Chicken-Friendly Backyard Landscaping - Safe and Dangerous Trees, Bushes, Shrubs and Flowers


Lots of you raise backyard chickens that are allowed to roam your backyard, either supervised or unsupervised, and might wonder if your existing landscaping is okay if your chickens happen to nibble on it (which they are prone to do!). I'm frequently asked what kinds of plants, bushes and trees are safe to plant around chickens.

In addition, I'm often asked for a list of vegetables and herbs that can be planted in the garden that are safe for chickens to eat and a list of things that aren't safe. For the most part, anything you plant for your family will generally be safe for your chickens, with a few notable exceptions being anything in the nightshade family - ie, tomatoes, eggplant or white potatoes - or things in the onion family. As far as herbs go, the culinary herbs are generally safe for your chickens, although there are other herbs that can be harmful.

But I haven't seen too many lists of other types of plants that you might either already have in your backyard, or be thinking about planting in your backyard, so I've done some research and come up with some "safe" lists and then some plants that might pose a problem for your chickens. Many of these "toxic" plants appear on lists of plants that are toxic to livestock in general, not specifically chickens, but as always I would rather err on the side of caution. 

Usually chickens (and other animals) know enough to stay away from anything that could be toxic, so while I wouldn't go ripping out your entire oleander hedge for example, I wouldn't go out of my way to plant anything near your coop or where your chickens wander that could be dangerous if they were to eat it. Typically, animals provided adequate nutrition in their daily diet won't eat foliage, leaves or seeds of potentially harmful plants, but sometimes out of curiosity or boredom, they may just decide to nibble on something they shouldn't.


What's Safe for Chickens?
Safe plantings for your yard include...

Bushes/Shrubs 
In addition to berry bushes, there are lots of other types of bushes that your chickens can enjoy without worry. Our ducks especially like to nap under the various bushes in our yard.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa)
Blackberries
Blueberries
Butterfly bushes
Hawthorn
Hosta
Juniper
Lilacs
Raspberries
Roses

Flowers
There are a great many edible flowers that can be enjoyed by your chickens. Edible flowers also make wonderful drink or dessert garnish!
Baby's Breath
Bachelor Button
Bee Balm
Borage
Calendula
Chamomile
Coneflowers
Daisies
Dianthus
Echinacea
Hollyhock
Lavender
Mallow
Marigolds
Pansies
Peonies
Petunias
Pineapple Sage
Roses
Salvia
Snapdragon
Sunflower
Sweet William
Violets
Yarrow
Zinnias

Trees
If you are considering adding a few trees for shade in your yard or around your chicken run, these are good choices.
Alder
Ash
Aspen
Birch
Evergreen
Fig
Hazelnut
Hickory
Magnolia
Mimosa
Mulberry
Palm
Pecan
Poplar
Spruce
Sycamore

Vines
Vines trailing up the side of a chicken run provide wonderful shade from the sun as well as a bit of a wind block. There are some of my top choices.
Green Beans
Cucumbers
Grapes
Honeysuckle (some varieties are toxic, some aren't, so do some research first)
Jasmine
Morning Glory (the seeds of some varities are toxic, so check before planting)
Nasturtium
Peas
Roses
Squash


So What's Not Safe?
The list of toxic plants is extensive and should by no means be considered to be listed in its entirety here. I have merely tried to list some of the more common things that you might consider planting in your yard and caution you that they could have harmful effects on your chickens.
Steer clear of...

Bushes/Shrubs 
Not all shrubs are safe for your chickens. While I wouldn't necessarily pull them all out of my yard, I wouldn't deliberately plant any of these around my chickens.
Azalea
Bleeding heart
Boxwood
Bracken fern
Burning Bush
Elderberry
Eucalyptus
Hemlock
Holly
Hydrangea
Mistletoe
Mountain Laurel
Nandina
Oleander
Philodendron
Rhododendron
Wisteria

Flowers
Many bulbs are toxic to animals and appear on this list of flowers to avoid.
Amaryllis
Belladonna
Buttercup
Chrysanthemums
Daffodil
Delphinium
Hyacinth
Iris
Jack in the Pulpit
Lantana
Lily
Lupine
Milkweed
Narcissis
Nightshade
Poinsettia
Poppy
Tulip

Trees
Many trees can pose a problem as far as the dropped fruit/leaves/seeds are concerned. Here are some examples of trees to think twice about before planting them around your chickens.
Apple (seeds contain cyanide)
Apricot (pits contain cyanide)
Avocado
Box Elder
Cedar
Cherry (pits contain cyanide)
Chokecherry
Citrus (Lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit) too much citric acid can result in soft-shelled eggs
Eucalyptus
Horse Chestnut
Red Maple
Oak
Peach (pits contain cyanide)
Plum (pits contain cyanide)
Sumac
Wild cherry
Yew

Vines
Not all vines are safe. Here are some to avoid around your chickens.
Castor bean
Clematis
Honeysuckle (see above, it depends on the variety)
Ivy
False jasmine (Carolina or yellow)
Morning Glory (the seeds of some varities are toxic, so check before planting)
Poison sumac
Trumpet vine
Virginia creeper

Many of the toxic plants listed above are also toxic for humans, cats and dogs as well, so sticking with some safer options is generally better all around. At the very least, it's a good idea to be able to identify toxic plants, so if you suspect poisoning, you might be able to narrow down the possible culprit to notify your vet. If you do suspect any type of poisoning, administering some blackstrap molasses or activated charcoal can work as a natural detoxifier and help flush out any toxins before you can get to a vet.

Note: Remember that while chickens do a pretty good job at deciding what's okay to eat, letting them free range poses risks that they will ingest something that's not good for them, including any lawn or plant treatments you might use including fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. I personally recommend refraining from using any chemicals on your property if you raise chickens. It's healthier and safer for your family and other pets too. 


Some of the information in this article was excerpted from
 my new book Gardening with Chickens (Voyageur Press, 2016)

Other References:
http://www.library.illinois.edu/vex/toxic/toxiccomlist.htm
http://poisonousplants.ansci.cornell.edu/php/plants.php?action=indiv&byname=common&keynum=1
http://veterinaryteam.dvm360.com/top-5-trees-poisonous-large-animals
http://www.hobbyfarms.com/14-toxic-plants-your-chickens-must-avoid-3/
http://www.birdsafe.com/woods.htm
http://www.poison.org/articles/2007-jun/are-morning-glories-poisonous

Disclaimer: There are many, many other plants that can pose a threat to your chickens. Also, some of the plants on the safe list could be harmful if ingested in large amounts, or if they are contaminated by mold, fungus, pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals. Different animals react differently to various plants. Fresh Eggs Daily cannot be held accountable for any harm, injuries or death that befalls any flock resulting from reliance on the information contained herein. All information is provided for entertainment purposes only and should be treated as such.

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