Spiny plants, such as agave, can be added to your xeriscape security planting.

Brandon Hays/The Explorer

Home security is a legitimate concern. But the apparent easy answer of planting spiny, thorny or stickery plants around our homes is not the solution.  

We have all seen homes with “security plantings” gone awry. They are the homes where the homeowner has abolished all plants, leaving a stark, empty, prison-yard entry. No one sneaking up there, but deadly for resale value.

Or the home with the dense jungle of spiny, prickly and thorny plants obscuring the (barred) windows. Spiny plants will help keep intruders out but those windows are already barred. The weakest security point of a home is usually the doors, not the windows. Also, personal security was ignored. With vicious plants blocking the windows, how are those homeowners going to escape in case of fire? To have a secure yet satisfying landscape, bear in mind the following:

• Visibility. Burglars want to hide from view, therefore, easily visible doors and windows are more secure. Burglars love tall hedges and screening plants. With a jungle in your yard, neighbors can’t keep an eye on your front door when you’re away. Also, for safety when you’re home, you need to see out. Too much vegetation makes that impossible.  Landscape with a few accent plants and use short hedges, low perennials and groundcovers to complete the design.

• If you do have a jungle, don’t rip out all your plants; simply prune them. Limb up or thin out trees so you have a clear line of sight to the street. Prune trees that may allow an intruder access to your home via the second floor or a skylight. Branches shouldn’t rub on your home or roof anyway as they can damage the structure. Several feet of space between the roof and tree canopy are much safer in terms of security and fire safety.

• Remember xeriscape principles. Close to the home, site an oasis zone of plants that are watered by the rain running off your roof. But since moisture invites termites, use foundation plantings that are dense, bushy, distasteful to termites and hard for burglars to stand in or fight their way through. Junipers are excellent for this purpose. Also consider sloping the land away from the foundation into swales, or shallow depressions, in the middle of the yard and plant there.

Xeriscape principles have the lower water-using plants at the outer edges of the yard.  This is where you can put the spiny plants that help keep people from coming onto your property. There are a number of thorny plants to choose from.  Consider plants such as native thorny acacia, agave, bougainvillea, cacti, citrus, juniper, Mexican ebony, ocotillo, thorny palm trees, roses, Texas ebony and yucca.

• Access. Remember that you yourself will need access to areas of your yard, if only for weeding and cleaning. Don’t block off side yards, especially if the utility panels are back there. Spiny plants along a blank wall are great, but keep them away from the gate.

Think things through before you plant. With proper planning, you can grow a secure landscape that also allows you to use it safely – and enjoy it.

Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph. D., has been writing about gardening in the Southwest for close to three decades. Her latest book, “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” ($14.95), is available at area nurseries, or email for more information.

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