Landscaping for Security


Residential security through landscape design is a notion that's gaining popularity in many urban and suburban areas throughout the West. People are discovering that their homes needn't look like Fort Knox, with metal bars and expensive electronic equipment. Instead, a few alterations to the landscape can be enough to put off intruders.

Some modifications may be physical barriers-such as spiny plants located along fences and under windows. Others may be psychological deterrents: if a garden looks well maintained, allows few hiding places, and is well lighted at night, statistics show that prowlers are more likely to search for easier targets.

According to crime-prevention officers we interviewed in five Western states, 75 to 85 percent of all burglars are teen-agers striking within a mile of their homes. And most are "opportunity criminals," not professionals: they see an easy target and take advantage of it. "Anything you do to change the appearance of your home so it doesn't look like an easy mark will help keep intruders away Look at your garden through the eyes of a burglar to determine your vulnerable spots," says Portland crime-prevention specialist Teri Poppino. The diagram above pinpoints basic steps you can take to enhance the security of different areas around your house. Use these suggestions as a guide to determine what matters most to you.

Of course, not all of them will interest everyone. Privacy, for example, is just as important as security to many homeowners, so sacrificing an 8-foot-tall front hedge to make a home more burglarproof may not hold much appeal. Still, security may matter enough that you'll choose to protect vulnerable side and rear windows with thorny rose bushes.

Plant or prune to protect vulnerable areas

To avoid getting caught, intruders look for property they can get into and out of quickly. Their ideal target is a house surrounded by large hedges and shrubs, which hamper visibility from the street and from neighbors' bouses.

Thin out overgrown foliage on large shrubs to expose branch structure; if you can see through large plants, no one can bide behind them. If a plant is too overgrown, remove it and start over with one that's slower or lower growing. Prune shrubs for clear views from windows.

If you arrange to have a neighbor keep an eye on your property during the day, try to make it easier to see from the neighbor's house (walk over and take a look from that vantage yourself to make sure the view is clear). You may even want to remove a tree branch or two to improve visibility.

Intruders also look for no or few obstacles blocking quick exits, and public access on at least one side of a property fence. Homes next to schools, along drainage ditches, and near parks are among the most vulnerable. They're also among those that can best use security landscaping. Sacramento nurseryman Dan Pratt says, "Neighbors are going to think you're a little unfriendly if you string your fence with barbed wire. Protecting it with spiny vines and shrubs is a lot more attractive and just as effective."

Once on the property, burglars most commonly get into the house through basement, bathroom, or bedroom windows, which are often left ajar or can be pried easily. Thorny bushes planted below these windows will discourage even the most nimble intruders. …

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