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January 2021 Garden Solutions

By Kelly Murray Young | Illustration by Gary Hovland

My neighbor’s chickens find their way into our yard almost every day. We enjoy their visits and haven’t noticed them eating our plants, but is it safe to have them out there pecking and scratching around?

Chickens are a wonderful addition to any landscape as they provide excellent pest and weed control. They eat crickets and other insects and will rip weed seedlings right out of the ground, potentially eliminating the need for an herbicide application. However, they also will eat vegetable and flower seedlings, so if they get into a new planting, it will likely be devoured. Chicken manure is a wonderful fertilizer, as long as the birds aren’t leaving it where you walk or sit. If your feathered neighbors aren’t eating anything you want to keep, consider their daily visits a benefit. Just be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after contacting chicken waste, as it may contain bacteria, such as actinobacillus, campylobacter and salmonella, that can make you sick

A bunch of plants have sprouted from the ground beneath our bird feeders. Is it okay to let these sprouts grow? And will they make more seed if we do?

It is totally fine to let the bird seed sprouts, which are probably sunflowers, millet, sorghum and thistle, grow. In fact, doing so may attract additional feathered friends to your yard. Wild birds will love foraging for seeds and insects on and around the new plants. Goldfinches in particular adore sunflowers, and you are guaranteed to delight in these small songbirds’ bright colors and boisterous behavior. If you decide to leave the seeds where they fall, they may need to be thinned out so they aren’t overcrowded and have room to grow. Weekly irrigation will allow them to survive long enough to bloom and set seed. Be advised though, volunteer bird seed sprouts can be weedy and may try to spread without your permission. Personally, I prefer a somewhat naturalistic landscape, but not everyone does. Check your homeowners association’s rules to ensure they don’t prohibit you from having a “weedy” landscape.

What can we plant at our Christopher Creek cabin that elk won’t eat? 

Elk were wiped out in Arizona by early settlers and reintroduced in 1913. Since then, populations of the large mammals have exploded and significantly altered natural landscapes in northern Arizona, where they and their smaller deer cousins can wreak havoc on gardens, both cultivated and natural. Fortunately, some plants are less delicious than others. Elk and deer don’t care much for pine, cedar, Douglas fir and magnolia trees. Many culinary herbs are also unpopular with these animals, so your oregano, mint and other strong-smelling varieties are likely to be safe. Your best bet to keep elk and deer out of your landscape is to enclose your plant beds or gardens with sturdy fencing at least 13 feet tall. If that isn’t possible, surround new plantings with plastic netting made specifically for this purpose, available at some hardware stores.


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