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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Creating Secure Perimeter Fencing with Plant Life

Red pommes of Firethorn (Pyracantha). Shot nea...Image via Wikipedia
I’ve read enough about the Golden Horde, mutant zombie biker gangs, and the occasional parent who will do anything to feed their family to know that in a TEOTWAWKI situation not only do I not want anyone breaking into my house, I don’t want anyone to be able to get past the perimeter of my property. I live in a very rural area of the South, surrounded by a few neighbors that would do anything to help someone out, cotton farms, and cows. I’m as far out in the hinterboonies as is possible in this part of the US. Yet, if I were to construct a perimeter fence that would properly keep people out, everyone in the general area would be talking about “that strange anti-social family” since most properties in this area have only decorative fencing, simple electric fencing, or none at all. Neither my husband nor I really want to spend the 11th hour adding more barbed wire around the livestock pens, gardens, orchards, or the house. Because of this we’ve decided to take a slightly more natural approach to our perimeter fencing. In our area it’s not uncommon to see wooded areas with vast overgrowth so we’ve decided to create a perimeter fence that’s impenetrable and looks like an abandoned wooded area.

When creating a plant based perimeter fence there are three main criteria you need to consider:

1. Is the plant native or common to your specific area? (For example, at a retreat in the southwest various species of cacti would be perfectly appropriate whereas in my area that would be a dead giveaway that someone lives beyond the overgrowth)

2. Will it grow rapidly without much intervention? (This is very important; you don’t want to waste water that could be used for drinking, household duties, or your garden on your perimeter fence)

3. Will it be difficult to get through? (You want to be sure to use plants that are thorny and grow in extremely dense)
Another criterion that you can look at is will your perimeter plants provide you with additional resources. Because my retreat is in an area that allows for such a diversity of plant life to grow without human intervention I added on that final criterion to narrow down the choices. The plants my husband and I chose are Bamboo, Pyracantha, Blackberries, and Spanish Bayonet. So, the reasons why we chose these plants

Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant on earth, and an invasive plant at that. Some species can grow as fast as 48” in a 24 hour period. It is also an extraordinarily diverse plant that can be used in construction, cooking, even as medicine. For perimeter fencing having an invasive plant is a good thing because it means it will grow without much human intervention and it will become very dense, which is better for keeping people out. For my fence I went with a clumping variety instead of a running variety because it’s easier to contain clumping varieties. One great thing about bamboo is there are varieties that will grow from climate zone 4 to zone 11; you’ll just have to do a little bit of research to see which specific species of bamboo will work in your region. Also be sure to look around your area to see what sort of bamboo appears to be growing wild, remember, you want your perimeter to blend in. We’ve managed to make sure we get bamboo common to our area by scouting craigslist, freecycle, and various local classifieds for people offering up free bamboo plants. Because it is such an invasive species of plant, man people will give bamboo away as long as you’re willing to uproot it for them because they can no longer contain it.

Pyracantha (sometimes called Firethorn) can grow to be about 20 feet high, produce edible berries, and they are covered in thorns. I’ve read a few articles that suggest cultivating Pyracantha around windows for home defense because of how densely the thorns grow. Where I live, beyond extra watering when first planting a Pyracantha tree they need no human intervention to grow. Another benefit is the berries, they attract deer and birds which make for excellent hunting and you can pick the berries to feed to chickens who don’t mind the bitter flavor. For human consumption you just need to boil down the berries to create a tasty jelly with about 40 calories per tbsp; 4 ½ cups of berries will produce approximately 2 cups of jelly. Pyracantha does best and is fully evergreen in zones 7 through 9 though with some research you can find strains that have been bred for hardiness in colder climates.

We chose blackberries for a few reasons; one being that they are my absolute favorite berry and providing food is always a good idea when preparing for TEOTWAWKI, especially a food as healthy and diverse as blackberries. Blackberries are notable for their high nutritional contents of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid - a B vitamin, and the essential mineral, manganese and they rank highly among fruits for antioxidant strength, particularly due to their dense contents of polyphenolic compounds, such as ellagic acid, tannins, ellagitannins, quercetin, gallic acid, anthocyanins and cyanidins. Blackberry root and leaves are also common in herbal medicines to help with ailments such as diarrhea, dysentery, and more. But the security reasons being that they are everywhere where we live, to the point where during blackberry season all you have to do is walk along any road in the area and you’ll be likely to pick enough blackberries in one day to feed your family blackberry cobbler for a year. They are extraordinarily invasive and require no human intervention to thrive. And they are extremely dense, thorny plants, since Pyracantha grow so tall their thorns only affect the upper half of a person, blackberries will take care of the lower half. Blackberries do best in zones 7 through 9; though you can grow blackberry bushes in slightly colder climates they’re unlikely to produce any fruit.

Spanish Bayonet
The final plant we decided to add to our perimeter is the Spanish Bayonet, named so because it’s leaves will puncture someone even through thick layers of clothing. The Spanish Bayonet becomes top heavy between 5 to 20 feet when the it topples over, then the tip curves upwards and continues growing. Meanwhile it readily sends out shoots around the base rapidly becoming a thick, impenetrable clump of bayonet like leaves. Though these provide no additional purposes beyond security, these are the sharpest and easiest plants to take care of in our specific area and therefore a very worthy plant to add into our plant perimeter fence. The Spanish Bayonet grows best in zones 8 through 11.

I always think getting your plants from a local nursery is best because then you know for sure the plant will survive in your specific climate and the conditions in your particular area, not to mention most local nursery owners are willing to help you and they’re a lot more knowledgeable than your average big box employee when it comes to the plants they sell you. Depending on how big of a perimeter you need to create and how much time, and money you have could make it difficult to get all of your plants from the same local nursery. If there are only 1 or 2 local nurseries and you’re unable to get all the plants you need for your perimeter from them I would suggest seeing if you can find a somewhat local nursery that you can order from online. For those on a budget, of which I am one, build up your perimeter fence over time. Simply find the weakest points of your property and start there. You can find plants for free or cheap on craigslist, freecycle, even by searching for garden club plant exchanges. Remember, you don’t have to use the same exact plants around the entire perimeter, just make sure whatever plants you use match the criteria you need. In fact, the more diverse your plant perimeter is, the more likely it is to resemble overgrown woods.

When creating your perimeter fence you’ll want to layer your plants in a way that provides the most protection. We’ve chosen to plant the Spanish Bayonet on the outside, then Pyracantha, Bamboo, another row of Pyracantha, and then let the blackberries run crazy throughout. Behind the plant perimeter we’ve constructed a sturdy barbed wire reinforced fence that will help keep our livestock in and provide an extra layer of security if someone manages to make it through the dense, thorny perimeter we’ve created. The major weak point to this is of course the point of entry through our driveway, after all, someone may not be able to fight their way through the plant life but who needs to when you can walk up a driveway and find the home easily? We’ve handled that problem by putting in a livestock grate and standard livestock gate that is chained shut and kept locked. By not maintaining the entry point into the property from the road it appears to be merely an entry to a livestock pasture that’s become overgrown from years of disuse. In case of TEOTWAWKI we can remove the grate, fill in the hole with barbed wire, tangle foot wire, or even create a punji pit using some of the bamboo from our perimeter fence.

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