So you’ve got a community garden plot and your almost ready to harvest crops keep disappearing. Or maybe your neighbors treat your home garden like their own personal supermarket. Oh, and let’s not forget those cute garden gnomes that keep disappearing on sabbatical. Unfortunately, garden theft is a reality for many gardeners. Seasons of hard work can easily be destroyed or stolen by unscrupulous individuals, leading to heartbreak and frustration. Living in an urban neighborhood in a major city, I know first hand the hurt caused by garden theft. Flowers are ripped off bushes and plants in our tiny front yard. Veggies disappeared year after year from our community garden plots. Even entire plants in pots go missing sometimes.
If you’re frustrated seeing your hard work and money disappear, I have some tips to help to minimize damage and prevent the theft in the first place. Give these garden security ideas a try so you can have a happier growing season.
10 Tips for Garden Theft Prevention
1. Fence in Your Yard or Garden
This is a tip many people are resistant to because of cost or visuals, but sometimes the best way to protect your garden and landscaping is by keeping thieves away from it. If you garden in your backyard and live in a high-traffic area (like urban neighborhoods), sometimes a fence is the best solution. It not only protects your plants but adds extra security and privacy to your home and yard. The fence also has a bonus of keeping out deer and other critters that may treat your vegetable garden like their buffet.
If you’re gardening in your front yard or find your flowers and potted plants disappearing, a nice wrought iron or split wood fence can help create a barrier that will keep most thieves away from your landscaping.
2. Use Heavy Planters for Container Gardening
If your potted plants and flowers disappear quickly, skip the small cute pots and try large heavy planters. You can create beautiful mini-gardens that are hard to move (think large concrete planters). If large planters don’t work in your space, use regular pots but put heavy rocks in the bottom that makes them difficult to move. Most thieves won’t want to put in the effort to move a heavy container.
3. Add Lighting
Most theft is a crime of opportunity and if you notice your plants and garden items go missing at night, the thieves may be operating under the cover of darkness. Look at your property at night. Are their dark corners where thieves can easily slip in? Add landscape lighting and motion-detecting security lights. These not only deter garden theft but help with home security as well.
4. Install Security Cameras (or a Fake One)
Many thieves only steal things when they know they’re unlikely to get caught. This makes a security camera an excellent deterrent. If you want to avoid the bigger investment of an actual camera, you can try a fake security camera or a “Smile You’re On Camera” sign and see if that’s enough. If that isn’t enough or you have other theft problems (packages disappearing, etc.), investing in a real security camera may be necessary.
5. Secure Your Yard Accessories & Tools
This should be a given, but keep your stuff secure! Store tools and other items in a locked shed or garage. Make sure not to leave them laying around in the yard if you aren’t outside working. Scattered tools are an easy target for thieves. For any “permanent” items that need to stay outside (think decorations, furniture, BBQ grill, etc.) try to secure them to your house or the ground. Make them difficult to take and thieves will leave them alone. Ground anchors, wires, and chains can secure garden items without making them too unsightly.
6. Make Smart Flower Choices
Growing beautiful flowers in your yard is one of the best parts of gardening. But unfortunately, those beautiful blooms are often targets of thieves looking for a free bouquet. Follow a few tips to protect your lovely buds. Don’t plant expensive flowers in your front yard or in sight of the road. Tulips, roses, and long-stemmed flowers are often targets for thieves who will gladly come along to clip them off or rip them out of your garden bed.
If you want flowery landscaping in your front yard, choose short flowering plants that don’t have stems long enough to easily cut off.
7. Grow Weird Fruits & Veggies
This is a tip that was shared among the other gardeners at my community garden once we were fed up with our tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchinis constantly disappearing. Because of the public location of our garden in a local park, many people unaffiliated with our group could come through and admire our garden. But many of those admirers took a step further by taking our produce home with them.
Of all the different strategies we tried (signage, chicken wire fences, etc.) the technique that worked best was just growing weird veggies and fruits. These unique varieties aren’t common on grocery store shelves, so most thieves don’t know what they’re looking at. Green tomatoes, purple beans, and yellow cucumbers look strange, taste great, and don’t disappear! Check out my 10 favorite unique fruits and veggies to get some ideas.
8. Harvest Frequently & Keep Your Garden Neat
Some thieves are tempted by abandoned looking gardens and trees. Make sure you’re harvesting frequently so thieves know that the tree or plants are well cared for and you’re keeping an eye on them. Keep garden beds clear of weeds and plants well pruned. For fruits and veggies that can ripen on the counter (like tomatoes) you may want to harvest them a day early so a thief doesn’t snatch them at the last minute.
9. Put up (Polite) Signs
While the rudest and most determined thieves will not be deterred, a nice sign may remind kids and thoughtless people that this yard and garden belongs to someone who really cares about it and works hard to make it nice. A personalized garden sign (properly secured) is a great reminder that the plants and veggies belongs to a real person.
In a community garden, a sign that explains the purpose of the garden and that the veggies and fruits are not available for public consumption can help educate passers-by.
If you have specific issues like flower theft, try making a specific sign asking people not to steal or trample your plants. Watch your tone on the sign–keep it simple and emotion free. Some people will react negatively to accusatory or angry signs.
Some good signs I’ve seen in my neighborhood:
“Please don’t pick the flowers, it kills the plants.”
“Please don’t trample the grass.”
“Don’t forget to pick up after your dog.”
10. Plant a Sacrificial Garden
This tip mostly works for community gardens, but you could certainly try it at home as well. One of the techniques my community garden did to combat theft was to dedicate one of the garden beds a “public” garden. All the gardeners “donated” extra plants and seeds to that garden bed and as a group we watered and cared for the garden. Anything that grew in the garden was free to be taken by anyone–even people who weren’t members of our group. We put up signage throughout the garden to let everyone know to only take from the public garden plot.
While it wasn’t a perfect solution, it was a nice way for our group to contribute to the larger community and offer people an honest way to get vegetables from our garden.