Every year, I think I have finally designed the perfect chicken-proof garden… and then those little buggers prove me wrong!
Chickens are great to have around. They provide plenty of eggs and meat, they offer free fertilizer for the garden with their manure, some people even keep them as pets. However, make no bones about it – they are also super destructive.
If you’re interested in learning how to stop chickens from scratching up your trees and shrubs, you’ve come to the right place.
Realize the Benefits of Chickens
Okay, before I get into all the problems that chickens can cause, it’s important to recognize their utility in a garden, too. Chickens offer all kinds of benefits besides just freshly-laid eggs, but they also present their fair share of problems!
Although chickens will scratch to get at bugs, which can be a serious inconvenience when they scratch up all of your plants, the reality is that they are doing just that – getting at bugs. You won’t have to worry about nearly as many aphids, beetles, or other pests. You can grow a healthy garden without the need for chemical controls.
Plus, they’ll deposit their manure everywhere, which is good for your garden in and of itself.
Build Some Stronger Fences
This can be done in several ways. You can build a stronger fence around your chickens – which I’ll get to in a moment – or you can build stronger fences around your plants.
Sure, it might not look exactly how you’d like. However, you can easily design a fence that is both functional and attractive to keep your chickens excluded. Just make sure the fence is tall enough – and the openings in the fence small enough – to keep the birds away from the plants.
Grow Shrubs in Raised Beds or Containers
This won’t always work, as some shrubs and small trees don’t like being grown in containers (their roots become too confined).
But if your plant type will allow it, consider growing your shrubs in containers or raised beds. That way, the chickens won’t be able to jump up and get them (or if you’re growing in a container, you can always just move it).
Here are some plants that grow well in containers and raised beds:
- Lemon tree
- Japanese maple
- Dwarf Alberta spruce
- Pieris Japonica
- Kalmia latifolia
Keep Chickens Locked Up
For many chicken keepers, this is the least desirable option – but it doesn’t have to be! You can always keep your chickens confined to a coop or run.
If that doesn’t appeal to you (and I get where you’re coming from, because you want your chickens to have some room to roam) then you can always meet them halfway and try raising them in a chicken tractor instead.
Chicken tractors offer all the benefits of free-ranging without all the hassle. These “portable chicken coops” are meant to be moved every day, or at least on a somewhat regular basis.
Your chickens will move inside the coop/run and have access to fresh green grass (and new bugs!) wherever they go.
The benefits? You can still fertilize your lawn with that nutritious chicken poop, but you won’t have to worry about them grazing and pecking anywhere you don’t want them to. They’ll also be more protected from predators – and your garden will stay safe and sound, too.
Spray Them With Water
If you see your chickens wander near your shrubs or trees, you can always spray them with a blast of water. This works best when you are actually home to do it, of course, and you’ll need to blast them what seems like constantly.
However, if you only have a short period of time in which you need to keep your chickens away from the trees and shrubs (like when they’ve just been planted) it can work well as a temporary stop gate.
Create a Hedge
This one will certainly take some time to establish, but if you can, grow a hedge to keep your chickens out. It will look a lot more natural than a fence or a bit of chicken wire, helping to keep your chickens away from your vulnerable plants.
Choose Plants Carefully
There are some plants, like mint and lavender, that chickens are less likely to go after. If you can, consider growing these around your shrubs and trees. The chickens might stay away – although I haven’t had a ton of luck with this in my herb bed, I’ll say!
There are some shrubs that chickens aren’t particularly fond of, either. Hydrangeas, dogwoods, barberries, and roses are all ones that don’t seem bothered by a bit of chicken activity. The chickens more or less will leave them alone.
Try Sprinkling Spices
I’ve never had much luck with this, but some people swear by it – so feel free to give it a try. The theory is that chickens can be repelled by various strong-smelling spices, like cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, curry powder, and paprika.
Sprinkle some around the perimeter of your garden or around your shrubs and trees, and (theoretically) the chickens should stay away.
Why? They don’t like the smell of the species, so they’ll avoid areas that smell strongly. The spices may create an unpleasant tingling or burning sensation on their feet, too.
Invest in some rocks to keep chickens away from your larger plants. Ideally, the best ones will be smooth river rocks or older concrete pavers.
Circle the trunks of your sensitive shrubs and trees, making a makeshift collar with these rocks. That way, the chickens won’t be able to scratch near your plants.
Use a Heavier Mulch
If you’re planting shrubs or trees, there’s a good chance that you’re mulching around them. After all, much is a great way to conserve soil moisture and to prevent weeds from appearing.
The problem with mulch, though, is that it tends to stay damp and encourages chickens to peck and scratch around in it as they look for bugs, worms, spiders, and other tasty treats.
To prevent this, use a heavier-duty mulch, like lava rock or stone, that chickens aren’t as likely to scratch around in. Lighter mulches may encourage chickens to dust bathe.
Another solution is to secure your mulch with deer netting. Lay down some deer netting with small holes, so it looks invisible. You may have to put down a double layer if the holes are big enough for the chickens to peck in.
Simply lay the netting on top of the mulch and secure it with fabric staples. When you’re ready to plant, you can cut through the netting, push away the mulch, and plant away.
Or you can plant first, before putting down your mulch and netting. Just make sure the netting is tight so your chickens can’t get to the plants.
Be Careful About Pulling Weeds
Yes, you want to pull the weeds that pop up around your plants because they can rob your trees and shrubs of important nutrients, water, and space.
However, be careful about leaving open patches of dirt. These will attract the chickens, as they’ll be encouraged to make their dust baths there.
Plant a Few Shrubs Just For the Chickens
If you can, grow a few shrubs and trees that are just for your feathered friends. They’ll be drawn to those and (hopefully) leave the rest of your plants alone. Some good options include elderberries and blueberries.
Be Willing to Evolve
Most importantly, remember that gardening with chickens is a process that will require you to constantly evolve – and to always be on your toes! Implement some of these tips and, hopefully, your shrubs and trees will grow tall, healthy, and productive.
Rebekah is a part-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies.