Keep your chickens from scattering the mulch May 3, 2013

My chickens free range, and there are a lot of benefits that go along with that. I love to garden… and there are a lot of benefits that go along with that, too. Sometimes these two hobbies are tough to combine though. Chickens love to scratch. They love to dig. They love to dust bathe. And none of this is particularly good for your garden. They’ll eat your newly planted seedlings just as fast as they will eat weeds and bugs. And even when they’re not eating your plants, they’re wallowing holes in the ground to dust bathe. They won’t care if they’ve just crushed all your petunias and scattered 20 cubic feet of mulch that you spent four hours laying down. So, if you’re like me, you might struggle to keep your garden beds free of chicken damage. Especially difficult is figuring out a way to keep your chickens from scattering the mulch out of your landscaping beds.

You can see in their eyes that it will be difficult to keep your chickens from scattering the mulch in your garden beds.

Because she wants to do it. You can see it in her eyes.

First I’ll share a couple of the traditional solutions to managing the damage chickens can cause to your gardens and landscaping, then I’ll tell you my secret way to keep your chickens from scattering the mulch in your beds.

Traditional: Use fences to exclude the chickens.

Gardening with chickens--exclude them with fences

The chickens can’t get into my vegetable garden, surrounded by a tall fence!

A simple solution, especially for larger areas like a vegetable garden, is to use a fence and just keep them out. Make it high enough that they can’t fly over, low enough to the ground that they can’t push under, and with small enough holes that they can’t squeeze through. In some circumstances you might be able to use fencing for selected smaller beds. If your plants aren’t edible or easily disturbed like vegetables and flowers, a low fence will probably suffice.

A little chicken wire fencing works here, since it's just protecting shrubbery... but it's something of an eye sore.

You can occasionally use fencing in other areas, too. But is it the best solution?

A little chicken wire fencing sometimes works in smaller beds, if you’re just protecting shrubbery… but it’s something of an eye sore, and it doesn’t always keep your chickens from scattering the mulch, either. Still, I keep this area in front of my house protected with wire because the deer like to eat the shrubs, too. (Durn deer. Sometimes I think I spend more to feed the deer than I do to feed the chickens!)

Traditional: Choose your plants carefully.

Oregano - gardening with chickens

My oregano always fares well against my chickens.

There are certain plants that your chickens will leave alone, once the plants are established (deer, too). In particular, I find that perennial herbs like oregano, thyme, lavender, mint, lemon balm, marjoram, chamomile and the like do very well. Sweet woodruff also makes the cut in my yard. The flock may peck at the leaves occasionally, looking for hidden bugs, but for the most part they just don’t seem interested in eating herbs in large quantities.  The perennial herbs I use are strongly rooted, once established, and become tough to scratch out. The herbs spread and even seem to make the areas around them less attractive for dust bathing, since the ground isn’t soft enough to wallow out with the root system established.

In my area—it is so green and beautiful here in WV—there are plenty of other things for the chickens to eat, so they rarely bother regular annuals like nasturtiums, impatiens, alyssum, petunias, marigolds and so on. Deer are not nearly as easy to manage, so I tend to stick with herbs! Please note that if you live in a dry or desert area with little green, or if your chickens have a small, bare run, they will certainly be tempted to eat your plants, even if those plants normally wouldn’t be first (or third, or tenth) choice. Choosing herbs or other “unappetizing” plants will be especially important in those situations.

These traditional methods do work, but they have their limitations.

The problems:

1. Not everything can be fenced. Our cottage has border beds around the porches and against the house. While I can stand having a little bed near the house fenced unobtrusively with chicken wire, I don’t want to set up a fence all the way around to protect the border beds. There are also other small beds in the yard, maybe four-foot-square each,  that won’t be attractive if I fence set up a fence around them. The fencing would stand out like a sore thumb. Instead, it would be like a series of cages set up around the yard… and that “prison yard” look just isn’t what I’m going for.

2. You can’t get your plants established in the first place if your chickens keep digging up your seedlings. It’s one thing to know that the chickens won’t bother your established herbs, but it won’t do you any good at all if you can’t actually establish them because the chickens keep scratching out the seedlings before they get a chance to grow!

3. Even with established, carefully chosen plants, your chickens will destroy your mulch. They’ll scatter it looking for insects, spiders, and other bugs.  Even in the fenced area of shrubs above, I occasionally have a chicken sneak in and dig around in the mulch. And without mulch, everything can look unfinished and even dilapidated.  Using stone or lava rock rather than wood mulch may last longer, but it’s not a permanent solution. While the flock may not dust bathe in lava rock, they will still scratch it out looking for grubs. (Plus, the rock absorbs and radiates heat in the summer–not what we need in my area!)

So, a couple of years ago, I came up with a solution to keep the mulch down and undiggable around smaller plants and open beds. It seemed so simple once I’d thought of it, but it has worked magically for two years now. It’s been tested! That means I’m ready to share it with you

How to keep your chickens from scattering the mulch.

Secure your mulch with deer netting.

That’s all. Secure your mulch with deer netting on top.

The deer netting serves to keep your chickens from scattering the mulch. Look how nicely it dresses up this old garden bed; the netting isn't distracting to me at all.  (Now, I just have to replace the lattice!)

The deer netting serves to keep your chickens from scattering the mulch. Look how nicely it dresses up this old garden bed; the netting isn’t distracting to me at all. (Now, I just have to replace the lattice!)

Did you expect something long and complicated? Something expensive? It’s not; it’s so easy! Using netting on top of your beds will keep your chickens from scattering your mulch. How did I not think of this before?  I use an “invisible” black deer netting with relatively small holes; if you have a netting with larger holes, you may want a double layer. The netting I use currently sells for about $20 for 100 feet x 7 feet.

I often use water permeable landscape fabric under the mulch in permanent beds—this part is up to you, though!  I don’t use the fabric in a bed where I want to be able to change the landscaping a lot year to year, and I don’t use it with quickly spreading perennials where it might inhibit growth.  I usually use fabric under shrubs or in areas with permanent plantings.

Just lay the mulch on top of the fabric (or the ground as you prefer). Then lay the netting on top of the mulch. Once your mulch is covered by the netting, just secure it with fabric staples or edging.

Keep your chickens from scattering the mulch by placing deer netting over the mulch to secure it.

Keep your chickens from scattering your mulch with deer netting

How easy is that?

To plant in the bed, you can cut through the netting, push back the mulch and then cut through fabric, as necessary. With larger plants like shrubs where a lot of earth must be moved, I usually find it easier to plant first, then lay the fabric, mulch and netting over top, cutting X holes where needed. Be sure to have the netting relatively tight against the mulch so your hens can’t get a toe stuck in!

I hope this idea will help chicken-proof your gardening this year. Please let me know if you’re going to try this method to keep your chickens from scattering the mulch–and let me know how it goes. Do you have any other suggestions for chicken-proof or chicken-resistant gardening? Please share in the comments!

 

19 Comments
Deb May 3rd, 2013

Awesome Idea!! Thank you ever so much!

Martha May 3rd, 2013

Great idea! I’ll try it. Sometimes I just keep water spraying over parts of my garden, like the strawberry patch. I had one sprayer that had a motion detector and would shoot a stream of water. Kind of fun to watch :) Do you have any suggestions for beds where you have annual seeds coming up (or would if your chickens quit scratching)? Not sure if this would work…

Lissa May 3rd, 2013

Martha, I haven’t had any problems with my chickens scratching things up through the netting, but they do occasionally trample little plants down, even so. What I did in one bed, and what may work for you, is to create a higher edging with enough clearance to wrap another layer of netting over, just until the plants are larger and less likely to be trampled. You might use landscape timbers like I did. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see the same principle at work. The planter is not completely full to the top. That’s so I can add netting to keep the chickens from digging it out until the vinca gets larger. :) I hope that idea works for you!

Jill May 3rd, 2013

Thanks for this wonderful idea…I will definitely try this! I have 2 native gardens that my chickens are smothering with mulch before the plants get a chance to come up…Thanks again!

Marie Bryant May 3rd, 2013

How do you weed through this? I have terrible weeds where I live, and don’t like to use herbicides as I want to keep my yard organic.

Lissa May 3rd, 2013

Hi, Marie! Well, keep in mind that mulch does help make it easier to pull weeds. When weeds do sprout in this, they are rooting through loose, light material. If you pull weeds when they’re still small enough to come through the netting, it’s quite easy. In other areas, as I mentioned, I use landscape fabric, especially if I think it’s going to be an issue of weeds spreading by runner, something like creeping charlie or pigweed. If you get overwhelmed and don’t keep up for one reason or another, you can always pull the netting (with effort; it’s surprisingly strong), weed until it’s manageable, and then lay down the netting again. I’ve always been able to reuse my old netting.

Rhoda May 3rd, 2013

Awesome idea….I just did put down new mulch, and the girls have been banned to their coop and run until I could come up with a solution~ this was perfect , now I don’t have to decide between them or the stew pot ( just kidding…digging up my beds was getting me irate and when groceries are involved then it becomes a dilemma see my gardens around my house because its a rental are the ones I use to grow food in) the chickens were a new addition to the house hold last summer and back then they hung out in the pasture next door, now they think the back yard is the place to terrorize and I have been at my whits end trying to figure out a way to keep those guys OUT of my garden beds….this may just work, so off to the Home Depot to grab some mesh oh and PS my chickens are game hens, which seems to make them a bit sneakier than normal chickens

Pat May 3rd, 2013

I’m very curious – what are the red things around your tomato plants??

Lissa May 4th, 2013

They are “Tomato Craters.” I prefer these to other types because they’re pretty heavy duty (hard to break!), and they come apart in halves so you can place them around something that’s already in the ground. You don’t have to try to thread your plant through without breaking branches, and you dont’ have to try to plant through a tiny opening. :)

Pat May 4th, 2013

Thank you – off to take a look….

VICKI STUESSI May 4th, 2013

Funny…I thought I would check My Pet Chicken to see if anyone posted
on this subject when lo and behold it was the first topic I found! Thanks
for the info. My house will be on the market soon and I cannot have the “mulch
mess” on the front river rock side walk. Thank you for the suggestion. I
am now wondering if I should go with a black mulch instead of red. I will let
you know how it goes. PS of COURSE the “girls” are moving with me!

Jen Pitino May 10th, 2013

Thank you for the great ideas. My girls are making an awful mess of a couple of my flower beds and are kicking the bark mulch in my pathway through the garden to the garage all over the place. I am thinking of giving up on the bark pathway and replacing it with used bricks — let them try to kick those all over the place. I am going to give the deer netting a try.

FYI — I found that my hens LOVE oregano and lemon balm. They completely decimated those two herbs in my garden last year.

Wellington Family Farm May 22nd, 2013

What a great idea, and we already have lots left over for using it to cover our chicken run. Thanks for sharing = )

Michelle in Sacramento December 28th, 2013

Oh, thank you. Thank you, thank you! What an awesome and easy solution! I could almost scream, those silly neighborhood hens just adore my mulch and every time I turn around they’ve flung it all over! …I’m off to the hardware store and those pesky hens will live to lay a few more eggs! I sure hope they feel lucky.

Mary Kelly May 14th, 2014

Wow, great idea! I intend to try this. We have other issues with free ranging our chickens, including a few very aggressive red tailed hawks. But I like to free range them when I can be out with them. They really do a number on my mulched beds. I certainly will give this idea a try. The deer here are also VERY aggressive! They eat everything, even the things the books say they won’t.

Kathy Davis June 17th, 2014

This may sound mean – but we have placed 2 strands of electric fence around our “traditional veg garden” as well as some raised beds. Does not kill them only a shock and once this happens they stay away from the fence. As for flower beds – established they tend to leave alone. However, for annuals I have been using only pots. For new perenniels I or ones that have been transplanted, I use flat & round decorative rocks – too heavy for them to move – so far so good except I need more rocks!

Sandi June 19th, 2014

I’m going to try this today! I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to keep the mulch in place with the chickens around! They only seem to scratch in it after I put it back in place from the last time they send it all into the grass! I told my husband last night that he needed to do something or he would be having them for dinner. Thank you for an easy solution that will keep me, my husband and the chickens happy!

Jo July 25th, 2014

A simple idea, but very effective. I will be trying this for sure. Hopefully it stops the chickens, ducks, turkeys and my peacock from scratching up the area. They can be taught tricks and stuff if you have the patience, but wow – you need some patience! Over a few months, mine have been trained not to come in the back yard (go get ‘em, kids – if you can catch them you can play dress ups with them, or bathe them or whatever!), so hopefully this will help train them not to bother with the garden! PS – chickens have learned to outrun the kids too!

Jen McCall December 19th, 2014

Oh! Thank you!!! I have mulch around all of my trees, gardens and flowerbeds and have been having the same problem. Love my Chickies but I love my gardening too. Quite the delimma! I have been trying to come up with the solution to this pesky problem and felt silly that I didnt think of the netting sooner. Thanks again and happy farming y’all!

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