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Clever gardening tips to deter burglars

You might be surprised to know that spending time nurturing your garden can do more than boost your home's kerb appeal. Some creative planting can also keep burglars at bay.

As part of our month-long burglary-prevention campaign, we asked professional gardener James Cox for his creative tips for putting off unwanted visitors.

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"There are many things in the garden that we can do to help protect our properties and make a burglar think twice about trying to break in. 

Plants that have evolved over millions of years to protect themselves can also help us to protect our homes. Species with spiky leaves or thorns will make burglars think twice about trying to pass through them or stop them trying to climb a wall or fence.

As a first line of defence in the garden a spiky hedge planted around the perimeter of your property can act as a deterrent against anyone wanting to enter. Berberis, Hawthorn or Blackthorn are idea for this. Evergreen forms of Berberis are available and many of the deciduous varieties will produce stunning autumn colour. A hedge containing Blackthorn will eventually produce sloes as an added bonus.

A lot of people can be put off planting a hedge as they think that it will take too long to establish and that the cost will be too high. The key to keeping the cost down is buying the plants during the winter months, when they are available as bare root specimens. They can be up to 75% cheaper than buying them pot grown in spring and summer.  Adding plenty of organic matter to your soil will see them off to a good start and help them to establish quickly, producing thousands of small thorns that will go straight through the thickest of burglar Bill’s trousers!

When the hedge at the front of your house reaches around 3ft, keep it at that height so that it doesn’t give a burglar a private screen with which to hide behind.

As well as a protective hedge you could also use your fruit plot as a secondary layer of defence within your garden. Grow rows of spiky gooseberry’s or try exotic Szechwan peppers as something that you definitely wouldn’t want to go running through with a grandfather clock under your arm.

Ornamental plants can also work well and add amazing colour to the garden at certain times of the year. Rubus thibetanus or cockburnianus (No I haven’t made that plant up) is an ornamental bramble that can be seen growing in various gardens open to the public. It has hooked thorns and easily reaches 6 feet. The stems of the plant are bright white and are fully revealed during the autumn after leaf fall.

Planting something spiky under a window is also going to make it a lot less appealing to a burglar if they are learning against a wall of thorns. Pyracanth, Chinomales and climbing roses are idea for this.

Screening Small sheds and out buildings is also an important part of deterring thieves. If it can’t be seen then no one can know it’s there in the first place. Again planting a hedge is idea for this. Evergreen hedges like laurel, escallonia and grisalinia establish quickly to form a screen.

Adding a green roof to a shed or out building can also increase the chance of it not being spotted from a distance.

As well as the defence from the plants it is also a good idea to use gravel around the house for paths. It is a very noisy surface to walk around on and especially during the dead of night when all else is quite."

Here are some suggestions of plants suitable for deterrents:

Hedging for a barrier

  • Berberis thunbergii Atropurpurea (Deciduous)
  • Berberis darwinii (Evergreen)
  • Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn)
  • Prunus spinose (Blackthorn)
  • Ilex aquifolium (Holly)

Hedging for a screen

  • Prunus laurocerasus (Laurel)
  • Escallonia Apple blossom
  • Griselinia littoralis
Berberis Thunbergii Atropurpurea
(Picture of Berberis Thunbergii Atropurpurea, courtesy of RHS)

Shrubs

  • Elaeagnus augustifolia
  • Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn)
  • Mahonia aquifolium
  • Olearia macrodonta
  • Ribes speciosum
  • Rosa rugosa

Wall and fence plants

  • Chaenomeles speciose
  • Pyracantha coccinea
  • Rosa Albertine

James has been a professional gardener for over 25 years, having previously worked for the National trust and for the Prince of Wales at Highgrove. His composting skills have been showcased in the Daily Telegraph and he has also appeared on Gardeners world. He currently runs his own garden company, Cox Creative Gardening, in the south west of England. You can read more from James by following his blog.

Do you have any crime-fighting foliage tips? We'd love to hear them. You can join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

And more burglary-prevention advice from us here.

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