Hamptons Police Say It’s Not Illegal to Leave Shrubs Uncovered for Winter

Covered shrubs for winter
Photo: Юлия Олейник/123RF

The Hamptons Police are hoping to capture the public’s attention as they seek to clarify the law regarding the treatment of shrubbery in cold weather in the Hamptons. Their recent public relations actions have been precipitated by what the police describe as an “onslaught” of calls from angry residents.

“As the weather has gotten colder, our switchboard has been inundated,” Hamptons Police spokesman Larry Hirsch says. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

Hirsch says the callers seem convinced that it is illegal for property owners to leave their shrubbery unclothed during the winter months. “They call us with names and addresses of their neighbors who haven’t encased their shrubs with burlap. They seem to think that it’s unlawful to leave the shrubs exposed to the elements.” The police, says Hirsch, have found it difficult to convince the callers that it is in no way required by law that shrubbery be clothed. “The burlap wrapping that you see is just a choice some homeowners have made,” says Hirsch. “Until the law changes, we have no way of forcing anyone to wrap their shrubs.”

Hirsch points out that the confusion could be the result of deliberate misinformation campaigns being waged by lawn care companies seeking to trick homeowners into contracting for expensive and unnecessary services.

“There appears to be a lot of ‘fake news’ out there about preventing cruelty to ornamental trees and bushes,” Hirsch notes. “If the goal is to generate a mistaken impression that shrubbery wrapping is mandatory, it’s working. But, just to be very clear, you don’t have to do it. And it’s certainly not police business whether you do or don’t.”

The police’s public relations initiative has upset some members of the community, who decry what they see as a cavalier attitude toward shrubbery. Hazel Wilkinson, of the East Hampton Bush Lovers League (BLL), confronted Hirsch at a recent talkback.

“Who are we to say that trees and bushes can’t feel cold and pain?” Wilkinson asked Hirsch. “We think it’s a disgrace and shameful when we see so many small, defenseless living things just left to freeze in the snow and ice. They get blown about, they’re weighed down by heavy snow. And then, if they lose their desirable shapes because of it, nine times out of 10 the homeowner will just cut them down in the spring like so much brush. If there isn’t a law against that, there damn well ought to be!”

Wilkinson says that the BLL is planning to lobby local governments to require the wrapping of shrubs. Until then, she is trying to appeal to the holiday spirit: “It’s the season—remember the bushes!”

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