Raising chickens is a fun and rewarding experience. What better way to thank your hardworking hens for laying those delicious eggs than with a chicken garden! Don't keep them locked up in a chicken coop or in a chicken run, chickens enjoy having their own garden, it helps keep down dust, attracts beneficial insects, and makes owning chickens even more enjoyable. However, chickens are omnivores and will quickly devour most garden plants, grass, and anything else they are given access to, including your vegetable garden. Here are 10 tips to successfully planting a beautiful home for your free range chickens.
1. No Plant Is Absolutely Chicken Proof
Backyard chickens can be picky eaters. What one hen will eat, another will not. What one hen will not eat today, she may favor next week or next year. And even if they don’t eat your plants, they may decide to dig up, sit on, or otherwise damage those plants. Before planting up all your landscaping with “chicken proof” plants, buy just a few and see how your chickens treat them for a few weeks before buying more. Often, chickens will not eat strongly flavored plants such as mint and rosemary. They also typically avoid eating sweet potato vines, vinca, juniper, fir, butterfly bush, and anything with spiky leaves. Ornamental grasses are especially nice for the chicken garden because they also look good in the winter.
2. Avoid Toxic Plants
Do not include these plants in your chicken garden: amaryllis, azalea, bleeding heart, boxwood, castor bean, clematis, daffodil, elderberry, English ivy, hyacinth, eucalyptus, foxglove, hemlock, holly, honeysuckle, hydrangea, iris, ivy, jasmine, lantana, lupine, morning glory, mountain laurel, nightshades, oleander, philodendron, rhododendron, wisteria and yew. If your chickens come across a toxic plant, they are unlikely to get a harmful dose if you unwittingly plant one in your chicken’s reach. These plants almost always taste bad to chickens, so one nibble will send them looking for something better to eat. Also avoid spraying or applying anything on your chicken garden that you wouldn’t want your chickens to eat, including pesticides and fertilizers that could harm your hens if they eat a treated leaf.
3. Chickens Love Digging
Chickens greatly appreciate you digging up the soil for them when you plant, makes taking their dust bath easier, but they may quickly unplant your hard work as they scavenge for worms and bugs in the freshly turned soil. You can cover the soil with wood chips, pavers or similar unappetizing material, or cage it in, until the plant is established. When planting your chicken garden, select potting soils and amendments that are perlite and vermiculite free. Chickens are naturally attracted to small white particles, and will eat up all that they can find. While it won’t harm the chickens, their digging will disturb the plants. Chickens will also dig in your compost pile. This may not be such a problem but they can kick out material and make a mess.
4. Protect Your Plants With Barriers
Because your chickens will often dig around your plantings and disturb the roots, it is a good idea to select hardy, durable plants, especially deep rooted perennials. You can also avoid having your chickens dig up plants by using containers wherever possible. However, expect that your curious birds will climb in and perch on the containers, unless you’ve planted them with spiny plants or guarded them with decorative twigs. Ambitious chickens have even been known to empty out pots of the plants and soil, and then use those pots as nest boxes. For lovely plants that they might eat, or if they won’t leave your potted plants alone, use hanging baskets to keep those plants out of reach.
5. Plan To Incorporate Hardscaping
Gravel paths are chicken friendly. Your chickens will enjoy eating the gravel (it helps their digestion), and will also keep the weeds down so you don’t need to use weed fabric under the hardscaping. Stone and cement walkways are also good additions to chicken gardens because they are easy to keep clean. Consider adding a low stone wall as well, which adds visual appeal, is a nice place to perch, and gives the chickens a place to get their feet out of mud or snow in wet weather.
6. Tall Plants Are An Important Design Element
Don’t forget about the big plants! Trees, bushes and climbing vines are an important part of any landscape design, and can provide your chickens additional benefits such as shade, shelter from predators and the elements, and even treats (such as fallen apples). Your chickens might eat the bottom leaves off some plants such as roses, but will not be able to reach the higher growth.
7. Grow Your Chickens Something Nice To Eat
Not all chicken garden landscaping is about keeping your birds out of the plants. It’s also nice to plant healthy treats for your girls to enjoy and include in the chickens diet. Peaceful Valley Omega-3 Forage Blend
is an excellent choice for your laying hens. You can either plant it in their yard and protect it from being entirely decimated by laying chicken wire over the roots, or you can plant it in flats to grow first and deliver to their coop.
8. Chickens Can Be Garden Helpers
What about the veggie garden? Chickens are not good guests where everything is edible. They will quickly wreck havoc on your lettuce and squash! However, they can help your garden with fertilizer (chicken manure) and pest control by building a “chicken moat” – a fenced run surrounding the garden.
You can also turn them loose in the garden when you’re done with the season’s harvest, and your birds will happily clean up for you. Do
remove spent tomato, eggplant, potato and other nightshade plants before letting your chickens in the garden, as these plants have toxic leaves. If you have a backyard orchard, your chickens can help keep down pest and weed problems by allowing them to graze around the trees.
9. Chickens Are Hard on Lawns
Chickens love eating grass. However, grass cannot withstand their scratching habits over extended time. If you will be “pasturing” your chickens, you will need to make sure you have enough space for them to graze without decimating the lawn. The easiest way to do this is to simply monitor and limit their grazing time. You can also fence off sections and practice rotational grazing. If one area of your lawn starts looking too bare while the chickens are still turned out on it, put a piece of wire fence over that section to protect the roots while the grass recovers. Never graze chickens on chemically treated lawns, or where the grass is more than 2 inches tall (the long pieces can get caught in their crops).
10. You Can Enjoy Your Chicken Garden Too!
Chicken gardens are much nicer to look at and visit than the average all-dirt chicken yard. Install a bench or comfortable, decorative chair (you’ll have to share with your hens who will also like to perch on it). Plant a tree to give you and your hens some summer shade. Spending time with your chickens is fun and relaxing, especially when it’s in a lovely setting that both you and your feathered friends enjoy!