Although it may seem like an exercise in futility, it actually IS possible to landscape your chicken run. A nicely landscaped run serves many purposes both for you, your flock and your neighbors.
Yes, this is my chicken yard - where more than two dozen chickens and ducks spend nearly all their waking hours.
My chicken yard is spacious and filled with flowering bushes, shrubs, climbing roses and even a small garden area for the chickens to enjoy. I plant climbing vines to run up the sides of the run and over the top to provide additional summer shade including roses, peas, squash, cucumbers, melons ...you could even try grape vines. The reasons to spend a bit of time (and money) working on a pleasing landscape for your chicken yard are many.
The more aesthetically pleasing the run area, the more time you will want to spend there with your chickens - and that is beneficial to you both. Flowers blooming and green leaves everywhere will help make your time spent with the chickens visually pleasing to your sense, just enhancing the natural joy their antics bring!
Another reason to think about how your run area looks is that your neighbors might be less apt to complain about your chickens if your run isn't an eyesore, but instead something they don't mind looking out their windows and seeing.
Landscaping also serves to block the visual line of sight of predators, both from the side and above. Even in a completely enclosed run, hawks will swoop down and other predators will approach from the sides, and shrubs and bushes can both block the predators from getting a good view of your flock, as well as provide your hens an added measure of security in their own minds.
One more purpose for landscaping is the bugs that the various shrubs and bushes attract for the chickens to eat, as well as the shade they provide. Shade is so important in the summertime and insects are nutritious and the chickens love catching and eating them.
The challenge of course is finding things to plant that the chickens won't eat, but aren't toxic to them. That can prove to be difficult, but not impossible.
The list of TOXIC PLANTS is extensive and includes:
azalea, bleeding heart, boxwood, bulb flowers (including iris, daffodil, hyacinth, amaryllis), castor bean, clematis, elderberry, English ivy, eucalyptus, foxglove, hemlock, holly, honeysuckle, hydrangea, ivy, jasmine, lantana, lupine, mistletoe, morning glory, mountain laurel, nightshade, oak, oleander, philodendron, poke weed, rhodedendron, skunk cabbage, wisteria and yew.
(this list is by no means exhaustive, but just some of the more common bushes and shrubs)
|~There were several azalea bushes in my run originally which I replanted as soon as I realized the could be toxic~|
So, to start from the beginning, here is the area in front of our barn that we decided to make into a run when we got our first batch of chickens.
I naively thought that the run would stay grassy with rose bushes in it and the various buckets of flowers and flowerbox I put under the window would be fine ! How wrong I was ! Within a few weeks, the entire run was dirt. The grass completely gone.
The rose bushes fortunately had grown taller, but the bottom two feet were bare.
The beautiful window box I had planted was completely emptied of every flower AND all the potting soil.
And the bucket of flowers was being used as a nesting bucket ! I actually found eggs nestled in the dirt on several occasions !
But I was determined to have a 'pretty' run for me AND for the hens, so I started reading up on chicken-resistant plants and doing some trial and error planting.
I can tell you this. They will eat every bit of hosta, luriope, gardenias, petunias you plant. At my wits end, I even tried hydrangea, which are supposedly toxic to chickens. I figured they had enough else to eat that they would just ignore it. They didn't eat the leaves and blooms, but they still killed the bush by pulling them all off and spitting them out and then scratching the roots up.
So now you know what doesn't work, here's what I have had good luck with...
Butterfly bushes are perfect in the run. They are so pretty and they grow fast, providing nice shade. The chickens don't eat them and the flowers attract lots of bugs.
I cut them back each spring, but even in the winter, the chickens and ducks like using them to snooze underneath....and hide behind.
Another suggestion is Juniper. The juniper doesn't provide quite as much shade, but it adds year-round color to the run, blocks predator's view into the run and the chickens don't touch it.
As a precaution and to let new shrubs get established, I ring the base with stones to prevent the chickens from scratching the roots up.
Most firs will do quite well in a run, just steer clear of yew as it is toxic.
Rosebushes actually turned out to be wonderful in the run. The chickens still eat the bottom two feet or so of leaves, but if you can cage the bushes until they are taller, the bushes will flourish. Learn how to make an easy Chicken Wire Garden Cloche HERE.
The leaves and petals are particular favorites of the chickens and ducks, and I toss them the spent blossoms, or they eat them as they fall. They also love eating the rose hips that I crack open for them with my fingernail once the petals have fallen off the flower.
Hawthorn is another great choice. The berries are edible and drop in the fall and so far our flock hasn't bothered the bushes or eaten any leaves.
It is always a good idea to cage new bushes to prevent any digging and scratching around the roots to let them take hold.
I frequently go out in the woods and find little shrubs and bushes and transplant them. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they end up being an afternoon snack for the chickens ! I found this one today and replanted it in the run. If they end up eating it, no harm done, at least it was free !
I also plant grass seed each spring. I block off the sunny half of the run before planting the seed and keep the chickens out until the grass has had a chance to establish itself. Just be sure that seed is not coated or treated with any chemical fertilizers. They end up scratching it all up, but it looks pretty while it lasts and keeps them occupied.
I plant edible flowers in the window box each spring, knowing the chickens will eat them but enjoying the flower until they do.
So it is possible to have a beautifully landscaped run. A few low stone walls make certain areas visually pleasing as well as provide a place for your chickens to get up out of the mud or snow. A variety of bushes and shrubs will make your run look nice, while providing shade, a supply of bugs and insects and a predator screen. The joy that a pretty run brings me makes it worth the extra effort.
Here is a short video I took, a sort of quick run tour, to show you some other things I have planted around the run. I apologize I don't know the names of many of the plants, but you might recognize them.
I never use any chemicals or fertilizers around the run area. Espoma makes some great organic, pet-and people-safe products for your garden, and they are the only things I use on the plants in the run.
If you want to read more on this topic, here's a book that has a lot of great ideas about creating chicken-friendly yards. A great resource whether you are planning on landscaping your run or allowing your chickens to roam free in your yard. It's a handy reference to look up whether plants are toxic or not, chicken-resistant or not.
Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom
Choosing safe bushes and plants sometimes seems overwhelming, and all plants are not toxic in the same amounts, but its good to keep away from those that can be. For the most part, chickens do know what is good to eat and what's not and they will stay away from anything that is dangerous unless they have nothing else to eat.
I hope this has given you some ideas and inspiration for creating a gorgeous run for your chickens. Happy Landscaping !