Your chickens are more than happy to spend their entire day scratching through the dirt and eating everything in sight. While quite natural for a chicken, their constant churning is hard on grass and other plants inside your run. With the right landscaping, you can create an area that is healthy, beautiful and safe for your chickens.
Chicken Safe Plants
Finding the right plants for your run isn’t difficult – keeping them alive is. Chickens will eat just about anything they can reach, stripping bushes, devouring greens and trampling flowers on a whim. If you want anything to survive in your run you will need to protect it until it can manage on its own. Depending on the type of plants you chose, there are a variety of ways to incorporate them into your landscaping – although a determined hen can find creative ways to get around most barriers.
There are many different opinions about what plants should or should not be incorporated in a run, but very little hard data on actual toxicity. Because so many people feed their chickens kitchen scraps it is safe to assume that most of the plants we regularly grow in our gardens are also safe for chickens to consume. Here is a sample sized selection of common flowering plants, fruits, herbs, and vegetables that are both attractive and safe to plant in your chicken garden:
- Butterfly Bushes
- Rose Bushes
Focus on Hardy Varieties
Bushes and trees are the easiest plants to protect in your run and provide your birds with food and shelter from both predators and bad weather. Plants that grow quickly, are tall or leave stalks or canes up over the winter are better able to withstand the onslaught of attention your chickens will provide. Look for woody shrubs, quick growing greens and fruiting bushes for hardy, colorful options. The more plants you have, the less likely anyone plant will receive too much attention. In the case of your run – more really is better.
Ornamental grasses are one of the more successful plants you will find inside a chicken run. These grasses are tall, brush-like and make attractive, hardy additions. It is best to plant them after they have gotten quite tall, or to protect them with a sheath of hardware wire until they have grown large enough to avoid undue attention.
Any plants where the majority of the growth happens above “chicken height” will do well in your garden. Shrubs provide height without a place to roost or take off from to hop your fence. Rose bushes are especially popular for both their color and their smell.
Protect Your Plants
The only effective way of keeping your chickens away from a plant is to plant it well away from your run. A determined chicken can find a way to bypass most security measures, but there are many ways you can defend your landscaping from feathered marauders.
A bit of hardware cloth can go a long way toward keeping your chickens away from delicate sprouts and small plants. It can also provide a quick trellis for vining plants that doesn’t also give your girls a place to sit for their vine-y meal. It is best to cone all plants in wire until they have rooted and stabilized. A cone shape prevents them from finding a secure roost without leaving an open top for them to get trapped inside. Whenever possible you should secure cones to something else to keep them from tipping under the weight of curious birds.
Use containers whenever possible. Containers allow you to place plants strategically throughout your run without making them a permanent fixture. Plants under heavy attack can be removed or repositioned without further damage and with little effort. Containers can also be used to add texture, color, and atmosphere to your run. A planted post with a container on to that is protected by a cone to prevent landing is a great solution that adds height without providing an easy way out for flighty birds.
PVC pipes can be cut open and hung from walls, roofs, and posts to create chicken proof planters. With nowhere to roost, these planters are about as versatile and chicken-proof as you can get.
Landscaping is the easiest and most effective way of making your run an attractive, friendly area to your chickens and their human visitors. Look for large, natural elements that are easy to clean, maintenance free and fairly heavy to prevent accidental disasters.
Large rocks or paving stones are a great way to add features to your run without creating a mess. Used as singular features, a rock can provide a short roost – in piles they can be used to protect vulnerable roots, hide pipes and discourage scratching. Decorative paving stones also make attractive, scatter resistant pathways.
Tree stumps, firewood, and logs are great perching places and attractive additions to your run. Theoretically, they should attract insects – but as most chicken keepers learn, insects don’t stick around too long inside a run.
Larger stones make a great landscaping substrate that doesn’t make a lot of mess and is easy to clean. Because they are harder to scratch around, they can be used to protect roots, fill holes and create decorative filler for low containers that won’t be easily forced out by laying hens.
Creating an attractive, chicken-friendly run isn’t impossible. There are a variety of ways to protect vegetation and design a space that is attractive to you and your chickens too. As a final tip – don’t get too attached to your plants, no matter how well protected they are a determined chicken will always find a way.