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Building a Scarier Scarecrow
by Cindy Shapton - posted 09/29/17









Be creative – broken tools, pots and whatnots make fun scarecrows …how about those ladybug shoes?

If you have a garden, it’s more than likely that you also have a pest or three. It should be no surprise that pests and critters like our yards and gardens as much, or more, than we do. We are encouraged to invite wildlife into our yards and gardens because we love seeing them, and, in theory, they help balance our desire for our garden and nature to coexist. But what happens when they go rogue and start eating, digging and destroying all of our hard work?

Scaring them away, or we could say gently discouraging, wild and sometimes not-so-wild critters to “Step away from the garden,” is always a first and sometimes successful option.

When we think about “scare” and “garden,” our minds naturally jump to scarecrows, an ancient and very popular form of scaring away crows and sparrows from crops. These birds could devastate a farmer’s crop in short order, which could mean food shortages, a very serious matter. The idea is that birds would see a scarecrow and think it was a person and be frightened away. Scarecrows work somewhat … at least for a while, until the birds figure out it doesn’t move, and then they’re back to raiding crops.

A traditional scarecrow watches over sunflowers, discouraging birds and looking good in the garden.  •  Some yard-sale finds turn this PVC pipe frame into a cute little hip-hop cowgirl ready to scare. The base is a 2-foot piece of larger PVC pipe concreted into a bucket so it can be moved easily about.

Scarecrows have such a rich history in our agrarian past that a garden without one seems naked or not quite finished. Besides, they add a touch of color and art to the garden, whether they are scary or not.

Easy to make and a fun family project, scarecrow frames can be repurposed from materials you probably can gather from around your garage or barn. It’s just a matter of dressing something that can be used as a frame that is currently being used in a different manner, such as pieces of wrought iron, gazing-ball holders, easels or tripods. You can easily use scrap lumber or PVC pipe to construct a frame – a basic “T” or cross shape for you to “dress.”

I’ve always thought that scarecrows could be “new and improved” with a little tweaking … here are some ideas to consider:

• Make your scarecrow moveable – this will hopefully create an element of surprise and some fright. I made a “scare baby” on a metal form I used to display gazing balls. It has a central spike that pushes easily into the ground so I can move it often. You could also anchor the frame to a bucket with concrete, making them more mobile.

• Stuff the scarecrow clothes with strong-smelling herbs like tansy, wormwood and lavender. Many critters, as well as some insects, will be repelled or confused and just move on.

Scarebaby might seem innocently sweet with her hot pink skirt and gourd head, but she spreads a little doubt when I move her easily and often around the garden on her gazing-ball frame.  •  Repurpose CDs to scare away birds in the garden as they spin and glimmer.  •  Ribbons, especially reflective ones – blow in the wind, creating movement to startle critters.

• Use the scarecrow’s arms to hang reflective tape or metallic objects that will move in a breeze, like old Christmas decorations and garland, or even old CDs that will spin and shine in the sun.

• My mom sprays cheap perfume on rags she hangs on fences or posts around her garden to ward off deer with great results. If you have hungry deer, perfume your scarecrows or add a smelly scarf.

• Accessorize your scarecrow with leftover soap scraps, human hair and mashed garlic that can be placed in recycled mesh bags and hung on the scarecrow as another deterrent for deer.

• Hide a portable radio (protected from rain) in the scarecrow, connected to a timer on a 24/7 talk radio station that comes on randomly to catch critters off guard. This works for deer, raccoons, birds and other garden marauders.

• Twinkle lights are always a nice touch in the garden – why not wrap them around scarecrows and connect to a timer that goes on and off during the night to put a little scare into those nocturnal pests?

• Use scarecrows as a hanger for plastic owl or hawk decoys or better yet, rubber snakes. Rabbits, birds and other critters are leery of these birds and reptiles of prey. These, too, work best if moved often to maintain the element of surprise.

• Attach mirrors to do one of three things: Keep some birds busy admiring or fighting with themselves; cast reflective light spots, especially when they are hanging so they can spin around to startle and scare; critters – groundhogs, who are afraid of their own refection – will skedaddle when they see themselves in a stationary mirror placed near the ground by the scarecrow base.


   I had a problem with birds getting to my elderberries before they even ripened … not now – with a snake hanging about!  •  Predatory birds are sure to scare away critters and birds in the garden, just be sure to keep moving them around.  •  Pinwheels and whirligigs have long been used to scare off critters in the garden. Some claim that moles don’t like the vibrations created by these spinners … it’s worth a try!

• Pinwheels and spinning whirligigs are not only fun in the garden, but they also add sudden movement to intimidate or surprise, and will send groundhogs running. Old-timers say that these spinners also create vibrations, which will make moles nervous and wary. They’ll leave your garden alone and look for calmer areas.

• Don’t know what to do with all the shells you get from your beach vacations? String them together and let them hang off the scarecrow as another unusual noisemaker.

• Chimes make noise with the slightest breeze, and let’s face it, some of those high-pitched notes are painful; so put them in the garden, where they can be used to make critters hold their ears and skitter, scatter.

• Old-fashioned pie plates hanging around the garden in pairs clang loudly to shoo away birds, or hung singly, they’ll spin and glimmer.

Hanging pie pans so they spin is an old-fashioned way to keep some varmints out of the garden.

• Change outfits now and then to fool critters – especially the winged ones. So if you thought those folks with the garden ornaments that wear different clothing throughout the year based on the season were a little strange … think again, they may be onto something!

• And finally, have fun coming up with ideas to scare, befuddle, confuse and disperse trouble makers from your garden, then share what works with your garden friends.


A version of this article appeared in a October 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.


Cindy Shapton writes, speaks, designs and teaches workshops on her farm. Get a copy of The Cracked Pot Herb Book on her website,