Drops in temperatures can mean dead branches or delayed spring awakening. But as long as the crown at the soil level is still alive, the shrub will grow back.
I would also wait a while before doing anything drastic; crape myrtles can be late bloomers after harsh winters.
Many other plants, if left unprotected, also could see dead branches or even mortality. This article was inspired by Joan Steven, a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist, who called to tell me that she feared that her rosemary had bit the dust. I'm afraid that her assessment is probably true.
We also have grown accustomed to leaving tender bulbs such as gladiolus and canna out to fend for themselves over winter. It could be possible that for some their gig is up.
How do you protect against winter damage?
While it may be too late for anything killed or damaged during the last cold snap, it is important to know how to plan for future arctic episodes in the garden.
The first step in making sure that your garden does not succumb to winter woes is in plant selection. Be sure to check out the USDA Hardiness Zone Map at www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/ to know your zone.
While it does not guarantee that you will not have damage, it will help reduce the likelihood. If at all possible, plant your more-tender plants in areas protected from wind, especially if they are evergreen.
Winter damage also can occur from drying out, especially in evergreens. This is best avoided by planting in less windy areas and making sure plants are well watered in the fall. Protected areas near buildings have the added benefit of radiating heat in the evening from daytime solar heating.
Mulching is also an important tool in the winter arsenal. This is one area where I know many gardeners have grown lax. Mulching provides a protection from the uneven freeze/thaw cycle we see in winter.
The gist of mulching is to keep the crown of the plant, where new growth comes from, insulated. It is important to know that it should be applied after the cold arrives, so that temps stay moderately cool. It should completely cover the crowns of perennials, and should also be heaped around the crown of tender shrubs, including roses.
If you fear damage to branches or buds of shrubs, covering them with a frost barrier will help out. You can buy special frost protection material, or things like old bed sheets or burlap will do.
The frost cover can be used both in the landscape and in the vegetable garden and will offer a few degrees of protection. As long as the crown lives, the plant will live. If not, enjoy your shopping trip.
John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.por...@mail.wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVgardenguru.