How to get rid of thorn bushes?

Plants for home security? Yes, you read that right. If you’re serious about home security, there are certain plants you’ll want to grow in your yard. Especially in front of your fences and windows.

Any serious prepper knows the importance of security and setting up a solid defense plan to resist the inevitable intruders when the grid goes down. But few of those preppers understand the critical role that plants and shrubbery can play in home defense.

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Shrubs and plants have played a role in home and property defense for literally hundreds of years. People have used them to keep livestock contained, to keep predatory carnivorous animals out, for hedging purposes, or for defense against attacks from other people.

But of course, that was then. We live in an era where we can have barbed wire fences, electric fences, or other kinds of barriers to keep the bad guys out. So are plants still relevant for home security today?

I say yes. In fact, they are one of the most effective intruder deterrents you can have, and they don’t cost a thing. In this article, we’ll talk about which plants are best for home security, why they’re so effective, and some tips for planting them around your property.


Why You Need Thorny Plants For Home Security

Burglars often target average suburban homes, and for good reason. Most houses are poorly defended, easy to break into, and many of them are a goldmine for valuable items.

In a grid down scenario, people who are desperate for food and other supplies will be extra motivated to either quietly break into your home or launch an all-out attack, even if they know the house is occupied. This brings us to the two main reasons you need plants for home security.

1. They Deter Intruders

Now imagine that you’re one of these intruders and you have two houses you can attack. One is just a typical house surrounded by a green lawn. The other is the same, but it’s also surrounded by thorny brush and thickets. Which house would you attack first?

That’s exactly why you need to have security plants around your house. It makes it far less appealing to intruders. Thorny plants are a natural protective barrier that creates an immediate hostile environment for anyone thinking about launching an attack.

2. They Slow Down Intruders

A simple hedgerow of thorny thickets may not seem like much, but in reality, it can go a long way toward discouraging a raiding party. Chances, they’ll move on to the next house.

And even if they do attack your house, their progress would be significantly impeded which would give you extra time to either fight back or escape.

For these reasons, you should at least consider planting some thorny plants.

Tips For Setting Up Home Defense Plants

Simply planting some thorny plants will not be enough to prevent an attack on your house. There are some specific tips you must follow.

1. Get Plants That Are Thick, Tall, and Wide

If an intruder can simply step over or through them, they aren’t going to do you any good. At the same time, you don’t want your plants to be too tall. After all, you still want to be able to see the street from your house. You’re building a barrier, not a wall.

2. Make Sure They’re In Front Of Weak Spots

You also want to be strategic about where you put your plants. For instance, if you have a fence that runs around your property, plant some thorny bushes in front of it or at least in the corners where someone is more likely to climb over.

Another place to plant thorny bushes is in front of your windows. If burglars can’t break through a window without getting torn up by one of your plants, they might not even bother.

You may want to take things a step further and create an entire perimeter around your property with a layer or two of home security plants. It’s going to require more yard work, but if you feel safer as a result, then it might be worth it.

The Best Home Security Plants

Here are some of the most effective plants for home security:

1. Blackberry

If you want a thorny plant that’s going to grow as quickly as possible, the Blackberry should be one of your top choices.

No, this is not one of the most attractive plants, but it can grow to be over five fight high in a short amount of time, and it’s packed with thorns and prickles that will tear up any attacking party.

The biggest downside to the Blackberry bush is that because it grows so quickly, you need to dedicate time to pruning and trimming it. As long as you’re willing to do that, it’s a good choice.

2. Century Plant

The Century Plant is, without question, one of the most beautiful yet unforgiving home security plants in existence.

With its light green leaves, the Century Plant is incredibly easy to grow, doing well even in hot and dry conditions. Maintenance is also relatively hassle free and it’s rare for it to suffer from any kind of disease.

It grows massive spikes next to its four foot long leaves, and those spikes can easily stab through skin with only a little bit of force.

The one downside to the Century Plant is its short lifespan of around one to two decades, but other than that, it’s definitely one of the best home defense plants available.

NOTE: The Century Plant is also known as the Sentry Plant.

3. Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia)

Here’s a plant where even its name is intimidating. This thorny plant is so named because it is believed to be the plant that was forcefully wrapped over the head of Jesus before his crucifixion two thousand years ago.

The plant is a five foot bush that produces beautiful red colored flowers in the summer, so it really adds to the look of your property. The thorns are only part of its defense mechanism. The sap that it produces is also highly irritating to the skin and can even cause serious sickness if orally ingested.

4. Porcupine Tomato (Solanum)

Also known as the Devil’s Thorn, the Porcupine Tomato (or Solanum) can also grow to be nearly five feet tall with massive spikes that are tough enough to rip through skin.

Like the Euphorbia, it also comes with a deadly sap that is heavily irritating to the skin and can cause severe sickness when ingested. This is another plant that’s really going to make burglars turn around and go elsewhere.

5. Firethorn (Pyracantha)

Armed with sharp barbed leaves and poisonous berries, the Pyracantha is one of the largest plants on this list. It can grow to an astonishing 20 feet in height.

Like the Blackberry bush, the Pyracantha grows and spreads easily, which is great if you need a home defense option quickly, but it also means you’ll have a lot of trimming to do.

6. Rose

The rose bush is well known for its thorny branches that also cause infection when they pierce the skin.

The rose plant is also very beautiful and can add value to your home and property. The gorgeous flowers it produces are among the most recognizable in the world.

If you happen to have a wife who loves roses, you’ll have no trouble talking her into this option.

7. Spanish Dagger (Yucca Gloriosa)

Last but not least, the Spanish Dagger is native to the southeastern United States, but it grows well in virtually any kind of warm environment.

They can grow to be over fifteen feet high and have long pointy leaves that act as an excellent deterrent against intruders. The Spanish Dagger is popular with homeowners who live in more tropical regions, not only because it grows naturally there, but also because it can add to the value of the property as well.


Having a hedgerow of any one of these plants around your property will serve two purposes:

  1. It will make an intruder think twice about following through with their plans.
  2. It has the ability to inflict grievous physical injuries and infections on them if they are stupid enough to proceed anyway.

If you’ve previously scoffed at the idea of defending your home and property with thorny plants, you would be wise to reconsider.

Defensive plants, shrubs and trees (shrub fences)

Spiny shrubs and trees have been used for many hundreds of years to create defensive barriers; either as hedging, to pen livestock into their fields, or by using a plant’s climbing and defensive properties to improve an existing boundary, such as a timber fence or prevent graffiti being applied to a plain wall. The only problem with using nature’s evolved defensive arsenal is that we have to be a little patient for the results. But when these plants have reached maturity they can present the most formidable barriers.

Over the past four years my neighbour has trained an old English rambling rose over the entire back fence of her garden. It’s now so well established that there is no way on earth that anybody is going to be able to get into her garden over that fence. The thorns are vicious and copious; it’s simply impenetrable. The nice thing about it, of course, is that during the summer she is rewarded with abundant, fragrant flowers. There is a slight downside to this living barrier, which is the fact that she does have to prune it from time to time to keep it tidy and to stop it invading her neighbours’ gardens. But, if given the choice I’m sure we would always choose a prickly shrub over barbed wire or razor tape.

When my friend and colleague Heather Alston (Essex Police) and I wrote our crime prevention book, Home Security – the complete handbook , we were fortunate to get some help from Writtle Agricultural College in Essex. They produced three tables of plant species that could be used for crime prevention purposes. The first two tables below list prickly/spiny plants, which can be used for hedging or climbing onto a wall or fence. The third table lists a number of trees including many whose growth characteristics enable them to be used in circumstances where views through the trees and shrubs are necessary. I have since updated this information, but remember that the examples given are just a sample of the many thousands of plants that you can use for practical crime prevention. If you have your own favourites, let me know about them and I’ll add them to the lists.


Please note that the effectiveness of these plants will wholly depend on how you use them. Ground cover pricklies are used to keep people away from things or make people walk along a particular route, some are shrubs/small trees that can be used for hedging barriers and some are for growing over walls and fences to make climbing impossible or at least very difficult. Do also bear in mind that there are thousands of injuries in the garden each year and some of these are eye injuries caused by weeding around and pruning spiny shrubs. So do wear goggles in these circumstances and put covers on the top of supporting sticks – another cause of eye injuries.

Examples of defensive plants





Extremely effective



Very effective













All Berberis are spiny and make excellent barrier hedges. Many of the deciduous varieties have good autumn colour, flowers and berries


Berberis group


‘ Buccaneer ’

Rounded shrub



x ottawensis

‘ Purpurea ’

Purple-leaved upright shrub


Berberis group


‘ Pirate King ’

Erect dense branches, difficult to penetrate




‘ Atropurpurea ’

A vigorous, purple-leaved shrub




‘ Red Chief ’

Wine-coloured foliage on upright branches




‘ Rose Glow ’

Mottled purple-, pink- and white-leaved shrub




A semi-evergreen, dense shrub




A popular and very thorny shrub




A large thorny shrub with razor-sharp leaves




Long, three-armed spines and sharp leaves



x stenophylla

Virtually impenetrable thicket of arched, spined branches




A sturdy shrub with spiny leaves




‘ Jet Trail ‘ (Japanese Quince)

A thorn-bearing shrub with white flowers that is often wall trained




A very thorny shrub, with scented white flowers




From New Zealand, a tangle of branches



monogyna (hawthorn)

Native to Britain this shrub or tree is ideal for a hedge barrier. White flowers

7+ (tree)



oxycantha (Syn. laevigata)

‘Pauls Scarlet’

Similar to monogyna with double red flowers. Commonly grown as a tree

9+ (tree)




Grown as a shrub or tree with very strong and abundant thorns

3.5 (tree)




‘ Russian Olive ’

A fast growing, spiny shrub with scented flowers



x ebbingei

‘ Limelight ‘

A dense evergreen shrub with fragrant flowers




‘ Maculata ’

Less vigorous that x ebbingei, but variegated gold and green leaves




hispanica (Spanish gorse)

A low-growing dense shrub with yellow flowers . Requires dry soil and sun



aetnensis (Mount Etna Broom)

Taller than hispanica, but less dense with yellow flowers



rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn)

A wind- and salt-tolerant dense shrub. A good deterrent plant for poor soils



x altaclarensis

‘ Golden King ’

Ideal for defensive hedging with gold-edged leaves, but no berries



aquifolium (Common Holly)

Native to Britain and ideal for barrier plantings. Grows on most soil types




Argentea Marginata

A slower growing holly with good berries




Golden Queen

Male golden-variegated holly, but no berries




‘ Apollo ‘

A low growing shrub with spiny leaves




x media

‘ Charity ’

A relatively taller hybrid with sharper leaves and better shape




macrodonta (New Zealand Holly)

A useful shrub for exposed sites, with silver-toothed leaves and fragrant flowers



trifoliate (Crown of Thorns)

Slow growing impenetrable shrub with scented flowers. Prefers good, dry soil



spinosa (Blackthorn, Sloe)

Native to Britain, this is an excellent dense defensive shrub or small tree. Produces sloe berries



coccinea (Firethorn)

Many varieties

Bushy, spiny shrub with orange/red berries

Up to 2.5





A bushy, spiny shrub with red berries



frangula (Alder Buckthorn)

Native to Britain, a vigorous growing shrub ideal for wet, peaty soils




A dense, spiny bush with fuchsia-like flowers




‘ Rosea ’

Sparsely-branched, but thorny shrub, which is good on walls. Pink flowers


There are over 400 varieties within the Rosa family. The following listed shrub varieties are most suited for defensive planting. Not all climbing and rambling roses are suitable as some are thornless, e.g. R. ‘Zephirine Drouhin’.





The Lancaster rose. Red flowers





‘ Geranium ’

A very thorny tall shrub rose with pitcher-shaped hips and red flowers






A ground cover rose. Pink flowers





‘Dunwich Rose’

A very vigorous ground cover rose. White flowers




rugosa (many available)

‘Blanc de Coubert’

Very spiny stems with large flowers. White flowers





‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’

Very spiny stems with large flowers. Pink flowers





‘Sarah van Fleet’

Very spiny stems with large flowers. Pink flowers





‘Emily Gray’

A vigorous rambler with double scented flowers. Gold flowers




‘ Albertine ’

A vigorous rambler ideal for growing on south facing walls and fences. 3m spread





A strong climber. Scarlet flowers




‘Leaping Salmon’

Ideal for climbing pergolas, arches, along fences. 1.8m spread Medium pink flowers




‘ School Girl ’

Disease resistant. Orange apricot flowers




‘Allen Chandler’

A vigorous climber. Dark red flowers




‘Breath of Life’

2.2m spread. Apricot pink flowers




‘High Hopes’

2.2m spread. Pink yellow flowers




Tall, spine covered, whitewashed stems forming a wall of thorns. Quick to establish on most soils




A prickly climber for walls and fences, however quite rare



europaeus (Common Goarse)

Native to Britain this is a superb barrier shrub, which will grow well on poor dry soils





As above, but with double yellow flowers

Source: Updated using information kindly supplied by Writtle Agricultural College Chelmsford Essex, which first appeared in ‘Home Security- the complete handbook’ by Calvin Beckford and Heather Alston, published by New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd © 2005 The Crime Prevention Website © 2011

Top ten climbers

Writtle Agricultural College listed the following ten climbers because they are very prickly, have exceptionally vigorous growth and are immensely suitable for growing against old trees and for covering walls and fences. Do some more research before you buy one to ensure that the one you get is suitable in terms of soil requirements and aspect. Think very carefully before you allow a rose to climb over a shed roof as the spines can puncture the felt and cause leaks. (My neighbour’s rose did it to my shed!)

Top ten climbing and rambling roses







American Pillar

Vigorous tough growing rambler with numerous long and slender branches

Non fragrant pink with white eyes in large clusters




Vigorous growth, disease resistant and generally an easy rose to grow

Very fragrant large double pink to apricot blooms



Danse du Feu

Vigorous growth and ideal for North facing wall or fence

Non fragrant bright orange-scarlet



A popular vigorous growing climber

Slightly fragrant clusters of white blooms


Ginger Syllabub

A vigorous growing climber

Very fragrant golden apricot flowers


Golden Showers

A vigorous growing climber

Quite fragrant light yellow flowers


New Dawn

Vigorous disease free growth

Very fragrant medium sized silvery-pink double flowers in large clusters


Wedding Day

A very large vigorous rambler requiring plenty of room in the garden

Very fragrant single white flowers opening from yellow buds. With prominent orange stems



A popular vigorous growing climber

Quite fragrant creamy white double flowers flushed with pink



A vigorous growing climber

Quite fragrant bronze and yellow double flowers


Source: Updated using information kindly supplied by Writtle Agricultural College Chelmsford Essex, which first appeared in ‘Home Security- the complete handbook’ by Calvin Beckford and Heather Alston, published by New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd © 2005 The Crime Prevention Website © 2011

High hedges and Social Nuisance

Do be careful with high hedging as you might seriously annoy the neighbours. If you are thinking about planting a high hedge that might affect your neighbour’s amenity do look to see if you might need planning permission or if you might fall foul of any legislation and also speak with your neighbours to discuss your plans.

In England and Wales, Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 (High hedges) created new procedures to enable local authorities in England and Wales to deal with complaints about high hedges. There is similar legislation in Scotland.

Whilst the nuisance caused by Leylandii has been reducing Bamboo has become the latest screening hedge to become a social nuisance. Some species of Bamboo grow quickly to great heights and form a very dense hedge, sprouting new, sometimes invasive growth, on the sunny side of the hedge.

As with any inappropriately planted high hedge, they can provide screening for burglars and garden thieves to work unseen. As the High Hedges Act excludes grasses (the botanical group for Bamboo) it cannot be used to settle disputes between neighbours.

If you are being adversely affected by a bamboo screening hedge you are advised to contact your local Member of Parliament and ask them to pursue some action to amend the Act.

Further information about nuisance hedges can be found on the website of Hedgeline

Hedgeline is the support and lobby group who successfully campaigned for control of hedge nuisance in the UK. Since they closed their active campaign in May 2013 they are not quite as active in furthering their aims but they do maintain this very useful website.

Further information about hedges can be found at the website of Naturenet and from the following publications produced by HM Government:

Over the garden hedge

Hedge selector

The last document provides a table of alternative hedges for the garden (that’s alternative to Leylandii by the way; the source of many problems between neighbours)

High hedges and natural surveillance

Growing a tall hedge in the front garden of a property is not a good idea if you want to prevent burglary.

During my time in the police service I attended countless burglaries where the presence of a high hedge was used to a thief’s advantage.

In one memorable incident during a hot summer in Acton a male suspect, who was arrested at the scene, had climbed through a wide-open sliding sash window situated behind a very high hedge, whereupon he sexually assaulted a young woman who had simply been sitting on her couch watching TV.

Fortunately a neighbour heard the poor lady’s cries for help and me and my colleague were litereally around the corner when we recieved the call. The high hedge was removed the following day!


You must not make the mistake of thinking that you cannot have large trees and shrubs in your garden for fear of giving cover to the thief. Your enjoyment of your garden must come first! With careful planning I think you can have both a beautiful garden with lots of horizontal and vertical interest and one where a thief will worry about being seen. The trick is to select the right trees and shrubs for the job. Try to avoid mass screening using very high hedging, unless of course the screen does not affect your security.

The trees shown in the table below are of three types:

Columnar (fastigiate) trees can be used to provide a bold vertical point of interest in the garden without blocking all lines of site of a building.

Open aspect trees provide opportunity for looking ‘through’ a tree from, say, a first floor window (US: Second floor) and the ‘tall trunk before branching’ trees (when mature) allow views of and out from buildings at ground level whilst still providing interesting foliage above.

Thorny trees can be used to form a defensive hedge or can be used singularly to prevent a vulnerable part of a wall or fence from being climbed. Frankly their uses are only limited by your imagination and don’t forget this is just a sample of the many hundreds of species that you can use.

Trees with crime prevention characteristics


Columnar/Slender shape

Open aspect/tall trunk before branching











(Norway Maple)


A slow growing deciduous tree with good autumn colour and a compact oval habit of growth




(Sugar Maple)

‘Temples Upright’ or ‘Pyramidale’

Deciduous columnar tree with very good autumn colour. Susceptible to salt damage, so avoid planting near highways



Deciduous spreading tree with very good autumn colour.



(Box Elder)

Fast growing deciduous spreading tree with round crown




Medium sized deciduous oval tree forming a conical head of branches with stunning autumn colour



(Paper Bark Birch)

A vigorous deciduous open-branched tree with attractive peeling white bark and pyramidal shape



(Swedish Birch)


An elegant open-crowned narrow deciduous tree with deeply serrated leaves on weeping branches. White peeling bark. Suitable for cold exposed sites


utilis var. Jacquemontii

(Himalayan Birch)

‘Silver Shadow’

A deciduous tree with striking white bark after four or five years. A slender habit of growth




A small narrow variety of the common hornbeam. Yellow leaves in Autumn




A small thorny deciduous tree, or tall hedge, of dense spreading habit



(Cockspur Thorn)

A very thorny tree that is similar to Hawthorn with excellent autumn colour and attractive fruits



(Scarlet Haw)

A wide spreading dense tree with long strong spines



A small compact deciduous tree with thorns and good autumn colour



(Water Locust)

A small shrubby tree with spiny branches and trunk



(Caspian Locust)

A small tree with formidable thorny branches and trunk



A rarer form of the locust tree with enormous spines



(Honey Locust)

A very vigorous large tree with a thorny trunk and branches which tolerates air pollution



(Asage Orange)

A spiny open-crowned tree with large unusual fruits. Good on well drained chalk soils




A deciduous narrow poplar with decorative silver foliage. Do not plant close to buildings due to strong invasive roots


x canadensis


A very tall poplar. Do not plant close to buildings due to strong invasive roots




(Lombardy poplar)

A very fast growing tree with long male catkins. Do not plant close to buildings due to strong invasive roots




A dense small and bushy tree




A deciduous upright Oak with dense branches



(False Acacia)

A fast growing elegant tree with spiny shoots, which is good on polluted sites




A golden leaved smaller version of the False Acacia



‘Joseph Rock’

A deciduous upright tree with good autumn colour and distinctive yellow berries

Source: Updated using information kindly supplied by Writtle Agricultural College Chelmsford Essex, which first appeared in ‘Home Security- the complete handbook’ by Calvin Beckford and Heather Alston, published by New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd © 2005. The Crime Prevention Website © 2011

Updated February 2015

Updated August 2015

10 Plants For Home Security

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When creating a fortress of solitude, most people think about building a fence to keep unwanted visitors out. However, plants make a much better defense for home security. Fences tend to draw curiosity, while plants seem to go unnoticed. That is until someone tries to walk through them! Here are ten amazing plants you need to plant for a natural home security system.

If you’ve ever tangled with a berry patch or accidentally backed into a Spanish Dagger, then you know how painful they can be. When strategically placed, plants can act as an effective form of home security defense without having to invest a lot of money. Not only do plants, trees, shrubs, and bushes help with security, but many of them produce food. A win-win in my book!

#1- Gooseberries (Ribes Hirtwellum)

Gooseberries are a shrub that grows all over in North America and in other parts of the world. They are extremely easy to grow (except in the desert) and require little care but prefer cooler climates. Gooseberries are thorny bushes that are perfect for home defense due to their thorny stems, leaves and even fruit. The bushes will grow about 3-4 feet high and will bear fruit up to 25 years. In addition to being a great defense plant, the berries are edible. Learn how to make Gooseberry Syrup from Hank Shaw.

#2- Century Plants (Agave Americana)

Commonly called a Century Plant or Sentry Plant, unlike its name suggest, it typically only lives 10-30 years. This amazing home security plant has firm green leaves that grow 3-5 ft long with heavy spikes and a tip that can easily pierce the skin.

The century plant thrives in drought conditions and spreads easily. The leaves are pale green and look beautiful in landscaping. Virtually disease free, this plant is easy to grow and maintain.

#3- Honey Locust (Gleditsia Triacanthos)

The Honey Locust is also known as the Thorny Locust which is why it made our top 10 list for plants for home security. This is no tiny shrub but a huge tree, the Honey Locus can grow up to 100 feet tall. The branches of the honey locust are loaded with thorns ranging from 1 1/4″-4″ long. Native to North America, the honey locust is highly adaptable to different environments and considered an invasive species.

Home Security for the Off-Grid (or any) Homestead

#4- Spanish Dagger (Yucca Gloriosa)

The Spanish Dagger is another evergreen that is easy to grow in warm climates. The long, stiff pointy leaves make this the perfect plant for home security.

When we were planning our home security garden, a friend recommended the Spanish Dagger. They simply took a machete to the stalk of the plant, pulled back a couple of the leaves and we stuck it in the ground. Within no time at all, we had a natural home security defense garden. As they grow tall, their weight will make them fall over and then they will root and spread.

Often a focal point in tropical gardens, the Spanish Dagger is visually pleasing and a deterrent to trespassers.

#5- Osage Orange Tree (Maclura Pomifera)

When I asked my fellow homesteading friends about plant security, many of them recommended the Osage Orange Tree. Osage Orange is a fast growing tree and was used in place of barbed wire during the early 19th century.

The Osage Orange Tree produces a strong timber that resists rot and outlasts most lumber. Outside of its ability to grow fast, this unique tree produces many sharp, steel strong thorns that make it the perfect tree for home security.

#6-Japanese Barberry (Berberis Thunbergii )

The Japanese Barberry is a spiny shrub that looks beautiful in landscaping but doubles as the perfect home defense shrub. Pruning can be quite painful with its sharp spines. Japanese barberry can tolerate a range of varying site and soil condition and is considered an invasive species. This shrub will grow from 3-7 feet and produces beautiful ornamental red fruit.

#7- Rose Bushes

“A rose is a rose” indeed, but every rose has a thorn and a rose bush is an excellent plant for home security when placed in the right location. The woody, thorny branches offer a painful sting which can spread disease and infection.
From miniature to climbing, roses grow in almost any climate which makes them the ideal plant for home security.

#8-Berry Bushes

How about a home security system that feeds you? Now you won’t see ADT making that claim! Many berry plants like gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries all produce delicious fruit that is high in antioxidants, but more importantly– thorns. Berries are generally fast growing and hardy to zone 3. From trellising to hedgerow, berries can be incorporated into any landscape and may be used for both home security and food.

#9- Firethorn (Pyracantha)

Firethorns are an evergreen shrub that grows well up to planting zone 6. Ranging from 6-16 ft tall, the firethorn shrub grows well in dry to moist soils. It has prickly leaves that will poke and snag, perfect for home security. Care is easy and pretty much hands-off.

#10- Citrus Trees

Another home security tree that has the added benefit of food are citrus trees. Several lemons, lime, orange, and grapefruit trees produce thorns along their trunks, branches, and twigs.

We have several citrus trees on our property and the thorns are like no other. We have them planted below our bedroom windows with plenty of room to grow. We chose this placement for two reasons. One- for security. Anyone not knowing about the 3″ long, piercing thorns are in for a treat if they try to enter through our windows. Two- our house provides our citrus trees with radiant heat which helps them thrive. Any thorny plant is a great addition for natural security barrier.

6 Home Security Issues When Moving To New Land

Where To Plant Your Home Security Plants?

As I mentioned above, placement is imperative when planting for home security. Keep in mind the growth rate and size so you don’t plant in an area that will interfere with your building structure.

  • The Osage Orange Tree makes a great perimeter tree. Creating a fast-growing hedgerow, the Osage Orange will be your first line of defense.
  • Plant your home security plants below every window (making sure the residents still have a safe escape in case of emergency) and by every point of entry.
  • The climbing roses and berry bushes will do an amazing job at protecting you when planted below upper-level windows.
  • And finally, Spanish Daggers mixed with Century Plants make the perfect home security hedge closer to the home.

Whether planting shrubs, small trees, or ground covers, you can incorporate nature to help protect your home. Add aesthetics and security to your home with the protection that only nature can provide. No one will ever know you have a secret fortress.

How to ID a Shrub With Thorns

Rose stem with thorns and water drops on the leaves. image by Dragan Trifunovic from

Many different species of shrubs have thorns or spines, some of which grow on their stems or branches and others that grow on their fruit husks. When you’re attempting to identify a shrub with thorns, you cannot rely on the thorns alone to make an accurate identification. You’ll need to study a variety of other characteristics to properly identify the shrub. The most popular shrubs with thorns that are found in the wild or in landscapes include shrubs like hawthorns, barberries, roses, wild plums, as well as raspberries and blackberries.

Identify shrubs with thorns by their size. For example, wild plum shrubs (Prunus Americana) grow 15 to 25 feet tall with short trunks, while the buffaloberry shrub (Shepherdia argentea) grows to about 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide.

Notice where the thorny shrub is growing to identify it. For example, hawthorns (Crataegus sp.) can grow in a wide variety of soil types, but they’re often found growing wild along roadsides and in rough pastures. Wild plums usually grow in moist, rich soils along stream banks or in thickets.

first snow image by Liga Lauzuma from

Study the leaves to make an identification. Hawthorns have leaves with notched edges that grow in an alternate fashion along the stems, while wild plums have 2- to 5-inch-long and 2-inch-wide, oval, narrow-pointed leaves with double-toothed edges. Buffaloberry shrubs have silver leaves that are arranged opposite each other in pairs along the stems. European barberries (Berberis vulgaris) have leaves edged in prominent, spiny teeth, while the Japanese barberry (B. thunbergii) has smooth-edged leaves.

red berries of hawthorn image by Maria Brzostowska from

Identify the shrub with thorns by looking at its fruits. Hawthorn shrubs bear 1/4- to 3/4-inch-diameter fruits that are globe-shaped or oblong, while wild plums produce 3/4-inch-wide, orange-red drupes that ripen in late summer. Buffaloberry shrubs bear fleshy, yellowish-red fruits with an inner pit.

mÔres image by Claudio Calcagno from

Study the thorns to identify the shrub. Wild plum shrubs have thorns on their trunks, while buffaloberry shrubs have thorny projections on their branches. Raspberry and blackberry shrubs (Rubus spp.) have spines that separate easily from their stems.

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Thursday – August 07, 2008

From: Philadelphia, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Identification of shrub with thorns
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I have a plant in my garden that I need to identify. It is a tall shrub (approx. 10 feet) that has very large thorns on its green branches. It is now showing small white flowers. I don’t know if it looses its leaves (groups of 3 leaves together) over the winter as this is a new property for me. The thorns on this plant are approx. 1-2 inches long and cover the entire plant. Any ideas what this might be? I’ve never seen anything like it. A neighbor told me she thought it was called “Crown of Thorns” or that it might be something in the orange fruit family. Please help!


Euphorbia milii (crown-of-thorns) is a native of Madagascar and does have lots of thorns on its stems but it only grows to about 3 feet high. Also, I doubt it would survive Pennsylvania winters since it is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 11 and Pennsylvania Hardiness Zones are mainly 5 and 6.

Here are possibilities for native Pennsylvania shrubs with thorns:

Crataegus phaenopyrum (Washinton hawthorn)

Crataegus flava (yellowleaf howthorne)

If none of these happens to be your shrub, please send us photos and we will do our best to identify it. Please take photos of the whole plant and closeups of the thorns and of the leaves. Visit the Ask Mr. Smarty Plants page to read instructions (under “Plant Identification” for submitting photos.

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Thorny plants doesn’t sound like the most appealing category, but it includes some of the most beloved species around homes and gardens. Plus, sometimes a thorny plant is exactly what is needed – they make hedges much more difficult for intruders to penetrate, for example.


Numerous trees have thorns, some on their trunks, but usually only on their branches or leaves.



People often think of hollies as shrubs, but that only applies to certain cultivars. The American holly that grows wild throughout the eastern U.S. can reach 50 feet or more and is commonly used as a specimen tree or a tall hedge in home landscapes.

The thorns are on the leaves of these trees, making them very difficult to pass through when planted as a dense hedge. They are evergreen, known for their red berries in winter and are one of the few plants of this size that is fully shade tolerant. Hollies will tolerate full sun, however, but they do best in places with acidic soil. It is usually necessary to plant more than one in order to get fruit.

  • Nellie Stevens is a fast-growing holly with a pyramidal growth habit.
  • Argentea marginata is a variegated cultivar with silver margins on the leaves.
  • Croonenberg is a self-fertile holly, meaning it will make fruit without a second tree planted nearby.


Red hawthorn

These shrubby trees reach from 12 to 50 feet in height, depending on the species, with thorns on the branches that can be several inches in length. To make up for their thorny character, however, hawthorn trees bear a profusion of white flowers in early spring, followed by red fruit – which is edible in some species, such as the mayhaw, but insipid on most others. There are numerous improved cultivars that are delightful flowering trees for use as a focal point in small yards. Average garden soil and water are sufficient.

  • Pendula has weeping branches.
  • Stricta is a variety with a narrow, upright growth habit.


Honey locust

There are two trees that go by the name of locust, both of which are covered in thorns: black locust and honey locust. They are both quite large, reaching up to 100 feet in height, though the black locust stays fairly narrow, while the honey locust can grow almost as wide as it does tall. Thorns cover the branches on these trees, though they are sometimes seen on the trunk of young trees all the way down to ground level. Both trees have clusters of honey-scented white flowers in early spring, giving way to seedpods later in the year. Despite their thorns, locusts are commonly used as shade trees. They are tough and adaptable, thriving in modest soils with minimal irrigation once established.

  • Purple Robe black locust has lilac-colored blossoms and bronze-tinged foliage.
  • Sunburst honey locust has yellow foliage.


Look to some of these thorny shrubs as potential barrier plantings, as well as plantings for their beauty and fragrance.

Natal Plum

Natal plum

If you are looking for a hardy, drought-tolerant barrier shrub producing evergreen foliage and edible fruit, look no further than natal plum (Carissa marcocarpa). Hardy in USDA zones 9 and 10, the shrub produces 2-inch forked thorns along branches covered in glossy green foliage that exude a poisonous white sap when broken. Fragrant white, star-shaped flowers bloom year-round and give way to reddish plumlike fruits resembling a cranberry in taste. It can grow up to 20 feet tall planted in a sunny location and in well-drained soil.

It works well in the landscape used as a thick, thorny screen or hedge and its high tolerance to salt spray makes it a suitable addition to seaside gardens. Prune throughout the year to keep the shrub’s size maintained.



Also known as firethorn, pyracantha is not as evil as it sounds. In fact, it’s an ornamental shrub with evergreen foliage and bright red berries that persist through the winter. Growing from six to 12 feet in height, pyracanthas are tolerant of intense heat, drought and poor soils and are an excellent choice for making an impenetrable hedge. They are also amenable to shearing as a formal hedge, allowing them to be kept less than five feet tall – they tend to look better this way than as the sprawling leggy shrub that develops when they are left unpruned. You’ll want to wear heavy leather gloves when pruning pyracantha as the thorns cover all the stems and are notoriously sharp.

  • Silver Lining is a variegated form with silver margins on the leaves.
  • Prostrata is a dwarf, spreading selection.
  • Gold Rush bears yellow berries, instead of the typical red fruit.



This is one of the many species of eleagnus and the only one known particularly for its thorns, which are stout, up to two inches long, and cover the larger stems of the plant. Silverthorn is an enormous evergreen shrub, reaching up to 15 feet tall and wide, though it can be maintained at almost any height with pruning. It is one of the fastest growing shrubs available and will form a head-high hedge within two years of planting. Thriving in sun or shade and dry, infertile soil, silverthorn grows profusely without any fertilizer or care, making it arguably the most adaptable hedge plant available. It sometimes grows a little too well, however, and spreads itself by seed, making it an invasive species in some areas. It even has fragrant (though inconspicuous) flowers and edible berries.

  • Nana is a dwarf variety.
  • Maculata is known for its variegated yellow leaves.


Numerous succulents bear thorns, including the many species of cactus available from specialty growers.



These are truly dramatic plants often used in southwestern-themed landscapes. Agaves look like something from the age of the dinosaurs with their enormous, tough, leathery leaves. On the edges of those leaves are sharp thorns, giving the impression that they are not plants to tangle with. After many years of growth, agaves send up a flower stalk that may reach 20 feet in height, putting on a final extravagant display before setting seed and dying. Excellent drainage is essential; plant agaves in sandy soil, if possible, and do not water or fertilize.

  • Marginata has yellow margins on its leaves.
  • Alba has a white stripe in the center of each leaf.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cactus

By definition, cactuses have thorns, but most species cannot be easily grown in the ground outside of arid environments, such as the Southwest. Prickly pear is an exception to this rule, however, thriving in most parts of the country – places with wet summers and cold winters where most cacti don’t stand a chance. Plus, they produce an edible fruit, called Indian fig or tuna in Spanish. The cactus pads, called nopales, are also edible and are a common vegetable in Mexican cuisine. Prickly pears grow without effort by the gardener, as long as they have full sun and good drainage. Do not water or fertilize.

  • Quillota is a spineless variety, cultivated specifically for its top quality fruit.


There are relatively few vines that bear thorns, but those that do have some notable qualities.



Bougainvillea is known for its colorful flower bracts, but its thorny stems make it an excellent species to consider for making a fence line more secure. It is a Mediterranean plant that requires full sun, loves hot weather and needs only modest amounts of fertilizer and irrigation. Bougainvillea needs excellent drainage, so many people choose to grow it in a pot, which also gives the option of bringing it indoors for the winter, as it is a frost-sensitive species. Plant one every eight feet along a fence for complete coverage – they will grow as tall as the support structure they are given up to a height of about 15 feet.

  • Bagen Beauty is a common variety with rose-crimson flower bracts.
  • Apricot Dream is a light orange variety.
  • Blondie is covered in yellow flower bracts.



Brambles refers to plants in the rubus genus, including raspberries, blackberries and their many relatives – most of which have stems covered in thorns. That doesn’t stop people from enjoying the fruit, however, which is produced in mid-summer. Brambles fruit best in full sun, though partial shade is also acceptable. A good support structure is essential to keep them from sprawling across the ground. Fortunately, they are not very heavy vines, so two-inch wooden posts with wire strung between them at 12-inch intervals is generally sufficient.

  • Blackberries are the largest of the bramble vines, reaching 10 feet or more if their growth is left unchecked.
  • Raspberries are more modest growers, typically staying under six feet.

A Thorn Garden

Some plants are so beautiful or bear such delicious fruit that people are happy to tolerate the inconvenience of their thorns, while others are planted specifically for the message that their thorns will send to potential intruders. Either way, thorniness provides an interesting way to categorize plants and represents a unique form of beauty in the botanical world.

The 30 plants that can help protect your home against burglary

It adds: “One of the best ways to keep thieves out is to use nature’s own defence mechanisms to stop intruders.

“A barrier of prickly hedge may be all the protection you need around your property.”

It then lists all 30 plants, stating ‘Here are some suggestions for plants to use’, adding jokingly: “We have tried to identify the plants mentioned by their correct botanical name, but we cannot guarantee that the plant you buy will not grow into a small, fragrant flowering shrub with no more thorns than a daisy.”

The first 16 plants on the list give detailed description of the plants and is as follows;

1 – Creeping Juniper – Juniperis horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ – Also known as ‘Blue Rug’ because it has long branches and its prostrate shape forms a flattened blue carpet. It has a thorny stem and foliage.

3 – Common Holly – Ilex agulfolium – Large evergreen shrub, dark green spiked leaves. Large red berries on female plants only. Any well drained soil. Plant with garden compost and bone-meal.

4 – Giant Rhubarb – Gunnera manicata – Giant rhubarb-like leaves on erect stems, abrasive foliage. Can grow up to 2.5m high. Plant by water-side for effect.

5 – Golden Bamboo – Phyllostachys aurea- Very graceful, forming thick clumps of up to 3.5m high. Less invasive than other bamboos. Hardy. Young shoots in spring.

6 – Chinese Jujube – Zizyphus sativa – Medium sized tree with very spiny pendulous branches. Leaves glossy bright green. Bears clusters of small yellow flowers.

7 – Firethorn – Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ – Flowers white in June, with bright orange-red berries. Thorny stem. Height 10-15ft. Suitable for north or east-facing wall or as impenetrable hedging.

8 – Shrub Rose – Rosa ‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’ – Excellent ground cover, pale pink flowers, very thorny stem. May to September. Plant with garden compost and bone-meal.

9 – Pencil Christmas Tree – Picea abias ‘Cupressina’ – Medium-sized tree of columnar habit, with ascending spiky branches. Attractive form with dense growth. Avoid dry chalky soils.

11 – Purple Berberis – Berberis thunbergil ‘Atropurpurea’- Rich purple foliage. Thorny stem. Medium-sized deciduous. Any soil sunny position.

13 – Blue Pine – Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’- Small to medium-sized tree, spiky needled stem, densely conical habit, with vividly glaucous blue leaves. Likes moist, rich soil.

14 – Oleaster – Elaeagnus angustifolia – Small deciduous tree, about 4.5 to 6 m (15 to 20 feet) high. Smooth, dark brown branches that often bear spines and narrow, light green leaves that are silvery on the undersides. The flowers are small, greenish, fragrant, and silvery-scaled on the outside, as are the edible, olive-shaped, yellowish fruits, which are sweet but mealy. Hardy, wind resistant, tolerant of poor, dry sites, and thus useful in windbreak hedges.

15 – Blackthorn – Prunus spinosa – Also called Sloe; spiny shrub. Usually grows less than 3.6 metres (12 feet) tall and has numerous, small leaves. Its dense growth makes it suitable for hedges. White flowers. Bluish-black fruit is used to flavour sloe gin.

16 – Fuschia-flowered Gooseberry – Ribes speciosum – Fruit bush, spiny, produces greenish to greenish-pink flowers in clusters of two or three. Extremely hardy, thrive in moist, heavy clay soil in cool, humid climate.

The advice continues, stating: “Although they will take some time to grow, the end result justifies the effort. They should deter even the most determined burglar.

“Hedges and shrubs in the front garden should be kept to a height of no more than three feet in order to avoid giving a burglar a screen behind which he can conceal himself.”

Of Thorns, Spines and Prickles

David Trinklein
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9631

Published: January 3, 2013

One of the interesting aspects of enjoying plants is how our perception (and appreciation) of them changes with the seasons. Most avid gardeners probably would list spring, summer or fall as the season(s) plants are most attractive to them, and for obvious reasons. There are, however, virtues of some deciduous (often woody) plants that are most obvious during winter, after leaves have been shed. It is at this time special plant features that were hidden during the growing season are clearly visible, adding interest to the landscape.

One example of the above is the whitish-colored bark on the upper branches of the American sycamore. It is much more evident after its leaves have fallen than during summer. The same also could be said of trees and shrubs that bear colorful fruit, such as flowering crab apple, winterberry holly and cranberry-bush viburnam. Although less visually dominant than the previous examples, thorns, spines and prickles are unique appendages some plants produce that make them more interesting (if not attractive) during the winter.

Most people consider any sharp projection from a plant to be a thorn. This is understandable, since most people are familiar with roses and the sharp (sometimes painful) “thorns” they bear. However, roses don’t bear true thorns; instead they produce prickles. The proper (botanical) classification of these sharp projections differs depending on their origin in the plant that bears them.

Accurately used, the term “thorn” is applied only to a sharp-pointed structure that is a modified branch. Thorns often arise from the main stem at leaf axils. Landscape plants with true thorns include firethorn (Pyracantha), hawthorn and Japanese flowering quince.

A sharp projection developed from a leaf, stipule or leaf part (rather than from a branch) is called a “spine”. Honey locust probably is the most notorious woody plant that bears spines, which often are compound in their occurrence. The spines of this species are so threatening that a spineless botanical variety is used for landscaping purposes. Other familiar landscape plants bearing spines include barberry and black locust.

In cacti, the entire leaf of the plant is transformed into a spine. In addition to reducing water loss by restricting leaf surface area, this unique adaptation protects the succulent stem of the plant from animals that would use it for food or a source of water.

Other plants bear spines only around the margins of their leaves. American holly, English holly and Oregon grape-holly are good examples of the latter.

The third type of sharp projection found on plants is called a “prickle”. Prickles arise from stem tissue and are extensions of its cortex and epidermis. Perhaps because it nearly rhymes with the word “tickle”, a prickle sounds must less threatening than a thorn or a spine. Such is not always the case. Undoubtedly, the most popular garden plant that bears prickles is rose and most avid gardeners have had more than one painful, unfortunate encounter with its sharp appendages. Other examples of plants bearing prickles include prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) and Aralia spinosa, also is known as devil’s walking stick.

In nature, the purpose of thorns, spines and prickles is to protect plants from would be predators. Any herbivore with average intelligence will not likely try to nibble at a species such as barberry more than once. Unfortunately, growing plants with thorns, spines and prickles in the landscape can pose a certain amount of danger, depending upon the species.

When used as background plants, border plants or when tree branches are trimmed well above head height, most plant bearing thorns, spines or prickles are harmless. Additionally, they add a unique character to the winter landscape can serve as an impenetrable barrier to make our home and its contents more secure. However, when placed in the landscape where people often walk or drive by they can present a safety problem, especially to children and pets. Proper care in selecting, placing and maintaining them will help to avoid unfortunate encounters and add aesthetic value to the landscape.

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