Good chicken-coop landscaping includes a balance of well-chosen vegetation with foliage-friendly coop management practices. In this article, I’ll be reviewing the creative planting methods we use at Hawk Hill as well as the trial-and-error-proven plants we’ve come to use in and around our coop year after year.
List of Recommended Plants for In & Around Coop:
|Inside Coop Run||Outer Edges of Run|
|Native Trees (prune as described)||Trellised Watermelons (+ other robust vines)|
|Oat Grass (in grazing boxes)||Marigold|
Good management of plants in and around your chicken coop and run can improve flock health by providing well-ventilated shade in the heat of summer and fresh supplemental forage year-round. Chickens occupied with grazing boxes are less likely to peck at other chickens or develop other problem behaviors. Well managed plants also help bind nitrogen in the soil produced by chicken manure and minimize run-off by aerating soil into a sponge-like consistency that’s better able to absorb rainwater. Over the years (nearly a decade of chicken keeping, now!) I’ve experimented with various methods of keeping my coop, run, and the surrounding area landscaped and green. In this article, I’m sharing 5 of the planting methods that work best to keep my chicken coop and run clean, cool, and cheerfully green:
How to Keep Plants in a Chicken Run Alive:
1. Build Chicken Grazing Boxes
Starting around 2011, I created slightly elevated platforms using scrap lumber and wire mesh that allow the chickens to nibble green grass while preventing root damage. These boxes give young grass the protection it needs to grow thick even in a crowded chicken run, while providing forage and entertainment for enclosed chickens.
OAT GRASS is my favorite to plant in grazing boxes, because it’s cheap and will germinate in cool weather (down to 38 degrees F!). Feel free to get sloppy when planting these grazing boxes- chickens love oats as scratch-feed scattered on the ground around the boxes. According to Michigan State University: “Oats are a cool-season annual grass that grows well during the fall. Some of those benefits include: forage, weed suppression, nutrient removal, erosion control, and soil softening.”
2. Close & Plant Your Chicken Run in the Spring
Spring is a great time to completely close off access to your chicken run and relocate chickens during the daylight hours (free-range your chickens or place them in a tractor to till garden beds). If your hens exit their coop via the run, you can build a chicken tunnel to limit their access.
Use 2-8 weeks each spring as an opportunity to plant your run and close it off to your chickens completely. After a winter of cooped chickens, by early spring my chicken run is muddy and barren. I close off the entrance to the run in favor of daily free-ranging and I plant sunflowers and oat grass.
A March/April rest for my chicken run means grass seeds germinate undisturbed and perennial plants emerge from dormancy without the stress of pecking.
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 aid in preventing soil erosion (and manure run-off), by encouraging seed/root growth, and providing forage and shade for my birds during the summer.
For planting inside the coop, I choose varieties, like Sunflowers, that have tough stems that rapidly outgrow the chickens’ reach.
Sunflowers, if given a headstart, can tolerate growing inside a chicken run. Planting sunflowers in April or May can produce mature heads of seeds to supplement commercial chicken feed in the fall.
3. Get a Jumpstart by Planting Native Perennials
For most plants, a chicken run spells doom, but plants that thrive in your climate are more likely to stand up to the rigors of the coop. In southern Missouri, a Redbud Tree that I absolutely decimate with a vicious annual pruning to keep it shrub-sized is the star of my chicken run.
Consider what grows naturally without tending in your climate. Native plants have an edge, and are more likely to thrive in tough-to-plant areas like a chicken coop. Check out this Native Plant Finder Tool for insight into your local flora. If you have nuisance plants that grow aggressively in other sections of your property, consider digging them up and transplanting to your coop.
Whatever you plant, you’ll need to plan on fencing off that section to allow your perennials to get established. In my experience, a wire cloche is often the best way to protect a plant without taking up too much of the coop-run-real-estate. Rubber mulch rings are also helpful for protecting roots once chickens do have access. Although it’s a long-term commitment, the shade of a small tree or shrub established in your coop is worth it! Shrubs and small trees in your coop promote flock health- your birds will spend the heat of summer under the shrub breathing fresh breezes rather than retreating to a stuffy coop interior.
4. Use your Chicken Coop Run as an Arbor
I think my most surprisingly successful method for landscaping my chicken run has been landscaping over and around the chicken run. Plants that vine up, over, and around the coop provide shade, and once the plants are established chickens generally leave the thick stems alone. Growing Watermelons Vertically on a chicken coop has been very successful for me, and a symbiotic gardening method where the chickens fertilize the watermelon, which then shades the chickens and provides chicken food.
Many vining plants can work for this application, but melons (which thrive in the high-nitrogen content of chicken manure) can produce prolifically in soil that will kill many other plants.
Although 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. Add Potted Plants & Boxes Outside the Run
Landscaping around the outside of the run is a popular choice for making chicken runs seem less barren. It’s a great opportunity to bring color to the space and even produce your own feed 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 same reason) and the fragrance put off by marigolds deters flies and other insect pests. (Read more about growing Marigolds via Clemson University).