Trees prevent break-ins. Or cause them. One of those.



A study by the U. S. Forest Service has found that certain kinds of trees can reduce crime in an urban neighborhood. Certain kinds of trees. It’s really interesting. I had heard this on NPR last week, but didn’t write down the reference and couldn’t find it on the site. Then I tried to google it and only came up with sites that said trees and bushes around a house attracted thieves. Then I gave up.

But a commenter mentioned it here on Sunday and then the article appeared in my Yahoo mailbox yesterday. The study looked at crime statistics in Portland from 2005–2007, focusing on types of crime, locations, and a number of other factors, including number and size of trees. It found that large trees were associated with a reduction in crime, while numerous small trees were associated with an increase. So, in addition to benefits from storm water reduction, energy conservation, cleaner air and increased property values, trees can cut down on crime—if they’re big enough. Watch for a similar study coming to a city near you.

The speculation is that large mature trees make a neighborhood look well-cared for and, because of their higher canopy, do not hide criminal behavior as well as a shorter tree would. 

Maybe. I think well-cared-for properties in general impede certain types of petty crime, but I also think that any property has break-in potential in a city. Or in a lot of suburbs for that matter. You have to be smart and follow a few precautionary strategies.  If there have been break-ins in your neighborhood, then get a security system, use house-sitters, and be smart about your lights. You should have trees anyway. I am also not sure that it would inspire homeowners to plant trees because they would not see the big tree benefit for decades. But if it does cause them to plant trees, then all well and good.

Speaking of trees, there is also an interesting discussion going on on the Garden Writers’ Listserv about using fruit trees as street trees. Apparently, Chico, CA uses citrus and Boston has fruit trees along a major artery. The fruit is welcome in both cases. We don’t do it here. I think it would work better in public community gardening spaces.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Key point here is that this study most emphatically doesn’t show tree CAUSE more or less break ins, just that they are associated with them. I can think of lots of reasons for that association — maybe wealthier neighborhoods have more mature trees than poorer ones?

  2. Novel, several years ago, scenes in Atlanta, Buckhead, author mentioned its tall, leafy, shade giving, secure, serene, beautiful trees wrapping the mansions; rest of the city, had it’s squalid homes, baking sun, poverty. Brainloss remembering author/title.

    Use of canopy trees delineating rich & poor.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. Cause and effect are often difficult to tease out. Wouldn’t a wealthier neighborhood with mature trees attract crime? or would burglers calculate that those houses would have really good alarm systems?

  4. So we have to have crime till our trees grow up? Fruit trees as street trees is not a good idea. Messy messy messy. Angers your constituents (if you are an elected official). Whose fruit is it? City’s because it is in the R-o-W? Yours?

  5. This is one of those situations where I’m grateful to live in a climate that permits agave and cactus landscaping. I can’t think of any of those that would encourage break-ins.

    I suggest stabby ilex for those beyond.

  6. I’m a big fan of planting fruit and nut trees along the streets. There are fruit trees that aren’t messy, as well as some that are. If entire cities start to do it, a lot of fruit that’s easy to dry and store for eating all year would make great choices.

  7. On the streets around my neighborhood the street trees are pecan trees. We love it! in the fall, you see whole families out harvesting the pecans together.

  8. I planted a mess of apple trees around our house when neighborhood kids kept walking on my lawn. They seemed to keep away any perps. I’m sure the kids don’t much like the bruising they take from the apples thrown at them by the trees. (I tried)

  9. But wouldn’t un-cared for fruit trees just serve as breeding grounds for fruit damaging pests? Can you imagine trying to grow food and having a highway of diseased or pest filled similar trees right over the picket fence.

  10. Many years ago, when I first came to visit my future husband in Sacramento, I thought I’d found Paradise. In the older parts of town where tall elegant Victorians & wide-porched bungalows abound, citrus trees lined the streets & held places of honor in front yards. Those aforementioned front porches often hosted a dwarf variety (or two) in pots. My fiance’s grandfather gave me two large boxes of Washington Navels to take back home to my family ( back in the days when airlines were okay with considering something like that “luggage”). Even Capitol Park – the grounds around the State Capitol – was full of citrus trees. Since I’d grown up with all of my citrus coming in boxes from Florida, the thought of walking outside & picking something so ‘exotic’ was exciting.

    My kids think it’s fabulous to walk out the front door and grab a lemon (lemonade, lemon peel candy, lemon chicken, lemon curd) or out the back for a mandarin (just eat it straight !).

    This past February, the Sacramento Bee printed a small article regarding public/street citrus trees. I’d been trying to find Seville Oranges to turn into marmalade for quite a while now – I just have to gather the courage to go pick them now.

  11. We used to go to the parks in San Antonio and pick up pecans. The pecans were wonderful and free! My niece Kym has a sour orange tree, maybe a Seville, in her backyard and I suggested that she make marmalade with them and she looked at me like I was crazy! I’ll tell her to contact some gleaners. Also, I learned years ago that the holly bush is a good bush to plant around your home, especially under or in front of windows. No one wants to get through them! Sharp thorns. and pretty bushes and useful to our feathered friends.

  12. Years ago, security “experts” evaluated the building I worked in. It had a two story atrium in the middle with tall ficus trees planted in the center. The “experts” said the ficus trees were a security hazard. I never got the exact reason. The trunks were barely 3″ in diameter so no one could hide behind one. The leaves didn’t start until over 6′ high.. Anyway they got replaced with palm trees, which looked ridiculous. This was Michigan.

  13. Street trees are good in any community. Our street has 100 year old Norway maples, and the city has been trying for years to have them removed. But a grassroots effort by residents and neighbors have saved them from the forestry department, even though many are sickly and really need to be replaced. Little crime in our neighborhood too.

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