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How and Why to Landscape your Chicken Run

Just because you raise chickens and ducks doesn't mean their run has to be a dusty, mud wasteland. You can easily add some attractive landscaping without too much effort.

Although it may seem like an exercise in futility, it actually IS possible to landscape your run.  A nicely landscaped run serves many purposes both for you, your flock and your neighbors. 

Yes, this is my chicken yard back when we lived in Virginia - where more than two dozen chickens and ducks spent nearly all their waking hours because of a bad fox problem we had.

How and Why to Landscape your Chicken Run 

Note: This (above photo) was our original chicken run in Virginia. We have since moved to Maine and built a new, albeit smaller run.  The landscaping in our new run consists of bushes planted outside the perimeter, mostly because we are able to free range them more now that we're home for the most part and can watch them.

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 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.

Why Landscape your Chicken Run?

  • 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.

Plants to Avoid when Landscaping a Chicken Run

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. Since there are so many plants that are safe, it's more helpful to have a shorter list of plants that can be harmful to chickens and other pets.

This list is by no means complete, but it's a good starting point of some common plants to stay away from.

The list of  potentially TOXIC PLANTS includes: 

bleeding heart
bulb flowers (including iris, daffodil, hyacinth, amaryllis)
castor bean
English ivy
foxglove, hemlock
honeysuckle (stems, leaves and berries of some varieties)
morning glory
mountain laurel
poke weed
skunk cabbage

(For a more complete list of toxic plants and trees, read HERE,  HERE or HERE )

When we first got our chickens, I didn't realize that azaleas could be a problem, so I planted a few in our new chicken run. They quickly were dug up and replanted in a spot further away from the chickens.

How to Landscape your Chicken Run

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 flower box I put under the window would be fine !  

How wrong I was!  Within a few weeks, the entire run was dirt. The grass was completely gone.  Scratched to oblivion by the chickens.... and mind you, we only had six to start with and they still destroyed the entire run area in no time.

The rose bushes fortunately had grown taller, but you notice how the bottom two feet are bare.

Fortunately, taller bushes and shrubs will be just fine once they've grown, as long as you cage them from the chickens when they're smaller.

The beautiful window box I had planted was completely emptied of every flower AND all the potting soil.

And the bucket of flowers I had put in the run 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...

Good Choices of Plants for Chicken Run Landscaping

Butterfly Bushes

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 which is toxic.


Rosebushes actually turned out to be wonderful planted 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.

And remember, it is always a good idea to cage new bushes or plants of any kind to prevent any digging and scratching around the roots to let them take hold.

Free Plants!

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 !

Replanting Grass in your Chicken Run

I also plant grass seed each spring in my chicken run. 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 in a couple of days, 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.

Fertilizers to Use to Landscape your Chicken Run

I never use any chemicals or fertilizers around the run area. And honestly, with all the chicken manure, there's no need for fertilizer.

But there are a few companies that make 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. Espoma has a nice line of garden products that are safe to use around pets. 

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 !

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If you are serious about landscaping your run, or learning how to protect your lawn and garden from your chickens, you'll really enjoy my book titled Gardening with Chickens.

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