Landscaping to Prevent Crime

Strategies, Plants & Devices That Enhance Security

A man strolls down your front walkway in broad daylight and knocks on the door. Although your neighbors notice him, they aren't suspicious. When nobody answers, he walks around to the side gate and lets himself into the enclosed rear garden, where he enters your house by way of a forced back door, window, or garage. Once inside, he heads for your bedroom to rifle through drawers, closets, and mattresses in search of jewelry, cash, and other valuables. A pro burglar will be out of there—with the loot—in less than 10 minutes.

According to national statistics, burglary and theft are the two major crimes you're most likely to experience. Note: In most states, when anything is taken from inside your house, the crime is classified as a burglary (usually charged as a felony); when anything is taken from outside your house, it is a theft (often charged as a misdemeanor).

Fortunately there are a number of steps you can take to make your yard a more formidable deterrent to criminal intentions. In evaluating security needs, it's helpful to think of your landscape in terms of public and private areas.

Protect the Public Part of Your Yard

Your main entry—and probably your whole front yard—is considered a semipublic area, if only because the law allows anyone free passage from the street to your front door unless you've posted your property with No Trespassing signs.

  • Keep the landscape open and park-like, with low shrubs (under 3 feet) and trees pruned high (7 feet or more off the ground). Intruders will have nowhere to hide if you, neighbors, or police show up unexpectedly to ask questions.
  • If you choose to have a fence in front, it should be a see-through type like a picket fence, so it won't give a burglar cover.
  • The area between the driveway and the house should also be open and well lighted so crooks can't prowl around parked cars and perhaps steal them or their contents.
  • Mount lights on eaves to wash light across the exterior walls of the house. At night this silhouettes intruders, making them visible from the street.

Safeguard the Private Areas

Your rear yard—or any part of the landscape that's cut off from public view by fences or walls—makes up the private area. While you want privacy so you can enjoy a peaceful nap in the sun, secluded spaces are also potential entry points for criminals. Here's how you can discourage them.

  • Grow thorny plants such as agave, barberry, cactus, Natal plum, and yucca under rear windows. But keep them trimmed below the windowsills, so you could quickly jump over the plantings to escape a house fire.
  • Remove any tree branches that afford easy access over walls or to upper-story windows.
  • If your rear garden is fenced or walled, cover the barrier with a thorny plant like a climbing rose or bougainvillea. This gives you greenery and flowers to look at but provides a painful deterrent to would-be intruders.
  • If you don't have a fence but have the space, consider planting a hedge of dense, spiny shrubs like hedgehog or porcupine holly (Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox'), pyracantha, or one of the many shrub roses.
  • Install self-closing gates and keep them locked. A padlocked gate in a hard-to-scale fence or wall makes it tougher for burglars and thieves to get in and get away with larger items like bicycles and computers.
  • Lock up the garage or tool shed. You'd feel really silly if a burglar borrowed your ladder to break into an upstairs window. Garages are favorite entry points for intruders. Consider installing an automatic garage door opener, which effectively locks the door. Most new garage door openers have built-in security codes that are hard for crooks to crack electronically.
  • Install floodlights to illuminate rear doors and windows.

Electronic Security Devices

Well-positioned floodlights activated by timers or motion or light sensors force criminals to do what they hate most: work in the light. Buy floodlights with built-in motion sensors ($20 to $62 at hardware stores) or hook up a motion sensor (about $16) to an existing light. When the sensor detects repeated motion within a preset radius (12 to 70 feet is common), it completes an electric circuit for 1 to 12 minutes and then turns itself off again. That circuit can turn on a floodlight, activate a sprinkler system (which irritates burglars), or sound an alarm. But remember that stray cats and passing possums may also trigger the alarm (some sensors can be set to focus above the height of small animals). Mount sensors out of easy reach, so thieves can't easily turn them off.

Next Line of Defense

Think of landscaping and exterior Security devices as your first line of defense. Your second line begins at the walls of your house and should include dead bolts on doors and secure window latches. Consider an alarm system monitored by security services or your local police department.

Front Yard

  • If you want a fence in front, choose a picket or metal-rail type that you can see through.
  • Prune tree branches high for clear vision across yard. Remove limbs that act as ladders to upper windows.
  • Keep plantings low to reduce cover near the entry and driveway.
  • Install lamps that wash light across house walls to silhouette intruders.
  • Install path lights with motion or light sensors, or with timers to turn them on if you forget.
  • Mount motion sensor-activated floodlights on the garage.
  • Use manual or electronic locks on the garage door.


  • Train thorny vines or climbing roses over fences or walls. Or plant a hedge of spiny shrubs.
  • Plant prickly shrubs beneath windows, but keep the windowsills clear for escape from fire.
  • Self-closing gates should have locks.
  • Barking dogs attract attention that burglars prefer to avoid. Many breeds, from large rottweilers to miniature schnauzers, bark vigorously at intruders.

Around the House

  • Secure interior window latches. Consider a motion detector and a sensor that detects breaking window glass, linked to an alarm system. For sliding windows and patio doors, install track looks or use bars or rods to jam tracks.
  • Furnish all exterior doors with dead bolts.
  • Install a burglar/fire alarm system.