Housing and planning minister John Healey published research that showed building in back gardens was often linked to councils' lack of local policies.
The review by Kingston University was commissioned last year to assess the issue and how it could be tackled. Researchers found that although garden grabbing is not widespread nationally, councils in London, the South East and West Midlands reported an impact.
Some 363 local planning authorities were approached. Of the 127 that responded, 50 considered it an issue in their areas. Of those that reported a problem, only five per cent — seven councils — had specific, local policies in place.
The report concluded that councils with local plans were more successful at stopping inappropriate development in gardens. Healey instructed chief planning officer Steve Quartermain to write to planners outlining how councils can identify and deal with garden grabbing through local plans.
"Councils are leaving an open door for inappropriate development if they do not have local plans in place and the power to stop this lies in their hands," he said.
"This evidence shows that planning inspectors will support local authorities in rejecting inappropriate buildings in gardens if there is a clear idea of what the area needs."
The issue was also highlighted in Labour MP Andrew Dismore's Land Use (Gardens Protection) Bill. This is tabled for its second reading in the Commons on 26 February.
The Kingston University study examined policies in local authorities including Warwick Borough Council and the London Boroughs of Sutton and Hillingdon that tackle the problem. In Sutton, for example, a policy sets local minimum standards for the provision of private garden space.
Greening the UK campaign organiser Mark Glover, who wants local authorities to sign up to a model motion calling for more planting in new developments, said the research was positive.
"We can only support this," he added. "If it ensures that planting continues to exist in the wider landscape in urban environments, then that is to be welcomed."
Garden Developments: Understanding the Issues is available at www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/gardendevelopments