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Garden Coach on Installing a Deer Scarer Water feature

March 17, 2008

Here’s the story of installing a deer scarer water feature for mom…

Last summer my husband and I built a small water feature in a decorative container for our back patio. It was the first one either of us had constructed, and it was a great learning experience. About a month after it was built, my mom came to visit and fell in love with the bamboo spigot idea. She and I shopped together for alternative ideas for her space, and she came to love the deer scarer (also known as a deer chaser or shishi odoshi) style of bamboo water feature. And, this style really made sense for her woodland setting in Virginia.

(Aside: Mom doesn’t have deer in her garden, which is kind of surprising given where she lives. And, I’m not sure if these chasers would really scare a deer away given how tame they often become in residential settings. Still, I imagine the first few times a deer encountered a ‘chaser’ they’d bolt. We did have fun watching the squirrels come to investigate, lose track of what they were investigating and then flip out when the spigot clunked!)

2008_03_deer_scarer_3.jpgWhile Mom was visiting last summer, we didn’t purchase the fixtures for her Shishi odoshi. I meant to go back and get one to send her for Christmas, but by the time I got around to it, the nursery was out of stock for the season. Fortunately, I was able to order an even nicer one that arrived before my visit to her house a few weeks ago.

While I was visiting, she and I set out to install the water feature. She had some old pond liner under her deck that she’d saved after tearing out a nasty, swampy pond that came with her house. Fortunately, there was a large enough section of liner without holes that we were able to recycle it for our purposes.

Mom had originally thought to put the spigot feature in an area of her garden that blends into her neighbor’s somewhat romantic setting. The whimsical gazebo backdrop didn’t feel quite right to me. So, I suggested she consider the opposite side of the house, outside her painting studio. Turns out she liked the idea. Her plan to site it near the gazebo really stemmed from the fact that her outdoor plug is on that side of the house and she’d gotten used to having a beautiful bird bath in the space I suggested for the new waterfeature. When I explained that we could easily get electricity to the location and that the birdbath made more sense tied with the gazebo while the spigot made more sense in a wilder setting, she was sold. So, we went to it!

2008_03_deer_scarer_1.jpgThe first thing we had to do was dig out a pond space where we would place the spigot and recirculating pump. Fortunately, amid a winter with not much rain, we tackled this job on a sunny morning after a long drenching rain. So, digging wasn’t too bad. Her soil is very rocky and filled with lots of true clay.

Here in Seattle so many people believe they have clay when what they really have is compacted soil. True clay is hard to dig and is incredibly slippery. So, we had our work cut out for us. As we washed rocks and prepped the site we did quite a bit of damage to the soil structure in the garden bed surrounding the scarer. I did my best to limit the damage and move plants before working in their area. Still, it will be interesting to see what doesn’t fare particularly well after our installation. Fortunately, it was fairly early in the season when we did the work, so our hope is that the plants will have the energy to withstand the compaction and that the rains will continue to come and improve the drainage and aeration before the full spring surge.

2008_03_deer_scarer_4.jpgWhile I was digging out the space, Mom began gathering larger, decorative stones from around her garden. As I dug out rocks, I set them aside to re-use in the water feature. Together we trimmed up the pond liner using scissors, despite my begging that she find a box cutter to use instead. Still, we managed to get a piece that fit our space. We washed it well,  lined the hole, set the spigot in place and filled the liner after holding it down with some stones. And, it worked!

To be honest, we did spend several hours the next day fine tuning everything. For instance, we’d put the pieces together wrong in the first place. Sleeping on the problem of it not knocking correctly helped us see the problem and fix it quickly the next day. As well, I realized I wanted a bigger splash pool, so we pulled out the rocks and did some additional digging. Fortunately, we hadn’t done a final cut on the liner, which we’d cut oversize the day before, so we had wiggle room to make the splash zone larger. And then I did the final cut, using a box cutter, which was such a better tool for the job than the scissors we used the day before. Once again: use the right tool, and life will be easier!

2008_03_deer_scarer_2.jpgAs we closed in on finishing our installation during our second day, my nephew showed up to help us. He prowled through the woods and creek to find more interesting stones, moss and branches to create a dry stream heading downhill from the spigot and pool. He found a mossy old log that he used to hide the electrical cord. Plus, he helped me uncover plants hidden under piles of leaves in the wilder parts of Mom’s garden, which we added alongside the dry stream he created with us. We added native ferns and wild ginger, knowing that hydrangea, hosta, toad lily, and dogwoods would soon surround our new addition to the garden. I had hoped to take Mom shopping for a dwarf Japanese Maple to add to the mix, but we ran out of time. Maybe next time!

Now my Mom has a beautiful waterfeature in her garden bed to provide inspiration as she paints. The birds, squirrels and chipmunks have a new water source near the bird feeders — and this water moves! Unfortunately, my nephew got a bad case of poison oak after I left, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he contracted it helping us. Perhaps he’ll find some solace as he suffers knowing that his pain will always be rewarded when he visits the beautiful stream he helped create.

Getting to work with my young nephew and my young-at-heart mom was a real joy. Both of them are enthusiastic about the outdoors. Both are inspired and inspiring artists. Together we built something lasting, something that will bring joy to the birds and other wildlife that visit the garden, something that they will be able to share and develop for years to come. I learned from each of them, as I do from all of my clients, how to be a better gardener and a better garden mentor.

Want to build your own deer scarer? Visit the Garden Accessories section of Garden Help’s Shopping Section to order parts now!


  1. Shepherd says:

    Nice piece on the Japanese deer scarer. Would like to try one of those in the new potager I am putting in; can you tell me the source of the one you got for your mother?

    BTW, do you mind if I link to this blog…I find it interesting that we are doing the same kind of online writing on the two coasts. You can certainly link to mine (address above) if you find it of interest.


  2. rhaglund says:

    I purchased the basic parts for this deer scarer from http://www.fallingwatergardens.com/. Please let them know you heard about it here!

  3. Anna says:

    I’m so glad to see that other folks are having good luck with homemade deer scarers!  I just stumbled across the bamboo version today, but we’ve been using a metal deer scarer all summer with great results.  Our garden used to disappear down deer’s gullets on a regular basis, but so far our homemade deer deterrents have been 100% effective.  (Though we did turn one off for 45 minutes a few weeks ago and had deer in the garden again!)  We may try the bamboo version next year to pretty it up!

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