Stop Chickens From Scratching Up Your Trees and Shrubs

Happy chickens scratch. They scratch a lot.

Trees and shrubs are not so fond of having their roots unearthed by chickens, but that does not dissuade the chickens, who will happily scratch and dig until they practically uproot a small tree if they think there might be a worm in it for them. In my yard, even if given full range of the place, the hens manage to undermine currant bushes, young fruit trees and more with their unending scratching.

I discovered the (in retrospect) shocking obvious solution to this problem when I read Free-Range Chicken Gardens, an excellent book on how to combine chickens and gardens successfully. But just in case there are other chicken-keepers struggling to keep their hens from slowly toppling their shrubs and small trees, here’s the solution.

Rocks. Big flat ones. Nice smooth river rocks or old concrete pavers or whatever. Encircle the trunks of vulnerable trees and shrubs with a collar of big flat rocks and the chickens won’t be able to scratch near the trunk undermine your shrubs. Here’s an example showing some of my cherry trees which are planted literally in the chicken run:

Protect Trees from Chickens

I know, I know. So easy, right? At this point you are either disgusted that someone actually needed to point out so obvious a solution, or you are running outside right now to shoo your hens away from your currant bushes so you can implement this immediately.

All I can say is, I had to learn this tip so I’m passing it on. It works, it’s simple, it’s free (at least in my yard that grows rocks better than anything else).

Now I just wish I had an equally simple solution that would keep the hens from eating the currants, too. And don’t say bird netting – that stuff is not simple. Maybe I’m just particularly uncoordinated (likely) but I always end up caught like a salmon in a gillnet when I try to drape bird netting over anything.

Do your chickens undermine your trees and shrubs with their scratching?


  1. says

    Big rocks also help to keep dogs from digging. We have a dog run, and our dogs have always loved trying to dig out under the gate. I actually buried a cinderblock in the dirt next to the gate to make sure our pooch doesn’t tunnel out!

  2. John R says

    All I do to keep the chickens from where I don’t want them is to lean a photo of the Colonel up against the tree. The run for their lives. That’s just a little Kentucky humor.

    • says

      That’s awesome. In Japan where I spent a summer, KFC franchises had these life-size fiberglass statues of Colonel Sanders in front of the stores. It was apparently THE prank in the town near Kobe where I lived for the kids to steal the Colonel and put him in strange places around town. The KFC store responded to this hooliganism by showcasing the Colonel in a giant, clear plastic box. The whole thing was pretty hilarious from my Yank perspective. I think if you could get your hands on a Colonel Sanders statue you could probably keep your hens very in line.

      • Homebrew Husband says

        This so reminds me of college. The local KFC also had one of those fiberglass Colonels out front. We didn’t have a really strong “prank” culture, but nonetheless, eventually, enough frats had stolen the statue that they moved it into a glass walled display box rigged with alarms like something out of Ocean’s 11. So it sort of looked like there was an embalmed Colonel Sanders on display in a glass standing coffin. I never went in the front door, too creepy.

  3. says

    If you put stakes around the currants (about 20cms away from plant) then put the netting or wire mesh around the stakes. It only needs to go about half a metre high and it foils the cheeky little beggars…lol. No need to try and encompass the whole plant – which just leads to being somehow inside the netting and completely entangled till someone can rescue you….
    Also works to keep hedgehogs etc from helping themselves!

  4. Thom Foote says

    Here in Eastern Washington we have a LOT of basalt so I use this at the base of small trees. I generally put down a thick mulch first so it will decompose. One warning about dark stone material, if you are in a hot dry summer area and your trees are in full sun, the stones can overheat and cause the soil to dry out faster. Just be careful.

  5. Sage says

    Instead of bird netting I wait for a 50% coupon at Joann Fabrics and buy a bolt of netting that you use for weddings, etc. I cut it up and wrap it around my bushes. I bought green and a brown color and both work to not be too obvious. It lasts all year and really could be reused another year but it does fade out the color. Keep the bug pests out too!

  6. Laura says

    I feel like the biggest idiot in the world. My husband, rolling his eyes the entire time, helped me build a huge run for our chicks just so I could save my massive blueberry planter from being constantly uprooted. The real irony… I have a huge pile of flagstones less than five feet away that I simply couldn’t think of a use for….until now. Thanks for posting your “aha” moment, you’ve probably helped more gardeners than you know!

  7. Luise says

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, you always write such inspirational and interesting things! Keep up the good work!
    I have a little note for you though about the rocks around the trees: Since my husband is a professional arborist I have been learning a lot about trees lately too and one thing that can damage a good root system is compacting the earth around it, for example in the cities by parking cars next to the trees. The air basically gets squished out of the soil as it compacts and the tree’s roots suffocate in that area. Now, while I think your pavers are probably light enough not to bother the trees, I’d like to recommend not using anything much heavier. I guess anything heavy enough to deter the chickens and light enough to be lifted easily by us humans is perfect – for our purpose and for the tree.

  8. Gail Cordell says

    To discourage chicken scratching I place fallen boughs and other brushy debris around my bushes, etc., not too deep. You can do this over mulch too. I worry with rocks about weeding and the weight. If I’m planting grass on bare spots or any other type of broadcast seeds I cover them with flattish, small size-squares of old fencing. Old kid gates or wire shelving works well to0. I scrounge these things and reuse. To start new lawn in areas without chicken seed-predation issues I use local hay spread over the area. Can be old and moldy too. It protects the soil and adds humus as stems break down.

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