Garden Lifestyle


How to keep critters out of your garden? Try this good, old-fashioned scare tactic.

Scarecrows and shiny flapping mylar help to deter garden varmints. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

When we recently were heading out for a week at the beach for family vacation, we worried about the wildlife devouring the garden while we were away. Our daily activity in and around the garden mostly keeps them on their guard. Although there is a lot of greenery and woods around our place, there is a large deer population. The evidence is on the plants like dock, wild lettuce, and most especially my sunflowers, gnawed off and defoliated at about two-feet from the ground. Of course there are rabbits and we have somewhat discouraged them by using floating row cover on greens, peas and beans. There is also a willful groundhog, who trundles off when a human appears outside-it seems to enjoy my nasturtiums, devoured the tender baby, succulent watermelon plants and began on a few tomatoes and peppers on the outskirts of the garden. How could we keep these critters at bay with no one to discourage them? What could we scare them off with?

Why not a good, old-fashioned scarecrow? Or even a few? These human-like decoys have been used for more than a thousand years-so why not give them a try? So we set about making them. Tomaso built some T-shaped frames from our bamboo and I searched in the old clothes bags for some appropriate clothing. Then I headed over to the hay bale with all of my gatherings and slid the shirts onto the T-frames, and then started stuffing the clothing full of hay. I tied the pant legs closed at the bottom with twine and filled the legs and then I slit a hole along the rear end seam of the pants in order to slide them up the pole. Once on the pole I filled the rest of the pants to create the body. The overalls worked great since I could hook them right over the arms. However, I had to figure out how to attach the pants to the shirt, and make them stay put. I tried some large safety pins-pinning the pants to the shirt-and then we came up with idea of suspenders. Real ones would have worked and looked just right, except I didn’t have any, so we used twine. It did the trick, except it wasn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing so I used a black velvet belt, cut in half, to cover up the twine.    

There was an old half-deflated basketball which had been lying around for who knows how long, so it seemed like a good head for one of them. I took a pair of tan-colored pants and cut from the knees down-and drew some faces on each leg-before filling them. I tied one end shut with twine, stuffed it full of hay and left the other end open to mount on the bamboo form. Then we placed the head on the pole and tied it on with twine. Old hats were the crowning touch. We dug holes with a posthole digger and placed the scarecrows along the outskirts of the garden, farthest from the house.

To complete the scare tactics, I took one of those mylar emergency blankets and cut it into strips. I tied these on the tomato cages, hung them from a few bamboo poles and from the arms of the scarecrows. When the wind blows they rustle and reflect light and definitely provide a distraction.

I must confess, that they have scared the bejeezus out of me more than once. They’ve been there a couple of weeks now, and when I come around the corner and see a body standing out in my garden-it still takes me by surprise.

So did our trio of scarecrows work? I’d say that they definitely did their job. The garden was pretty much intact, when we returned home. Some of the peas were eaten back a bit where the floating row cover had blown off and a few pepper plants had been nibbled; overall everything was untouched. So the scarecrows kept more than just the crows away–I’m thinking they should be called scarecritters! I wonder how long they will scare the wildlife before they get used to them…

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