careful when you close your doors and double check to make sure you aren’t accidentally locking a hapless hedgehog inside. Try to shut doors behind you or leave them cracked open slightly to allow hedgehogs to come and go as they please.
For an additional safety precaution, if you keep any chemicals in your outdoor shed, store them high up and away from shed floors where curious hedgehogs may encounter them.
9. Take care while mowing
Most garden visitors, like chipmunks and birds, will run when they hear the steady hum of a lawnmower or weedwhacker. But not hedgehogs. Hedgehogs’ spines serve as their natural defense mechanism. When threatened, they ball up, displaying their prickles for all to see and to warn predators that they are in for a nasty, and sharp, surprise if they try to take a bite. While this defense strategy excels against the soft mouths of felines and neighborhood dogs, it actually works against hedgehogs when it comes to lawn equipment.
Every year, wildlife shelters receive calls about unlucky hedgehogs who had a nasty encounter with a weedwhacker or mower. To avoid such a tragedy taking place in your garden, remember to check your yard prior to mowing and mow slowly to give yourself the time to react if you do see a hog in your grass. Take particular care when mowing in tall grass and under shrubs where hedgehogs may have settled down during the day to nap.
Technology is always changing and evolving and one of the newest inventions to enter the gardening world are robot lawnmowers. Because they are unmanned, these lawnmowers pose an even worse hazard for hedgehogs and are best avoided in areas where hedgehogs, or any other small animals, are present.
Compost piles, too, should be handled with care if you live in an area where hedgehogs are present. Because they are often constructed of soft, loose and tasty material, compost piles lure in hedgehogs who burrow into them for shelter. For this reason, if you have a compost pile, be extra careful when turning it with your gardening fork and move slowly so you don’t accidentally encounter any hiding critters.
If you do see a hedgehog, they are generally very easy to move and relocate -- just put on some garden gloves or other thick, protective gloves to avoid being poked.
While moving single hedgies is usually a simple affair, if you need to relocate a family of hedgehogs and are having difficulty, give your local wildlife office a call to see if they can help or provide some extra advice.
10. Be wise with bonfires
Hedgehogs naturally seek out piles of brush and sticks to call home, which works fine in nature, but not so well in residential areas where those piles may be the makings of a future bonfire.
With this in mind, before lighting any brush piles on fire, do your best to disturb them as much as you can to send any hidden hedgehogs running. Better still, relocate established piles to a new spot before burning or wait until the day you intend to burn old yard debris to form your pile. This will guarantee that there are no hidden animals, hedgehogs or otherwise, that may come to harm when you light your fire.
11. Choose the right plants
While hedgehogs won’t munch on your garden plants, their insect prey will. Insects will be naturally drawn to the plants in your garden and, when they are, hedgehogs likely won’t be far behind. These natural-born insect-eaters are always happy to find a crunchy crawler for a meal, after all. But if you want to attract more hedgehogs to your space, try sowing plants that will draw in more insects, and hedgehogs too.
The insects hedgehogs feast on are attracted to tasty plants, specifically plants with tender foliage and species that are rich in nectar and pollen. Plants, like cabbage, are sure to lure in juicy caterpillars and slugs, while nectar-rich plants, like yarrow, are favorites among foraging beetles. For more plants that are sure to bring hunting hedgehogs to your garden, try out:
- White clover
- Ox-eye daisy
- Brassicas, including kale, collard greens and cabbages.
- Nightshades, including tomatoes and flowering tobacco.
But besides plants that attract hedgehogs’ usual prey, you can also plant hedges and trees that are useful for hogs, particularly in autumn when they begin to build their hibernation nests. Around this time, deciduous trees are particularly important for hedgehogs as they often gather their fallen leaves to line their nests with. Some great options for sheltering trees and shrubs include:
- Wild cherry
- Field maple
12. Make your garden tangle-free
Hedgehogs have a habit of accidentally getting entangled in things. That’s why it’s so important that you keep your garden free from trash and other potential snares.
While you wouldn’t want to leave trash lying around your garden anyway, litter can be potentially life-threatening to hedgehogs. Items like plastic bags, bits of twine, the packing rings from 6-packs, yogurt containers and old jars can ensnare unsuspecting hogs, particularly if they smell like old food, which may draw hedgehogs in.
Ropes, garden twine, sports netting and bird netting for gardens are also all potential threats for roaming hedgehogs. When not in use, be sure to store these items properly, by rolling them up or placing them in a shed or other outbuilding.
If you use garden netting to keep out birds and other pests, try to replace it if possible with rigid structures, such as fencing or hardware cloth, which hedgehogs are less likely to get tangled up in. If you can’t replace your netting, try raising it at least 1’ off the ground so it is less of a risk for small critters.
13. Go organic
One of the leading causes of the decline in hedgehog numbers in recent decades is due to the increased use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides. Hedgehogs need insects to thrive, but when insect populations themselves are declining due to pesticides, hedgehogs can’t help but be affected.
As a result of declining insect numbers, hedgehogs need to travel further and work harder for meals. But when they do manage to find insects to eat, if those insects have eaten or come in contact with pesticides, that can spell even worse trouble for hedgehogs.
Many pesticides, including slug pellets, and synthetic herbicides are toxic to hedgehogs and can cause secondary poisoning in them if they manage to eat contaminated bugs. Symptoms can range from mild digestive symptoms to neurological issues and, sometimes, death.
But there is a solution: going organic. By choosing organic and all-natural pest and weed control options, as well as organic fertilizers, you’re making a commitment to keeping hedgehogs safe, as well as other important species, like pollinators. And just because you choose to go organic, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your lawn or garden health, aesthetic and productivity.
Instead of synthetic fertilizers, opt for organic options, such as alfalfa meal, kelp meal or fish emulsion. Better yet, enrich your soil with all-natural compost or aged manure, which slowly feed plants the nutrients they need while also improving soil structure and drainage.
If you’re struggling with weeds, learn the fundamentals of weedless gardening, which include mulching, dripline systems and no-till gardening. Try out weed-suppression fabrics or, in a pinch, use household vinegar to combat weeds.
And if you’re dealing with garden pests, one of the best ways to handle them is to encourage natural predators, like hedgehogs, to visit your garden. Beyond that, opt for all-natural products, like neem oil and diatomaceous earth and learn how to apply them properly to keep pollinators safe. And, while you’re at it, try companion planting and some floating row covers. They’ll do wonders for keeping pests away and they don’t involve any chemicals whatsoever!
If you accidentally disturbed a hibernating hog, don’t worry. Just carefully place the hedgehog back where you found it, gently cover it up with its nesting material, and leave it alone.
If, for some reason, you can’t return the hedgehog to its original nest, place it in an area of your garden that is sheltered and safe from predators and leave the hedgehog alone to get its bearings and find a new nesting spot. A good spot would be a dry area under an outdoor shed or beneath a bushy, evergreen shrub. If any of the hedgehog’s original nesting material remains, place it near the hedgehog when you release it. The hedgehog may be able to reuse this material in its future den.
Despite your best efforts, if you aren’t able to find a good, sheltered location to release the hedgehog, you can place a box or other container, like a plastic storage, outdoors for the hedgehog to shelter in. Just be sure to cut a large enough hole, approximately 5” square, so that the hedgehog can easily move in and out of the container without issue.
And, if all else fails, try calling your local wildlife office. They may be able to help or give you additional information.
As with hibernating hedgehogs, the best thing you can do is to leave the nest as close to the way you found it as possible. If any bedding has been moved, carefully replace it over the hoglets and leave the area.
If you need additional help or advice, contact your local wildlife office.
Nope! If you can, try to feed your local hedgehogs all year long, including during the winter.
Although hedgehogs do hibernate, they never fall entirely asleep but, instead, exist in a state of dormancy. If the winter is mild, their fat reserves become depleted, or they gave birth to a particularly late litter of hungry hoglets, hedgehogs will emerge from their burrows in the hunt for food, even in the depths of winter.
As most plants will not be in bloom and likely will be dormant themselves, they won’t be attracting the insects that hedgehogs normally feast on. That’s why it’s particularly important to place food and bowls of fresh water outdoors during winter, just in case your backyard hedgies wake up and go searching for a snack.
The best times of the year to place a bit of extra hedgehog kibble and water outdoors are winter, during the peak of summer heat, and in late fall and early spring when hedgehogs are just beginning to enter into and exit out of hibernation.
Usually, no. Except for mothers who are just about to give birth and are on the search for nesting materials and nursing mothers looking for a bit of extra food, hedgehogs are nocturnal and generally should not be out during the day.
If you see a hedgehog out in daylight, take note. You don’t need to intervene right away, but if it seems lethargic, confused or appears to be “sunbathing,” your best bet is to call your local wildlife office and ask for help.
Love is in the air! Hedgehogs reach sexual maturity around two years of age and search for a mate anytime between April and September when the weather is warm; however, most activity takes place in May and June.
Male hedgehogs attempt to court females with a series of grunts, squeaks and puffing sounds, which can be quite noisy. No worries though, it’s just nature being nature.
Cats in general will leave hedgehogs alone, especially if they encounter their prickles once or twice.
Dogs, on the other hand, pose more of a threat to roaming hedgies and should be prevented from coming in close contact with hedgehogs if possible. This is particularly true if you have a larger dog that has hunted small animals in the past.
Some signs that hedgehogs have taken up residence in your backyard include finding their very distinct scat or footprints in soft, wet mud.
If you happen to have a hedgehog house, you can also see if it is being visited by placing some leaves near the entrance. Hedgehogs will often drag leaves inside their homes, which will be a clear sign that your hedgehog home is no longer vacant. Alternatively, you can also place a small stick across the home’s entrance and see if it moves overnight. Although this isn’t a sure sign you have a hedgehog neighbor, it’s quite likely!
Of course, the surest way to know if you have hedgehogs is to actually see one, but if you don’t feel like keeping vigil all night, try installing a trail cam to keep tabs on your garden’s nocturnal inhabitants.
Hedgehogs are more than just adorable little critters. They are incredibly efficient insectivores that will help to keep your garden and produce safe from pesky pests like hornworms, earwigs and vegetable-eating beetles. But hedgehogs need our help.
Due to habitat loss and the use of pesticides, hedgehog numbers are on the decline; however, creating a backyard habitat for these little bug eaters can help their numbers bounce back. And it doesn’t need to be difficult. Above, we’ve listed some of the best ways to build a backyard habitat for hedgehogs, but your own yard doesn’t need to have all of these elements.
Simply adding a hedgehog highway entrance in your fence can help them forage more easily at night. Or perhaps adding a feeding station with some tasty snacks for local hedgies is more your style. Whatever you choose to do, know that you’re taking active and useful steps to help preserve this precious species and ensure that hedgehogs will continue to be the bug-busting brutes they’ve been for generations.