Dirty Hands — Tips for Preventing Garden Theft

The Bing cherry tree in my side yard is preparing to bloom, red nodules swell on the branches, promising bright pink flowers and sweet fruit later on. The fruiting of this beautiful old tree is a delight and a worry because of the things it attracts. It’s not just the birds and squirrels that forage on the branches for the dark maroon fruit, it’s also two-legged marauders that cause concern. More than once I’ve found folks picking the fruit, standing in the privacy of my yard.

A few years ago my house was robbed by kids who jimmied the garden gate and entered the yard to gobble ripe cherries when no one was home. A bedroom window, open a slice for fresh air, enticed them to shimmy inside – stole my Mother’s black pearl necklace from my vanity, my son’s baseball cards, old DVDs and every bottle of wine in the house. They stuffed their booty into the duffle of my matched luggage and made off, ditching the duffle in bushes around the corner for later retrieval. My quick-witted neighbors called the cops who were waiting when the little burglars returned for their stash. My things were returned and the kids went to juvenile court for their crimes, serving time at the boy’s ranch in Ione.

The problem with my alluring cherry tree, however, isn’t unique. Nor is the loss of my hose reel from the front yard, or the absent garden chair from the courtyard. A check of the local papers shows thefts from gardens, garages and sheds is common and on the rise. Because garden thefts get lumped in with general property crime, however, it’s hard to tell how bad the problem really is. A report from an insurance company in Great Britain, however, suggests that almost 25% of homes with gardens have experienced actual, or attempted, garden theft within the last two years.

And these days thefts take place in fair weather and foul, in broad daylight and the dark of the moon. Some thefts from gardens are opportunistic, like the kids and my cherry tree, others are more sinister – a junkie spots something portable that you left out, he takes it to get a little cash for his next high or bands of thieves stake out properties and clear things out in systematic sprees. Gone are statuary, decorative rocks, tools, furniture and expensive plants. I’d like to plant a selection of Japanese maples in my sweeping front bed, but at more than $100 each, they’re too expensive to chance theft, not to mention the disappointment of lovingly selecting the trees, only to find them gone.

Adding insult to injury this winter, snow blowers have been disappearing from the garages and yards of the snowbound homeowners when the equipment is most needed. Snow blower thefts are being reported from Minneapolis to Mamaroneck, N.Y., according to Consumer Reports blog, and some thefts have been particularly brazen. “It’s pretty gutsy to back up to somebody’s pickup truck in his driveway,” Keith Olson told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune after someone swiped his $1,000 Troy-Bilt snow blower.

“The severe snow storms have put snow blowers in short supply, and you should secure them like the valuable product they are,” says Brad Copley, vice-president of marketing for Troy-Bilt. But because many snow blowers start with a pull cord, like a lawn mower, and others require a universal (not individual) key, securing them is not easy. “The keys are really designed more to keep kids from turning it on than to deter theft,” says Copley.

The Minneapolis police, who are old hands at investigating snow blower theft, suggested homeowners do the following:

• Register your machine with the manufacturer.

• Record the make, model and serial number.

• Paint some part of the snow blower a distinguishing color to make identification faster and easier.

• Use a padlock in the garage door track as an additional lock to keep burglars from opening the door if they get inside.

• Secure the service door with a medium or heavy-duty deadbolt lock and maximum-security strike plate.

• Block in the snow blower with a vehicle.

While you’re securing sheds, fences, gates and doors, don’t forget to keep an eye on children’s toys, bicycles and sports gear, as well as trampolines, skateboards, swings and slides, even playhouses can all be hauled out of the garden while you’re visiting grandma or taking that much anticipated camping trip.

So what can you do to prevent theft from your garden?

The experts at www.surveillanceforsecurity.com/ say sometimes it’s the simple things that work best. Don’t leave anything out that would interest a thief. Put away (and lock away) all power and hand tools when you finish using them. If the kids left their toys all over the lawn ask them to pick them up. Home security is everyone’s job.

If you’re going on vacation tell your neighbors and ask them to keep an eye out. Being a member of your local Neighborhood Watch will help prevent garden theft.

Think about planting shrubs and bushes with prickly leaves and thorns up close to vulnerable entry points but don’t let them grow so high as to give thieves cover. And if your garden and home is already hidden from view by high bushes or trees, prune them. This will allow passers by and neighbors to see intruders in your garden.

It’s a good idea to secure items within sheds. It’s simple to chain up ladders (using your own ladder to break into your house only adds insult to injury) chain bicycles and large power tools to strong anchor points. Consider fitting a battery-powered alarm to your shed, or better yet connect your shed in with your home security system.

If possible anchor garden art to the ground, the same with benches and other wooden garden furniture, install vibration sensors can set off alarms or lights. You may want to keep a photographic record of valuable items.
Most of my neighbors have installed these motion activated lights to the front of their garages, consider doing the same in the back yard. Gravel paths are another deterrent since they prevent a thief from moving noiselessly, or, if you have a very long driveway, consider a driveway sensor alarm.

Have you been the victim of garden thefts, got some security tips to share? Let us know. We’ll all sleep better at night. Thanks.

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