Defensive Landscaping: Using Plants For Protection

Aliza VigdermanGabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Nov 20, 2020

When people think of outdoor security, they often think of things like lights, CCTV, fence placement, and dogs. They often don’t think of one of the simplest things of all: plants.

Unless you want your yard to look like a barren survivalist wasteland, you need to have plants. They’re green. They’re attractive. And when dealt with in the right ways, they can also deter burglars and thieves.

The first, and simplest part of defensive landscaping is simple: make sure you get rid of all the hiding places. That means you don’t have hedges running against solid-fence lines, which provide lovely play tunnels for children, and also sneaky avenues for those with ill intent towards you and your property. As pretty as it may look to have tall bushes smack against the house, mow those suckers down: burglars can hide behind them easily, use them as cover to open windows, and easily break into your house. (There is an exception to this — we’ll get to it.)

You also don’t want any trees near your home that could provide access to an unguarded second-story window. And be generous in your thinking: burglars can shimmy easily, or maybe use that ladder you have propped within easy reach against the shed. It’s probably best to keep all trees at a safe distance from your home, or all limbs trimmed back and away from the house. (This is also a good tip to avoid home damage from high winds.)

The same goes for trellises. Trellises are pretty. Trellises are nice. Trellises can let someone climb from the ground into a second-story window. I should know: I did it once as a teenager when I forgot my house key. Keep them away from your house, or at least don’t place them against the walls.

So there are obviously a lot of ways you keep your plants from being a security liability. But how do you make them a security advantage? Well, they did it all the time in the medieval era. As Gardening Know How says, “placing plants with possibly harmful attributes in weak areas of the yard intimidate, repel and prevent intruders.”

Let’s start with hedges. Think of your hedge as a moat. You want a tight hedge that people don’t want to get through. And while a hedge won’t stop the most determined thief, it will give many of them pause — especially if the only entrances through it are set with motion-lights and CCTV.

Plants That Pinch

Holly grows into dense bushes and hurts like hell: it’s what I know some people keep under their front windows. Blackberry will grow into a tight hedge fairly quickly, with small thorns that cling and rip — plus you get berries. You will want to prune, however, as it does grow fast, and bird consumption and excretion of those berries will have satellite hedges popping up all over the property.

Bougainvillea, according to Popular Mechanics, can grow to be 40 feet long and sports dangerous sap as well as thorns and pretty flowers. There are many other plants you can use depending on your climate and needs; if you’re interested, consult a local nursery.

Then there is, as always, the humble rose. You can always grow a hedge of them — I recommend a climbing variety woven through some airy fencing, something suited to your climate that requires little maintenance. I have a lovely little climber that protects the side of my driveway. Anyone attempting to get over that fence is going to get some nasty, nasty thorns. But you can also use roses as spot-treatment to keep the nasties away: one plant under a vulnerable window, especially a varietal with giant thorns, makes that window vulnerable no more.

If you live in the desert, of course, you have a whole host of defenses available to you that the rest of us don’t: cacti and agave. Sure, they grow slowly. But plant some agave under your windows and see how easily crooks are able to penetrate them.

Not The Only Solution

Obviously, your plants are not going to be the only thing that keeps would-be intruders away. But when combined with other sensible home defense features, they’ll definitely help. A big barking dog will serve as a good deterrent. And so will that enormous holly hedge.