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Chickens and landscaping

 
Sarah Swoch
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I have a question for you guys! I stumbled across this forum and thought you might have some advice. I'm in Florida, Zone 9b, and I have a yard shaded by a large live oak tree (that puts up suckers all the time, ideas for that are also welcome). The St. Augustine grass grows great out front, but in the back there is a bit too much shade especially along the fence line. I get some grass growing in the main part of the yard, but the fence line is really just dirt that makes a mess. To make a ground cover option a bit trickier I have 7 chickens that I let out to free range for parts of the day and most of the weekend. So I would need something that once established would hold up to some grazing. Or something that wouldn't get kicked all over the yard like the white marble rocks and mulch I have tried.

I have jasmine growing along one side by the house, that covers the ground and holds up to the chickens, but it is a bit aggressive and I have to cut it back frequently, so I'm looking for other options. I also have a few spots that have white marble rocks in them, but the chickens really like to kick those out and all over the yard. A friend said she uses seashells, but she said the chickens kick them all over and she is constantly putting them back in place too.

So I'm looking for ideas for the shady fence line in zone 9b, in a sandy mix of soil. I'd like it to be hardy and either something that can take a bit of grazing or that the chickens will ignore, but that they won't kick all over the yard or completely destroy in a day (after it is established). And preferably something that isn't invasive so I'm not constantly working to keep it from taking over the yard like the jasmine I have. It is a back yard in an urban environment, so I would like it to look nice.

I know, it is a tall order, but any advice and ideas would be appreciated.
 
Meryt Helmer
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Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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I think finding something that the chickens won't destroy that is not also somewhat aggressive might be very difficult. I was going to suggest mint until I saw that you don't want a plant that you will have to keep cutting back. i sort of like plants that are aggressive and need lots of cutting back because I can use all that plant material to make my soil better. either just chop and drop or by adding to a compost pile. I also kept thinking vine but realized you want a ground cover. if you did want a vine I would recommend trying chayote. a perennial summer type squash that would probably do very well there but also probably would need lots of cutting back. I wonder if chayota can be grown as a ground cover? I think it would make good chicken fodder.
 
Sarah Swoch
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I looked up chayota, I had never heard of it before. That seems invasive, but might be a little more exciting than more jasmine. As long as I can keep up with guiding it. From what I read it can be used as a ground cover, though if you want to harvest the fruits you should grow it on something off the ground. But, apparently chickens love to eat it, so if I can get a balance of chicken munching and growth it might work out really welll. http://ahualoa.net/chickens/ and more on it http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/443646/need-ideas-for-fast-growing-edibles-to-plant-around-chicken-fence/10 Mint scares me a little bit. Is it more or less aggressive than the jasmine I have?
 
Meryt Helmer
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Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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I have heard horror story after horror story about mint being impossible to get rid of and i would not try composting it or chop and drop it unless i dried it or otherwise killed it first. that being said my grandma grew it and it stayed in a small clump and most of the times i see it growing it has not taken over or anything and i grow it in a really ideal nice place for it and it has not gotten out of hand. it may dislike my soil though which is poor in nutrients in that spot and possibly very acidic although that is in the gray water area and i think my gray water is a bit alkaline so maybe not acidic there. but my mint that gets lots of water and a decent amount of sun has not become a problem at all. i hav heard it is impossible to get rid of and would never plant it someplace i was not going to be ok with having it as a permanent plant.
 
Sarah Swoch
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A friend just told me she uses blue porterweed. It is more of a bush than a ground cover, but it would keep the dust down and apparently once it is established the chickens nibble on it but don't do it too much damange. I'm not sure if it would get enough sun. But I might get one and put it there to see if it would work.
 
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