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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.

Some prowlerproof plants

Any plant with thorns or spines on stems or leaves-large enough to inflict pain when touched qualifies as prowlerproof, Which specific plants you choose depends on your climate.

In the Pacific Northwest, you might try gooseberry's thorny cousin, barberry (Berberis), holly, or Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium). Good choices for many parts of California include bougainvillea, citrus, Natal plum, and pyracantha. In the desert, try bougainvillea, cactus, citrus, and spine-tipped yuccas. Roses and cane berries work anywhere. For additional choices, visit a nursery.

These armed plants don't have to inflict injury to be effective; one Southern California landscape architect told us about three burglars who were nabbed by Beverly Hills police after owners heard them struggling in their spiny shrubs.

Make sure the plant you choose will eventually cover the entire area you want to protect (use more than one, if necessary). Also, start them close enough to the house or fence so that no one will be able to slip behind them once they've matured.

If you use spiny plants under windows, don't forget to leave yourself a way out in case of a fire. Leave one window free of plants and keep it locked. Use protected ones for ventilation.

Light up your garden

In most cases, you don't need floodlights to illuminate your property adequately Attractive, low-wattage lighting is an effective way to keep intruders from getting interested. If they think they can be easily seen, they're likely to stay away.

At front entries, 40-watt bulbs usually suffice (they should give you enough light to read newspaper print). Use 60-watt bulbs at back doors and by the garage. In remote parking areas, you may want to consider a high-intensity light.

If you do use floodlights, don't point them away from the house; the glare can actually provide cover for an intruder by temporarily blinding you as you approach. Instead, direct them downward from the eaves or upward from the ground-toward a house wall, for instance.

Use photoelectric cells-or a timer to turn on outdoor lights at dusk.

You can also install infrared security lights (available at home building centers) that trigger floodlights when they detect body heat and movement. Although such systems can be expensive, the lights come on only when necessary; you'll save some on energy bills. If animals roam your property, adjust beams several feet above the ground so the animals don't activate the lights.

Every little thing you do can help Dogs, crunchy gravel paths to magnify the noise of foot traffic, and wind chimes over windows all reduce your chances of becoming a victim. Also, use good security sense: lock back and side gates (it's worth the extra trouble of making special arrangements with maintenance companies and gardeners, if necessary), and start a neighborhood watch program, if you haven't already.

Families in one burglary-plagued Portland neighborhood got together to help solve the problem: they landscaped for better security, following guidelines similar to ones presented here. Then they pitched in to buy a wood chipper for the mass of prunings that resulted.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Nov 1, 1988
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