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    Using Plants to Add Shade for Chickens

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    Shade in and around the chicken pen is important. As Kathy Shea Mormino, The Chicken Chick, shares, the body temperature of chickens is 10 degrees warmer than humans and they are fully insulated with feathers. They don’t have sweat glands either. 

    Coop and run placement

    Site your chicken coop and run near existing trees. When adding trees, shrubs, and other plants for shade or to beautify the area outside the chicken run, consider trees that are suited for your USDA Zone and your space. 

    Adding trees for coop shade

    If you have plenty of room, larger trees such as oaks and maples provide plenty of shade, offering a welcome respite from the summer heat. For back yards that may have limited space, consider planting smaller trees that will grow to only about 25 feet. Some possibilities are:

    • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) offers weeping and upright varieties with many striking color options. Typical dimensions are 15 to 25 feet tall by 10 to 25 feet wide, depending on the cultivar.
    • Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’, commonly called serviceberry, grows in full sun to part shade. It grows 15 to 25 feet tall and blooms in spring followed by edible fruit. Birds love its berries. It is a brilliant orange-red in the fall.
    • Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, commonly called Eastern redbud grows 20 to 30 feet, and Cercis canadensis var. texensis, also known as C. reniformis ‘Oklahoma’ grows to 12 to 18 feet. Both grow in full sun to part shade, bloom in spring, and have attractive foliage from late spring through fall.
    • Smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) grows from 20 to 30 feet and gets its name from the 6- to 10-inch flower clusters in June that appear as smoky pink puffs. The foliage in the fall is attention-getting.
    • In colder climates, conifers serve as both shade and wind screens. Your USDA Zone and the amount of space you have are necessary considerations. As with deciduous trees, some conifers, such as some types of firs and spruce, can grow quite large, 40 feet or more. Some smaller options to consider are:
    • Globe arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) which grows to about 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide;
    • Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) which grows to about 15 feet tall; 
    • False cypress (Chamaecyparis spp.) which typically has a tall, conical form but varies greatly depending on the cultivar. ‘Boulevard’ is semi-dwarf, growing to about 6 to 12 feet. It has soft, blue-green foliage. 

    Shading chicken runs with shrubs

    There are many different shrubs that can be incorporated outside the fenced area of your chicken pen. When established, they likely won’t be bothered by your flock, and they help provide both shade for the chickens as well as beauty and structure to the landscape. 

    • Ilex glabra, also known as inkberry, is a broadleaf evergreen shrub in the holly family. It is a native shrub, making it a good alternative to those found to be invasive. It is a choice that sometimes replaces boxwood and other nonnative evergreens. It grows in Zones 4 to 9 in full sun to part shade. It has an upright, rounded habit, growing 3 to 10 feet tall and wide, depending on the cultivar. Cultivars include ‘Shamrock’, ‘Densa’, and ‘Compacta’. 
    • Spiraea japonica grows in Zones 3 to 8. It has a dense, mounded habit and reaches 4 to 6 feet tall and spreads 5 to 7 feet. This deciduous shrub is covered with lovely pink flower clusters in June and July. Many cultivars, which may grow to around 2 to 4 feet tall, are typically available at your local garden center
    • Viburnum includes both deciduous and evergreen shrubs and small trees. It grows in Zones 2 to 8, is hardy and vigorous in winter, and grows quite large, 6 to 10 feet high and wide. It is a moderate to fast grower. During May and June, the plant is covered with showy flowers. In the fall, it shows brightly colored berries. It is sometimes used in tall hedges or screens and grows in full sun to part shade. It is popular for adding year-round interest to the landscape. 
    • Weigela is another deciduous shrub that grows in Zones 4 to 8. It grows 6 to 10 feet tall and 9 to 12 feet wide, though some cultivars are smaller. It has showy rose-pink blooms from April to June. It does best in full sun but can handle dappled shade. ‘Bristol Ruby’ has red flowers and ‘Candida’ has white. Both grow to about 8 feet tall. ‘Carnaval’ grows between 3 and 5 feet tall and is noted for red, white, and pink blooms on the same plant.
    • Conifers or evergreens are other possibilities. The options are wide ranging when it comes to size, habit, and climate. Depending on your region of the country, spruce, fir, and arborvitae may be among the largest options. Boxwoods, junipers, dwarf Alberta spruce, and hollies are smaller to mid-size options.

    Vertical gardening on chicken run

    Vertical gardening outside the chicken pen is another way to add structure, interest and shade. Both vegetables and ornamental vining plants can grow on trellises. Cucumbers, squash, pole beans, gourds, morning glories, Black-eyed Susan vines, sweet peas, climbing roses, sweet potato vine, and nasturtium are among the plants that will grow on trellises.

    If planning a vertical garden, be sure to use plants safe for poultry in case of nibbles. You can also use extra-closely weaved chicken wire to keep plants on the outside and curious bird beaks in.

    This list is to supply a few ideas. Check with your local garden center or Extension office for best options for your USDA Zone. 


    More coop tips

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    Keep your flock safe and secure with chicken fencing. Learn about permanent options and moveable fencing.
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