"Outside of building a greenhouse at home, there isn't much you can do to protect your landscape plants from cold temperatures," said Orville Lindstrom. The UGA horticulturist specializes in cold hardiness of landscape plants.
"The old trick of putting blankets over them really just makes you feel like you're helping out," Lindstrom said. "That little bit of protection isn't going to save them from the cold."
Lindstrom said covering your plants provides little protection as the wind usually blows off the covering. "Even if the covering stays on," he said, "a blanket on a plant isn't going to create heat as it does on a person. We're warm-blooded, and we create heat. Plants aren't. The only heat available under the blanket would be coming from the ground."
The time to help your landscape plants prepare for the winter, he said, was last spring and summer.
"If you take good care of your plants in the warm months by keeping them insect-free, giving them ample water and fertilizing them, you're helping build a hardier plant," he said.
UGA horticulturists say temperatures would typically have to drop below 20 degrees to damage the stem tissue of landscape plants.
"Twenty-four degrees isn't all that terribly cold for a plant," Lindstrom said. "If it's a flowering plant, you may lose some of the first flowers. You have to remember that landscape plants are outdoors 24 hours a day. They have adapted, and it's more of a gradual change for them."
Lindstrom said the only plants he would suggest giving the "babying treatment" are prized possessions such as a banana tree. "If it's a one-of-a-kind plant and you really don't want to lose it, build a makeshift shelter for it," he said.
The key to making sure your landscape plants survive each winter, he said, is planting the right variety.
"Don't just buy a cultivar of azalea or other woody ornamental you've heard about or one you think would do well in your landscape," Lindstrom said. "Do a little research. Make sure the cultivar you're buying is suited to your area."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)