Give burglars the brush-off by landscaping for security

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Dean Fosdick retired in May 2001 after 23 years with The Associated Press, 15 of those as Alaska bureau chief. He has covered the Exxon Valdez oil spill, volcanoes, galloping glaciers and harvesting Alaska-grown 100-pound-plus cabbages. He can be reached at: deanfosdick(at)

NEW MARKET, Va. (AP) -- People living in high-risk areas might try trimming their losses by designing some natural safeguards into a landscape plan.

Aesthetics and security can be made to complement one another. Start by asking a few questions at your nearest police station or sheriff's office and then use that information for a personal ''foreseeability'' list.

Crime statistics vary but most intruders are opportunists. They're looking for ease of entry and a fast escape, says Ron Corbin, a crime prevention specialist with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

''All criminals take advantage of things that will help conceal their identity, whether it be shadows and darkness, covering their faces with ski-masks or lurking behind bushes and plants,'' Corbin says.

People playing the slots in Las Vegas often try spinning three-seven combinations -- symbols of luck and payoffs. Vegas police are using that gaming theme as a ''Three-Seven'' rule for limiting break-ins.

''Prune all bushes and ground-hugging plants around windows and walkways to three feet in height or lower,'' says Corbin, who specializes in crime prevention through environmental design. ''Cut tree branches so leaves and foliage are at least seven feet or higher.

''That provides is a clear sight line for you, your neighbors and passing vehicles and less concealment for criminals.''

Corbin also suggests using certain plants and flowers to reinforce the usual fencing and lighting deterrents. What that means is adding organic needles and noisemakers to technological bells and whistles.

Gardeners in the arid Southwest might go with a desert theme, a simple solution for discouraging would-be trespassers.

''Use some hostile barrier plants,'' Corbin says. ''Things like rose bushes or cactus can be as effective as barbed wire. They're also hardy and easy to get.''

Gang tightly branched, thorny plants near foundations and below windowsills. Then, only someone wearing armor plate would find a place to hide.

Candidates include Chinese holly, bougainvillea, burning bush, firethorn, barberry, yews and prickly pear, among others.

Consider using gravel walkways rather than concrete. They provide some crunch when walked upon and may discourage anyone not wanting to be heard.

Palm trees are good yard additions for the security minded. All the foliage is at the top, giving perpetrators precious little room in which to hide.

Don't become an accessory. Palm-sized rocks or bricks are good ammunition for breaking windows and sliding doors.

And don't leave ladders conveniently about. That also goes for trellises, vines or climbers sturdy enough to provide access to upstairs windows or balconies. Prune any nearby tree branches that would give second-story men an unwanted leg up.

Water hazards aren't simply for golf courses. Use ponds as physical barriers as well as attractive landscape additions.

Placing obstacles in the way of intruders limits not only their escape, but also the size of the loot they can carry. It's tough to carry a 31-inch TV set over a dense, 5-foot hedge.

M.J. ''Moe'' Painter, a deputy with the Shenandoah County (Va.) Sheriff's Office, has some advice for people living in small towns or on farms who still don't lock their doors when leaving home: ''Harden the target.''

Painter, who owns a cabin in the mountains but uses it only for vacations, hunting trips or weekends, recommends making isolated dwellings look lived in.

''Put a lawn chair out in the yard, or a dog dish,'' Painter says. ''Fly a decorative flag and change it once in a while. Prune your shrubs, mow your lawn and keep things tidy.

''You can pretty much tell when somebody's been around.''

Effective security landscaping can be made pleasing to the eye for the casual passer-by, yet appear unwelcome to criminals.

''The opportunists will choose more privacy-prone victims,'' Corbin says.


On the Net:

Security tips using landscaping: Click on Safety Tips, Click on Home Security Checklist;

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