Landscaping to help deter criminals (CPTED)

Updated March 03, 2019
Burglar in front of a house at night

Which yard would you choose to hide in before you break into the house?

House with unsafe landscaping House with safe landscaping

It is March and soon spring will be upon us.  For many it is a time for yard clean up and landscaping.  While you are out doing your yard work this spring, keep in mind that what you plant and where you plant things in your yard can affect the safety of your home. 

CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) focuses on the physical design of your home (fencing, lighting, plants) to identify areas or elements that may have the potential to attract crime. 

There are things each homeowner can do to discourage criminal activity.  It is possible to reduce opportunities for crime by changing the physical environment.

Natural surveillance

CPTED promotes and prioritizes increased visibility in and around a property to deter burglars and thieves who frequently target residences with low visibility.  Here are some things to keep in mind as you go about your springtime yard work.

Landscaping - Plants should follow the 3-8 rule of thumb.  Hedges should be no higher than three feet and tree canopies starting no lower than eight feet.  This is especially important around entryways and windows.

Lighting - Make sure outside lighting is adequate.  Motion-sensing lights perform the double duty of providing light when needed and letting trespassers know that “they have been seen.”

Windows - Windows that look out to streets are good natural surveillance and should not be blocked.  Retirees, stay at home parents, and people working from home can provide good surveillance for the neighborhood during the day.

Natural access control

This refers to homes having distinct points of entry.  Generally, crime perpetrators will avoid areas that have high visibility.  Therefore, residences should have front and back doors that are clearly visible and well lit. Consider adding dense or thorny landscaping as a natural barrier to reinforce fences and discourage unwanted entry.  Natural access control can be complemented by mechanical forms of access control such as locks and alarms.

Territoriality/defensible space

This means showing that your community “owns” your neighborhood by removing graffiti and keeping yards maintained.  Personal touches such as creating flower gardens or boxes and putting out seasonal decorations sends the message that people in your neighborhood care and won’t tolerate crime in their area.


Maintenance is related to territorial reinforcement.  The “Broken Window Theory” suggests that one “broken window” or other issue, if allowed, will lead to others and ultimately the decline of a neighborhood.  Well-maintained properties send the message that people notice and care about what happens in a neighborhood.  This discourages vandalism and other crimes.   

Another way to help deter crime in your neighborhood is to form a Neighborhood Watch group with your neighbors. The Neighborhood Watch program is made up of residents who take the initiative to help prevent crime in their neighborhood.  Neighbors keep an eye out for each other by taking note of unusual or suspicious activity and reporting it to the police.  It is one of the most effective crime-prevention programs in the country today.  If you do not have one in your neighborhood, consider starting one.  Get started today by downloading our Neighborhood Watch Starter GuideIf you have any other questions, email [email protected] or call (916)774-5050.