My chickens enjoy a large outdoor run behind my 100 year old Chicken Coop, and over 7 years of chicken-keeping, I experimented with various methods of landscaping in and around the coop in order to keep the chicken coop and run clean, cool, and cheerfully green.
Here’s a list of my methods, a few I’ve outlined in detail below and a few that I’ve previous blogged about.
Ways to Keep a Chicken Run Green:
Build Chicken Grazing Boxes-
Using scrap lumber and wire mesh, I created slightly elevated platforms in my chicken run- the boxes prevent root damage and allow grass to be established in even a crowded chicken run, providing portioned forage and entertainment for enclosed chickens. Read how to build a chicken grazing box.
Oat Grass is my favorite to use, because it tolerates/grows in cooler weather and is cheap. A 50lb bag of whole oats from a feed store can plant many rounds of grass in your coop and can be fed like scratch feed to chickens.
2. Close & Plant Your Chicken Run in the Spring
Spring is a great time to free range your chickens or place them in a tractor to till garden beds. Use this time of year as an opportunity to let your chicken run rest completely. By March, my run is muddy and barren, so I close off the entrance to the run and scatter grass seed. A March/April rest for my chicken run means the perennial plants get to come out of dormancy without the stress of pecking, and grass seeds can get established.
Depending on the number of chickens you have and how often you free range, the coop planting season can feel like an exercise in futility, however I’ve always felt like even if it’s temporary, it’s worth the benefit in relation to helping prevent soil erosion (and manure run-off) by encouraging seed/root growth, and providing forage and shade for my birds during the summer.
By allowing the plants to semi-mature before exposing them to the chickens, most survive. I choose varieties, like sunflowers, that have tough stems that rapidly out grow the chickens reach. Planting sunflowers in April or May means having mature heads of seeds to feed the chickens as a treat in late summer & fall.
3. Plant Durable Perennials
For most plants, growing in a chicken run spells doom, but there are a few plants that thrive in this environment. In southern Missouri, a Redbud tree that I severely prune back every year in order to keep it shrub sized is the star of my chicken run. My advice is to consider what grows naturally without tending in your climate, and has a sturdy composition? Native plants have an edge, especially in a high traffic coop.
If you plant, you’ll probably want to plan on fencing off that area for 3-6 months, to allow your perennials to get established, but the shade a small tree or shrub can provide is appreciated by chickens and as a landscaping feature int he coop.
4. Use the Coop as an Arbor
I think my most successful method to landscape my chicken run has been landscaping over and around the chicken run. Vining plants around the coop provide shade, and once the plants are established, chickens will generally leave the thick stems alone. Growing watermelons vertically on a chicken coop has been a successful project for me, and a symbiotic gardening method where the chickens fertilize the watermelon and the watermelon vine shades the chickens and provides chicken food. (While the chickens can’t reach the melons growing overhead, after you’ve harvested and prepared the watermelon, chickens love the rind) Read more about using your coop as an arbor here.
5. Potted Plants Outside the Run
Landscaping around the outside of the run is an obvious and popular choice for making chicken runs seem less barren. It’s a great opportunity to bring color to the space and even food supplements. Marigolds are a particularly good choice for planting around a coop- the flower heads can be fed to chickens to brighten egg yolk color (marigold petals are an ingredient in some commercial egg-layer chicken feeds, for this reason) and the fragrance put off by marigolds deters flies and other insect pests.
List of Recommended Plants for In & Around Coop:
Inside Coop Run:
Native Trees (pruned to shrub size)
Watermelons (as well as Other Melons & Vining Plants)