How can I stop plant thieves?
June 18, 2012 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Someone stole a potted plant off of my back porch. I'm assuming it was a neighbor or guest of a neighbor, because our alley is locked off. Anyway I am pretty sad and angry (who steals a plant??? It was a $2 farmer's market plant in a $15 pot), and also worried about my other plants. How can I protect them?

What do you do to deter would-be plant thieves? Is there, like, a plant lockbox I could put them in? Could I put barbed wire around the pots? Will little notes saying "don't steal me" do the trick? How do you protect your urban garden?
posted by goodbyewaffles to Home & Garden (20 answers total)
One theft doesn't make a trend, so solving this problem might not be worth the time and sacrifices that it would take.

FWIW, I once tracked down the teenager who'd stolen squash and tomatoes from my urban garden. I had a talk with his father, who was very apologetic. Moments after the father disappeared back into the house, I heard a torrent of shouted obscenities and threats being unleashed on the poor kid. I regretted pursuing it at all.
posted by jon1270 at 8:30 AM on June 18, 2012

Yeah, this reminds me a bit of when I bought my first Big City house and was warned by the (fleeing-to-the-suburbs young) former owner to be sure to shut off the water to my spigot out front, lest somebody leave it running or other mischief. Um, what? I imagine it could happen, but in 16 years here, I've never heard of such a thing, and there are bigger fish to fry than a state of constant paranoia.

I'm with jon, I'd have a nice bubble bath to help wash off the feeling of violation, but assume it was an isolated idiot's whim until you see otherwise. (I guess it's better if your plant has a new home than if you found it broken on your steps, but still, I know it's a bummer.)
posted by acm at 8:36 AM on June 18, 2012

Well, one thing you could do and not actually injure anyone (barbed wire?) is to rig up a noise-making "trip wire" near or on your plants: put some bells or chimes in such a location so that if the green thumb thief were to return, it would make a racket when s/he grabbed the next plant of her choice.
posted by RajahKing at 8:43 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

FWIW, if the plant really was as unremarkable as you say, isn't it possible that it wasn't deliberately stolen, but that the pot got overturned/broken somehow by a neighbor (carrying something unwieldy? kid throwing a ball?) and that rather than 'fess up they simply cleaned up the debris and hoped you wouldn't notice?

Doesn't change the fact that you lost the plant, but imagining that scenario might help you feel less paranoid about the evil intentions of your neighbors.
posted by Bardolph at 8:45 AM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm trying to think of a scenario where growing some poison ivy or something could be a suitable deterrent if this continues, but it really does seem like that could lead to a vicious counter-counteraction. Plus, having dealt with poison ivy on more than one occasion you'd really be cutting off your nose to spite your face since the oils from the ivy would get all over your property and you unless you were extremely careful/lucky. Not to mention the non-zero chance that a child, guest, pet, or passerby comes into contact with it inadvertently.

Honestly, some sort of PITA/noisy alarm setup under the pot is about all I can think of but I'd wait and see if this becomes a 'thing' or if it's just a one time occurrence.

What type of plant was it? Tomato with fruit all over it? Pretty flower? Sexy herbs for that homemade salsa your neighbor was making? That might help us understand the situation but it sounds like it was either kids being kids or someone wanted that pot/plant for a reason.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:49 AM on June 18, 2012

If you have the space for it, a larger planter with some weight to it would make it a little tougher to carry off the next plant. It doesn't have to be a large concrete urn or anything, but even a modest sized container with soil, water, plant (and maybe a couple of bricks in the bottom), would be a little to unwieldy to just run off. And, of course, a larger container = more/larger plants. :)
posted by jquinby at 8:52 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

How did they gain access? Do all you can to make it harder for them in futute. Tough, prickly plants like gooseberries and hawthorn are ideal. Avoid small portable pots in favour of big, immovable ones. And maybe rig up a motion light or two.
posted by londonmark at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2012

Sprinkle your next potted plant liberally with cayenne pepper. It might get stolen, but subsequent plants won't be.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:58 AM on June 18, 2012

A simple motion sensitive spot light should be enough to chase of anybody after your petunias.
posted by COD at 9:00 AM on June 18, 2012

Friends who have dealt with plant theft here run a lightweight chain through the pot (planted down into the dirt & out the hole in the bottom). A determined thief could still cut the chain, but it deters casual theft.
posted by judith at 9:04 AM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

BAH, chrome keystroke lost a decent post, short and sweet:

I've learned this lesson in our victory garden: Growing easily eaten and pretty things means people are more likely to harvest some for themselves. We no longer grow strawberries in our windowbox for this reason. It's simply painful to lose the few berries you've worked hard for to someone who is strolling past and see's a 'free food' sign that isn't there.

Don't get me wrong, we share alot of stuff from our garden, but those strawberries were few and far between.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:05 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

We live near a bus stop on a busy sidewalk in the touristy part of town. Our neighbours chain stuff like deck chairs to the house.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:15 AM on June 18, 2012

I've had potted plants stolen from outside my apartment, too, on several occasions. Just some basil and mint I'd gotten for cheap -- I'd never have begrudged anybody a few leaves for their supper, but having the whole plant taken was surprising! And mine weren't even the best plants in the apartment complex, so you'd think they'd have gone for the nicer ones.

Anyway, the ones that haven't gotten stolen yet are the ones in very heavy pots. I'd try that if possible. And I like the lightweight chain idea. From my experience this is more an impulse crime, and they don't take the ones that'd need two hands to carry.
posted by asperity at 10:37 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding what others have said about heavy pots and chains. If this isn't in the budget, try just tying the pot to a railing, say. If it takes a lot to pull it away, most people won't do it.

I have a similar situation and believe me, I've thought about barbed wire. Chicken wire does have a sharp free edge...just FYI.
posted by skbw at 10:58 AM on June 18, 2012

I would consider using aircraft cable; yes, a determined thief could get through it, but otherwise, it's cheap and unobtrusive.
posted by smirkette at 11:11 AM on June 18, 2012

How about a fake video camera?
posted by wryly at 11:11 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you re-pot the plants and place a bunch of river rock at the bottom for drainage and extra weight?
posted by poolsidemuse at 12:57 PM on June 18, 2012

You might be interested in my previous related question. In the end, I decided it wasn't worth being aggressive about and just replaced the plant every time it happened. That, and my wife and I separated so I moved to a new apartment. Life's too short to get annoyed with this kind of stuff.
posted by postel's law at 1:10 PM on June 18, 2012

My solution would be what wryly mentioned above -- if you have a webcam or something camera-like, and the back porch has an easily-seen window, I'd stick the camera very prominently inside the window so the would-be thief could see it. Whether connected to anything or not, it would be a good deterrent.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:20 PM on June 18, 2012

We have this problem in our neighbourhood pretty regularly, so people use wires, cables and bicycle chains to hold down larger plants in their planters. And planters are sometimes chained to buildings. My next door neighbour watched a car pull up and start to lift her knee-high terra cotta cube planter filled with dirt and flowers into their trunk. When she said "Hey!", he dropped it and it broke. Many of our neighbours have stopped using cast iron urns in favour of plastic, because they were more often stolen. We have seen very elderly people pull pansies from our guerilla garden; and people dressed as executives snip armfuls of lilacs and roses off the bushes. We don't plant things that are easy to pull out and steal any more - more like flowering ground covers.

However, when people enter our back yards or front porches to steal plants, it's often also an aside, as they case the place for furniture, bikes, scrap metal and whatever else they can see through the back windows of the house. So secure whatever else is back there, and check your accessible points.

As for the plant, yes, sure, it may be a one-off thing and that often depends on the neighbourhood. But here, a back yard entry would be a clue to batten down the hatches and check with your neighbours and spread the word through the neighbourhood newsgroup.
posted by peagood at 2:52 PM on June 18, 2012

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