Plant Thieves Strike Again!

By Larry Hodgson

I’ve once again been a victim of plant thieves. This has happened several times over the years and most plants stolen were houseplants I had conveniently placed outdoors in pots over the summer, thus easy to snatch. Such was the case this summer. The victims this time were hanging plants I had suspended from the crabapple tree in my backyard. 

Plants soaking in a sink of water.
The only photo I have of the three stolen plants shows them indoors in the winter, getting their weekly soaking. They looked much better on the tree! Photo:

Three plants disappeared sometime in late August: a tillandsia pendant suspended from a cord, a piece of driftwood, again hanging, on which I had attached several different tillandsias, including a flourishing clump of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and a staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) growing on a plaque temporarily fixed to the trunk of the tree.

It first struck me that the driftwood arrangement was missing, because the dangling Spanish moss, so silvery gray, really stands out. My first thought was that it had fallen to the ground, the sort of thing that does happen when you suspend a plant from a branch, and looked underneath, but to no avail. Then I looked up and saw the staghorn fern was also missing and clearly not to be found in the flowerbed at the tree’s base. It took me a few minutes to understand the only explanation was plant theft. I’d been robbed again!

Yet, this time, I thought I had done things right. Previous thefts had occurred in spots visible from the street. Anyone could have seen the plants, felt a sudden need to own them, and run away with them under their arm. 

This time the victims were not on clear public view. They were in my backyard, completely out of sight of anyone except my two neighbors (whom I fully trust … and who aren’t plant people at any rate). The thief had to have walked up several sets of steps (my house is on a steep hill), around the house and into the backyard. There is no fence blocking it from the outside world, but a good thief could certainly scale such an obstacle, so I don’t consider the lack of a fence a major breach of theft protection etiquette. Besides, who locks a garden gate?

Once in the yard, the thief would then have had the choice of a hundred or so potted plants placed outside for the summer. Most were on the deck, though, nearest to the house, and may have seemed to be a greater risk of detection. The plants hanging from the crabapple tree represented the farthest plants from the dwelling, but also the farthest ones from the street.

Accidental or Planned?

It’s hard to imagine someone accidentally strolling through the backyards in a suburban neighborhood, suddenly seeing attractive plants and, unable to fight the urge to possess such specimens, grabbing and running away with them. Nor had any delivery or service person had been in my yard that summer: they all ring at the front door, not the back. 

I have to wonder, therefore, if it wasn’t a planned heist. I’m not exactly an unknown person in the plant world. I do radio, TV and videos and write newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, books, etc. I often mention the plants I put outside for the summer. And I don’t hide where I live. I mean, this is a middle middle-class neighborhood, not Beverly Hills, and I’m not George Clooney.

Maybe someone took notice and “cased the joint”?

I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that several if not all of the plants that have gone missing over the years (multiple incidents over more than 3 decades) were taken by the same thief. None were run-of-the-mill houseplants (no one has ever bothered to steal my spider plant, for example, although a perfectly lovely specimen). They were all collectors’ items to a certain degree. 

I note that the plants stolen this summer were not as heavy as some in the past: my aging thief might no longer be able to run away with heavy pots, like the huge blooming clivia in a 16-inch (40 cm) clay pot that disappeared about 20 years ago.

What to do?

Sign reading Plant thieves will be composted.
Ill.:, montage:

In spite of the warning sign above, I’m not going to do anything about this. 

I have no idea who to report to the police. I like the way I garden and am not going to lock up all my plants indoors all summer just because, every few years, a few go missing. And the plants had little real monetary value; it’s more the pleasure of growing them that I miss. 

So, if you’re the thief and are reading this, please don’t do this again. It’s very upsetting. If you want a plant, ask me for it. I give away plants all the time to people who show interest in them. But you shouldn’t steal plants from people. It’s just not nice!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

28 comments on “Plant Thieves Strike Again!

  1. I awoke this morning to find a pelargonium in my front porch flower box had been stolen. Just one ripped out among several others and a trail of dirt down the block and I have no doubt the thief will return for more in the coming nights. This is more than annoying it is violating and upsetting that someone is so low as to steal plants. I pay good money for my plants and care for them trying to beautify an otherwise concrete environment. I have had this happen before in past years with a particularly lovely group of Coleus that were stolen on successive nights. I don’t know who the poor penniless wrench is that does this but Karma is a quick and stern taskmaster to plant thieves. Are they going to sell the plant? Are they going to plant it in their own yard and admire their stolen booty? What kind of person is proud of watching a plant that they stole growing?

  2. I wonder if a motion censored light or an Arlo camera to view the plants most loved by you would help. It’s an awful feeling to know someone is in your yard while you are asleep, let alone take something of yours. Especially since you are so generous with your time and advice.

  3. I agree with the earlier commenter that most of us would gladly share a piece if asked. I had a complete stranger ask for a piece of something this summer by leaving a note with a phone number. It led to a very pleasant exchange of garden visits as well as the plant exchange. Stealing a plant is just so antithetical to garden culture. But it does seem you must be a target. I guess of nine million hits, one must be a rotten apple. The rest of us are sorry.

  4. We use inverted mouse traps on our paths near the pond to discourage raccoons. No harm to them but when placed in groups of traps it makes a racket. And gets them on their way. Perhaps this would discourage plant thieves. Or strung fishing line attached to a few empty tins.

  5. I certainly wouldn’t like an unknown person coming onto my property, let alone stealing, and doing it repeatedly. Can you set up a portable camera, perhaps a game camera to catch the culprit in the act? Also can you anchor the plants with fishing twine. Run the twine through the drainage holes and use it to attach the planters to a table or hanging planters to whatever structure they hang from. It wouldn’t be unsightly and would certainly make it difficult for the thief to run away with your plants.

  6. marianwhit

    I always thought of plant people as the best sort of people…but rats come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and professions, I guess…and that is an insult to the good rats of the world…the furry ones, that in Florida…the cotton rats…drive the ecology. I had a very close and long term relationship with a Clivia…I would have been devastated to lose that. Had thefts happen in several houses. One thief took a freshly planted Cotinus ‘Grace’ I had purchased for myself as a birthday present. I was gone 30 minutes. So I got another (a 3 hour drive), and planted it. I had to run off quickly for something, came back an hour later and that one too, AND the shovel, AND a brand new grill, AND six blueberry plants still in pots were gone. The RCMP was brought in. The officer was not optimistic. I said, “how hard can it be to find someone with a penchant for BBQ, blueberries, and great taste in plants?” I gated the place.

  7. Oh CUSS! That is SO annoying! I just had a few items taken from here, but found them in the neighborhood and retrieved them. There is a guy in town who harvests flowers from the neighborhood to sell outside of the market. He regularly gets cussed out by those who recognize their flowers as they enter the market to shop. In my former neighborhood, where fruit was traditionally shared, and kids had free run to take what they wanted, fruit trees were started to get stripped of ALL fruit after the 1980s. A few years ago, a neighbor and I got jars and canning supplies down from the attic, washed everything to get ready for canning a tree full of peaches, but found that between the time we washed all the supplies on Friday afternoon, and when we went to collect the peaches on Saturday morning, every single peach had been taken. It gets worse. My colleague and I planted 32 or so redwood trees in a park near that home. I grew the trees, but could not sell them because they all had small kinks at the bases of their trunks. (The trees would have outgrown the kinks, but were unmarketable without perfect trunks.) All but a few of the trees were taken, and were blatantly planted in front years in the neighborhood. I recognized them by their kinks!

  8. A discouraging invasion of your private space. As gardener’s aren’t we supposed to be above all of this? Sorry for all of your losses.

  9. I cannot think of anything that would leave me feeling my sanctuary had been violated. My summering houseplants are largely old friends that I truly love. I try not to acquire new darlings, but still delight in prowling plant shops and garden centers and tempting fate. Who knew that my local drug store would have a giant maidenhair, not sure which species, fern amongst the usual common foliage plants?
    That they thrive up here in South Dakota’s fierce climate is purely because of their short summer respite. The back into the house for 8 months! Where they enrich our existence and provide the decor. I’m 70, my mom had an eye for the rare and unusual, and I have many of her treasures, some since the age of 12!.
    I am so sorry for so sorry for your losses. Plants are my life. Thank you for sharing yours. Linda

  10. When I was much younger I went on a summer youth trip to Mexico. The agronomist there told me how they had field days for the local farmers. They had rows of each variety growing so the farmers could see what they looked like in the field and their seeds, when mature. He said he often had field days in the fall when they were ripe. He would judge the popularity of the varieties by the number of plants that had pods or seeds removed by the touring farmers since that showed they thought they worth propagating.

  11. I, too, have had plants stolen. Specifically, they were dug out of my front plant bed along the public sidewalk, with at least a trowel. I’m fairly certain the plant did not survive, as most of its roots were still in the bed. It is very upsetting and feels just as violating as a home break-in. Almost all gardeners are willing to share – just ask!

    • I didn’t go into details about the previous thefts, but one was similar to your situation. That was NOT a plant person. The others were, I’m pretty sure.

  12. I have cctv in my front and rear gardens. It’s more to stop the indoor variety thief but I guess also works for outdoor. I have two topiary rabbits I would be sad to loose.

  13. Pamela Whitcomb

    Well, that’s a bummer. What kind of a person would do that? One year I had a huge homemade Christmas star stolen from my front porch. I had cut and wired heavy branches and put white fairy lights on it. Stealing a Christmas decoration? Isn’t that an oxymoron for what the seasons about? Sheesh, I would have made one and given it to them if they had asked. It’s kind of creepy that someone’s casing your place and helping themselves. At least in my situation I tried to tell myself it was probably kids, I doubt kids would zero in on your plants though.

  14. Plant several poison ivy plants with some beautiful artificial silk or real flowers cascading around hang a camera on your front and back porch and catch them in the act. Plants aren’t cheap these days. You may want to walk or drive up and down your neighborhood and check out everyone’s hanging baskets, one of them just might be yours.

  15. The people living near my house, blast Rap music, until 12 midnight, but they do not steal packages or plants from my front yard. That is a terrible thing to happen.

  16. Two words, Larry – outdoor camera. If a person asks a gardener for a slip, 99.9% of us will gladly share. No one should be invading a person’s private property for the purpose of shopping for something they didn’t buy. If they are successful at one house, they will try another. Bad situation in these times to have people you haven’t invited roaming close to home.

  17. A neighbor actually dug up my Siberian iris and planted them in her yard. I figured they had died, as the bed had become drier with the years and changes in surroundings, and I had been meaning to move them to a more moisture-retaining location, so I didn’t think anything of it –until I saw the same plants blooming in a yard down the street. Miss Plantnapper was known to walk through people’s yards so the clues were obvious. She has since sold and moved away. I considered reclaiming my plants when the For Sale sign went up but decided not to bother.

  18. Erica Ann908 Willoughby

    Have you considered adding a video camera (like a “Ring” setup? Perhaps knowing they are on camera will deter the culprit?

  19. I think I would be more disturbed that someone was walking around my house undetected. You could always get an inexpensive game cam to aim at the spot you put plants in.

  20. Plant thieves are the lowest form of life.

  21. Adrienne Torrance

    It’s such a nasty feeling when something like this happens. I’m so sorry you’ve had it happen to you. Karma has teeth and claws, though so the culprit better watch out.

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