We’ve had quite a few other duck parents reach out to us asking how they can keep their ducks from destroying their yard or garden. It seems their ducks have a different idea than they do about what makes for an aesthetically pleasing landscape…
Those attractive rows of veggies, neat bed edges, or low-lying landscape plants? Let your ducks have unfettered access to them and they’ll soon look like an F-5 mud tornado touched down.
What’s a duck parent to do?
5 tips to keep your ducks from destroying your yard or garden
Don’t despair! We happen to be the world’s foremost experts on “duck gardening” (ha!) and we’ll share tips & tricks of the trade with you.
Keep in mind that there isn’t one single silver bullet answer, short of keeping your ducks penned up all day — and we certainly don’t recommend that approach. We advocate for the happiest, healthiest ducks possible, which means ducks that are able to forage, swim & clean themselves at will, and have plenty of time to bask in the sunlight.
Thus, here are five proven methods that we use to maintain both our edible garden areas and attractive landscape areas while still having ducks…
Tip #1: Grow larger perennial plants in your primary duck area, not annual plants.
Perennial plants are long-lived plants that survive for a minimum of three years. A few examples: fruit and nut trees, cane berries, grapes, rosemary.
As their name implies, annual plants are short-lived plants that live anywhere from a single growing season up to one year. A few examples: lettuce, corn/maize, dill, tomatoes (in most climates).
Our ducks live in a backyard surrounded by a 6′ tall fence from just after dawn until we let them out of the backyard to hang out with us in the whole yard for the evening. (Exact hours vary by season.)
By design, there isn’t a single annual plant growing in the backyard where our ducks spend their days. Any such plant would have a lifespan of approximately 20 seconds — maybe a bit longer if our ducks were sleeping when it showed up.
Nevertheless, our backyard is full of edible perennial plants, including:
- peach tree,
- muscadine grape vines,
- pomegranate tree,
- Asian persimmon tree,
- gold and red raspberries,
- oak tree (we use the acorns to make acorn flour).
Suffice it to say that all of these plants are well fertilized! Their size and growth habit makes it so that our ducks can’t damage them. Nor can they reach high enough to eat or contaminate the fruit due its height off the ground.
They also gobble up any slugs, snails, and pest insects on the ground and convert them to eggs or fertilizer.
Non-edible plants in our duck’s backyard (that were planted before we moved in) include azaleas and loropetalums. Our ducks have zero interest in azaleas, but do enjoy eating the low-hanging loropetalum leaves, which are edible to ducks.
*The exception to our “grow perennials” rule is turf grass, which is a perennial plant. Trying to grow turf grass in a spot where your ducks spend their days is very likely a lost cause — unless it’s a very large area. Your ducks won’t eat the grass, but each time it rains they’ll slowly and surely edge it closer to extinction as they happily muck away in search of worms and other treats.
Tip #2. Limit duck access to your attractive, landscaped beds.
We love our ducks and enjoy spending time with them on a daily basis. That’s one of the reasons our ducks are so tame.
Every evening when weather permits, we let them out to “walk the grounds” with us. They spend the time happily running from spot to spot chasing anything that moves and digging their bills into the soil/mulch of any bed they’re allowed to access, hoping the disturbance will turn up an unsuspecting earthworm or other snack.
We’re with them the entire time (with a herding stick handy) to make sure they stay in our yard, don’t go into spots we don’t want them, and don’t become the victim of any potential predator or escaped dog that may be on the loose.
Many of our front yard beds are attractively designed and contain plants that our ducks could do significant damage to — if given adequate time without chaperones present.
However, by limiting their access to these beds, the damage they do manage to do is minimized.
*We do grow patches of turf grass outside of the backyard where our ducks only have limited access. Given the size of the areas and the short amount of time our ducks have access to them, they’re not able to damage the grass, they just fertilize it.
Tip #3: Use fencing as-needed to protect your annual beds.
We have several beds in our yard designated exclusively for annual plants. We use these beds to grow leafy greens, tomatoes, and other annuals for us and our ducks. (We garden year round, including in the fall & winter.)
Our ducks likely have dreams about ravaging these beds, but they virtually never have access to them. That’s because we put up temporary fencing around them to keep the ducks out and the food plants alive.
Any time that we’re transitioning the beds between seasons, we let the ducks in to have a field day on slugs, snails, pill bugs, and anything else they can find. Then we plant the beds and fence them back off.
Our annual beds are in-ground but you could also accomplish the same duck-proofing goals by having raised beds. If you make them tall enough, you could even have them in your ducks’ living area.
Or you could make shorter raised beds, but put fencing around them with a mesh size small enough that a duck can’t stick its head through.
What about growing plants in pots in your duck area? Sure, go for it. Just be sure that you only grow plants that ducks don’t like to eat (examples: herbs, eggplants).
Tip #4: Use mulch in your beds and edging materials around your beds.
We’re big proponents of no-till organic gardening and top-dressing your beds with mulch. It’s a great way to build incredibly healthy soil, suppress weeds, lower your irrigation bills, and sequester carbon.
If you have ducks, we’d also suggest you mulch the areas they live in and mulch your yard and garden beds as well. If not, your ducks will systematically turn them into mud pits that would make a pig blush.
In transitional spots — such as between beds and lawn or beds and walking paths — use stones, concrete edgers, or similar material to make clean edges and hold the mulch in. Ideally, the edging will have at least a 2-3″ lip on it (higher than the mulch), which will help prevent your ducks from pushing the mulch out of the beds while foraging.
If your ducks can push the mulch over the top of the edging, they will. Trust us on this one!
Tip #5: Be mindful of how you design and place your ducks’ swimming station.
For most duck parents, this tip may be the biggie when it comes to having both ducks AND an attractive yard…
In case you didn’t know, chickens take dust baths (which makes a mess of a yard) and ducks take water baths (which can also make a mess of a yard). A lot of duck parents — us included — start off with a small baby pool for their ducks to swim in.
This is great for about 24-48 hours until the water in their pool looks like chocolate pudding and smells decidedly unlike pudding (we’ll let you use your imagination on the odor). Then you dump the pool, fill it up with your hose, and start over.
After a few cycles of cleaning your duck pool this way, your yard starts to look like the set for a Swamp Thing movie. Your ducks are thrilled, but you’re now too ashamed and humiliated to have friends and family come over any more.
After about 6 months operating under that paradigm, we decided we’d had enough. We then researched how to build an in-ground pool for our ducks that would be:
- visually attractive,
- require minimal maintenance,
- not use chemicals/cleaning agents.
At the time, there was very little information indicating that our goals would be possible, much less so with ducks as part of the equation. So we had to build something we hoped would work and cross our fingers.
Thus, Tyrant Falls, our DIY self-cleaning backyard pond, was born.
Many years later and we’re quite confident saying our in-ground pool is not only lightyears better than the original kiddie pool, but it works as well as we could have ever imagined. We regularly check the water quality and despite our ducks’ best efforts it’s always perfect on all the ratios.
Even better, our pond looks attractive and gives us a nice spot to sit and relax while listening to the burbling waterfalls and splashing ducks. Our duck pond has also brought a ton of new wildlife into our yard: a giant bullfrog (aka Frogest), countless salamanders which live under the pond rocks, dragonflies (which also eat mosquitos), and more.
This is a nice example of turning a problem into a solution.
No, this doesn’t mean you HAVE to have a large, self-cleaning pond in order to have ducks. It just helps keep your yard cleaner and more attractive if you can build one.
Yes, you can have an attractive garden AND ducks
We hope this article helps you do the impossible: have ducks AND an attractive yard at the same time. Even better, you can use your ducks to fertilize your edible food plants and serve as pest control!
Now go get quacking.
More duck articles that will quack you up:
- 9 tips and tricks for keeping indoor pet ducks
- How to go on vacation without your ducks
- What’s the best bedding for your duck coop or run?
- What to feed pet or backyard ducks to maximize their health & longevity
- Duck eggs vs chicken eggs: how do they compare?
- 17 tips to keep your ducks (and chickens) safe from predators