Backyard chickens enjoy spending most of their time in a garden. This is where they scratch the ground for worms, bugs, and small rodents. The garden also provides a safe haven away from the prying eyes of predators. At the same time, plants in the garden shield them against the sun in summer. So there is more to providing a garden for your backyard flock than just the beauty aspect of it.
On the other hand, chickens are omnivores and will devour several garden crops, grass, and everything else they will gain access to. It probably goes without saying, but once your chickens get a taste of their own garden, they will always want more. As chickens can’t differentiate your garden from theirs, take some time to implement measures that will keep your chickens out of your garden and in theirs.
Whether you are starting with a blank slate or working with a fully established mature landscape, here are several tips you will need to take in planning your chicken-friendly garden.
1. 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. However, don’t panic, 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. Make sure to 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.
2. Dust Bath
Chickens need to take dust baths to ward off external parasites and to keep their oil glands in check.
Adding a large area for dust baths will attract your chickens without much extra effort on your part. You can section off a large area and add dirt or diatomaceous earth for them to flap around in.
Once chickens find a favourite dust bath location, they will be back time and time again.
Why not add our ready-made dust bath to really get your new dust bath perfect.
3. Perimeter hens
If you are in love with the idea of having your chickens work the garden, and you are beyond frustrated with trying to keep them sorted out, perimeter work may be for you.
Building a chicken run along the outside walls of your garden is better than nothing. Chickens can make quite a difference in keeping grasshoppers, slugs, and snails down by only working the outside edges.
4. Predator Safety
As always, predators are lurking everywhere. You can plant bushes and shrubs around your garden that are chicken-friendly. Shrubs should be easy for chickens to hide beneath should an aerial predator decide to have chicken for lunch.
Tall plants and bushes provide additional benefits to your chickens such as shade in hot weather, and tasty treats (fallen apples and other fruits). These plants will keep the garden looking good throughout because your chickens will only eat bottom leaves but not higher growth.
5. Protect Your Plants With Barriers
Your chickens will often dig around your plantings and disturb the roots. So, it is a good idea to select hardy, durable plants. Deep-rooted perennials are a great choice. 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.
6. Incorporate Hardscaping
In order to incorporate hardscaping, you need to consider adding a few gravel paths to the garden. These paths are usually chicken-friendly and a good source of grit for their digestion. Gravel will also help control weeds, primarily when you use them together with the weed fabric during hardscaping.
Stone and cement are another great addition to your hardscaping when designing your chicken-friendly garden. They are easy to maintain and last longer than other materials in the garden.
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. Our forage seed mix 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 trays to grow first and deliver to their coop. Or, try our beneficial herb mix, these seeds have been chosen and blended to grow the perfect chook-friendly beneficial herb garden.
8. Chicken’s will help you clean up!
You can turn your chickens loose in the garden when you’re done with the season’s harvest, and your birds will happily clean up for you. 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. No plant is completey chicken proof
Chickens can be picky eaters. What one hen will eat, another will not. What one hen will not eat today, she may favour 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.
Tip: Here are some edible and chicken safe herbs and vegetables
- Bay leaves
- Brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers
Also, don’t forget to check out our article outlining beneficial herbs for chickens!