Sunday, August 21, 2016

The messy garden

As any gardener knows, new plantings can look messy. Not just because they're too small for the space - requiring room to fill out, later on...but if you live with native animals, or free range poultry too, they like to scratch out any new and moist earth, you make available to them.

On acreage, it's just too hard (not to mention expensive) to fence everything in. Especially from nimble poultry, who specialise in defying gravity and barriers. They're jungle animals originally, so they've evolved into specialised earth movers in confined spaces.

I've actually found they will dig under netting, to get at the compost I've planted new seedling in. So fencing isn't exactly a foolproof solution either. The only effective method to thwart poultry, is the messy jungle approach. Any new plantings I put in the ground, get surrounded with whatever materials, I have available.

I've been putting new plants into this area, since autumn. It's just on the edge of our verandah. Much to my frustration, the brush turkeys and our free range chicken, delighted in scratching up the new plants. I realised I needed something to avoid their access. So I started collecting rocks and other random materials, to place around the plants.

I even left he grass and native peas on the edges, because if I pulled them up, it would just encourage the poultry to start scratching around the soft soil edges. It looks messy, but it's been effective. And it's only until I can get my plants established in the lovely compost, I planted them in.

I originally had a dead plant and it's unearthed root ball, protecting this liriope silverstar. But it didn't cover most of the soil, so they just rolled it off and dug up the liriope. So don't use lightweight materials, which can just be rolled over. I found a ring of heavy rocks has thwarted their antics. So long as they can't get a claw in, they can't dig up the earth.

I found they tried the same thing with this root ball, I tipped out of an old pot plant. I turned it over, to disguise the soil, but they just scratched it back, and unearthed the new succulent on the right. This is the repair job I did afterwards. By pushing a stick through it, into the soil, it effectively pinned it down. But it also makes it difficult to get purchase, to scratch around it. There are some rocks, above the succulent too. It's been effective, to date.

So if you are going to use more lightweight material, I have found the odd vertical stick out of the ground, makes it difficult for them to scratch around.

Here you can see the root ball again, next to a concrete chunk we had leftover, from an old project. Old concrete makes a good scratching deterrent. I even used an old solar light, with the spike missing - turned upside down, If I had the spike, I would put that into the ground too.

Once again, it looks messy, but it's only temporary. Maybe 12 to 18 months. I suspect the succulent, will simply exploit the nooks and crannies of the rocks anyway, and the plant will hide the mess from view. It's already gone to flower, so it will have offspring, soon enough.

Just a little further up the verandah, is another patch, I'm attempting to colonise with succulents. The idea is to thwart the grass that grows along the edges of the verandah, so we don't have to use machinery to trim it back. I put rocks around one planting and used another solution on the other side - just because I had it around...

This tub and bucket is where I plant my annual ginger crop. They're empty after harvesting, and won't be planted until September. As they were laying around, I butted them against the succulents, to make it difficult for any scratching opportunities.

I keep the gravel on the base, because I need it for drainage when the ginger does get planted out. But for now, it helps to weigh them down, so the wind can't blow them away. This is mixing storage solutions, with plant protection, even if it's only temporary. I've got to protect my new plants if I want them to survive.

I actually relocated this nasturtium that almost go scratched up, when it self-seeded in the vegetable patch. I put it in the crack of our retaining wall, so it would be protected from eager claws. It got eaten back by our chicken, but since it's grown bigger it's less attractive in flavour. So be sure to use up the nooks and crannies of existing hard surfaces, which are more than likely, being underutilised.

Here is another example of a nook I filled with a hardy daisy. It's placement was for two reasons. Firstly, to discourage purchase for scratching fowl - I didn't want soil scratched out from behind the retaining wall. But secondly, I wanted to shade the side of the raised, hugelkultur bed. Not just shade, but wind protection too.

As for the hugelkultur bed, itself...

It too was visited by scratching fowl. I had the heavy mesh on top, but they soon figured they could scratch between the grids. So I used a couple of the casurina branches I felled from a tree nearby, and they got placed on top of the mesh.

It's kind of a happy accident, because not only have I managed to keep the brush turkeys out of my beds now - it's also helping to shade the soil for the new seedlings. I'm tempted to experiment, and see what the results will be, if I keep them on for the entire growing season.

In other areas of the garden, I have used bricks, branches (some with spikes) and even logs, to keep away scratching from my new plants. The added benefit being, it's also feeding the soil, as the wood breaks down.

Other plants I have used to discourage scratching behind retaining walls, are spiky pineapples (they're especially effective) and strongly scented plants, like curry plant and pelargonium citronella. Fowl don't mind the strongly scented plants, but it's not something they hang around for long.

Our free range chicken likes to shade herself under the lime tree (above) preferring the side, furtherest away from the scented plants. I'm fortunate the pelargonium and curry plant are extremely hardly, and easy to propagate. They don't make bad nursery plants either, if you want to provide ground cover and shade, for a tender seedling.

A more recent project I did, was planting out some vetiver grass. I dug a hole, only large enough for the seedling, and placed rocks around them. So it's effectively surrounded by weeds and what not. Luckily, vetiver has a tenacious root system, that will easily out-compete the weeds. But I've keep the ground mostly in tact, so it's not going to be as attractive to scratching fowl anyway.

I planted out five sets of vetiver grass, and they haven't been disturbed yet. This will hopefully provide mulching material for my swale.

Basically I have found that hard, heavy barriers, vertical sticks out of the ground, spiky plants, condensed plants, scented plants and undisturbed soil, all to be effective deterrents from scratching claws.

I just have to live with a bit of mess and chaos, until the plants get more established. I also don't have to go out and buy a manufactured solution, which isn't always that effective anyway. The jungle solution, of removing the opportunity to scratch in as many ways as possible, using as many materials available, makes the rest of the yard look more attractive to jungle fowl. Instead of those tender seedlings, which have barely gotten their roots into the soil.

I imagine other materials, such as broken terracotta pots, car tyres, even recycled milk bottles, filled with sand or water and laid on their sides, would work at protecting new seedlings too. I especially like the idea, the plants they are projecting, will one day, cover them in greenery and look beautiful again.


  1. It is amazing how much damage to new seedlings even one chook can do and I have had to do something similar to prevent Sally from digging them up. She will also knock over anything light.

    1. They certainly know their way around to an easy meal, that's for sure! ;) Can't blame them, but we still have to thwart them in order for anything to grow.

  2. Good ideas as usual. I don't have brush turkeys or free-ranging chooks, but I do have rabbits. I've tried protecting new plants with deep circles of branches and stuff, just like you've done for your citrus trees. Seems to work. Rabbits don't have the same powerful legs and feet as the avian diggers.

  3. Yeah, rabbits aren't a lot of fun to have around new plants in the ground either. We don't have them in Qld, but we do have the hares. They don't tend to dig as much. But they do like to munch on new plants all the same. Glad to hear you're having a win with your digging critters too.

  4. We don't have chickens yet so I haven't had to deal with such problems up til now. It is good that your strategies are working.

    1. Do you get brush turkey's up that way? I imagine they could be in the region, even if they haven't found you yet. ;)

    2. I don't think so Chris. The only time I see brush turkeys is when I am in Brisbane. They seem to be everywhere in the inner city.

  5. ....hmmmm you mention your chooks seem not to like scented plants - I might plant a border of scented plants around my veggie boxes and see if that deters the chookzillas

    1. I think the strong scent camouflages the smells of other greenery, they're used to consuming. However, if they've formed a habit of knowing where your veg are, they may have a sticky beak anyway. Although, those scented pelargoniums can become quite a barrier in themselves. I've noticed, even with my unscented geraniums/pelargoniums they don't tend to dig around them either.


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