Personal security is always on our minds: We double-lock our doors, arm our homes with security systems and motion-sensor lights, and even install bars on our windows. But few of us think about landscape design as a way to protect our houses from intruders.
The right plants, in fact, can provide an effective additional layer of security. Planting and maintaining our gardens for security can enhance an attractive landscape by opening clear sight lines across the property or by screening areas that we don't want exposed for all to see.
Shoring up your property's defenses requires planning, time and money. Here are some guidelines that I use when developing a landscape design with security in mind.
One of the most reliable ways to secure your landscape is to plant thorny thicket hedges. They can create impenetrable barriers and provide security at the edge of properties or in dark corners close to the house where a prowler could enter.
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Keep foundation shrubs pruned to three feet or lower for good visibility. Shrubs provide privacy, but they can also give cover to unlawful activity if they get too big. You can avoid having to prune too much by using dwarf conifers, such as bird's nest spruces; low-growing shrubs, such as yews and blue globosa spruces (Picea pungens), also known as "Glauca Globosa"; or thorny plants that stay about three to four feet high and wide.
Shrubs should not cover windows. A common mistake is covering windows from the outside so that others can't see into the house. This creates a security risk because you can't see out, and intruders can stand between shrubs and windows, peering in without being seen from the street.
If you're designing shrubs as hedges or accents in flowering borders, there are several types that are likely to wound intruders, including hardy oranges (Poncirus trifoliata), pyracanthas and devil's walking stick (Aralia spinosa). Don't plant these where children play or dig with their hands. These shrubs can draw blood. Thorny plants tend to collect trash and leaves, so make sure you wear gloves when removing debris that gets caught in the branches.
When choosing plants, first ascertain a plant's growth habit, or size at full maturity, making sure it is in scale with your house.
Pruning thorny shrubs poses a special challenge. Wear thick gloves, long sleeves, long pants and sturdy shoes. Remember that selective pruning yields the best results. Cut out one-third of the oldest wood each year, leaving the lower, younger growth. This can be time-consuming but is without a doubt the best method. Low plants might never need pruning if planted four feet apart.
The following are several other ways to secure your property.
* Fences or walls. Security may dictate where they are installed and how high they should be. Securing an area requires complete enclosure and possibly a structure eight to 10 feet high. Most local building codes allow only six to seven feet unless you obtain a variance. Vines on walls can help discourage graffiti.
Consider picket fences, lattice with large openings, walls with open patterns or another see-through design, such as chain link.
Chain-link fence isn't ornamental, but it works quite well to secure an area and is more affordable. It keeps children and pets in and can keep troublemakers out. It comes in different-colored plastic coatings that can match your landscape and keep the fence looking good. Black blends with gardens and woodland, brown against a deck or other wooden structure, and green goes with a lawn. Blend chain link into the landscape by planting vines and shrubs around it, but keep in mind that doing so can undermine security by creating hiding places behind the plants.
A solid iron picket is handsome but more expensive.
* Gates and seating. Avoid having a gate or entry from a deserted alley or pathway. Seating can be placed for relaxation but also to allow you to see passers-by.
* Open lines of sight. Where the intersection of your path or driveway reaches a street, be sure you have visibility. Don't place large shrubs or tall walls in the line of vision where you want to see pedestrians on a sidewalk or cars approaching. When you enter a street from your driveway, keep a clear line of vision for several hundred feet.
* Lighting. Ornamental landscape lighting can be used for aesthetics and for keeping your property visible at night. A technique called "moonlighting" — hanging fixtures aiming down from trees, flooding the yard with a soft glow — is both practical and beautiful.
Supplemental security lighting is also popular. When installing either ornamental or bright security lighting, be sure each is on its own circuit. Bright floodlights should be wired through a separate circuit that runs to a dimmer switch so you can keep bright lights low to serve as accent lighting. Equip them with motion sensors and timers to make your residence look occupied even when you're away. Bright, high-wattage floodlights have no aesthetic value and should be turned off except when needed for security purposes.
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Here are plants that can carry thorns, needles or prickly leaves. Shop for varieties that have the characteristics that you want and that grow to a size that fits your landscape. Use caution in high-traffic areas or areas that children and pets frequent.
* Conifers such as dwarf spruces
* Juniper (creeping types discourage foot traffic, including around swimming pools)
* Hardy orange