Q: What should be done with shrubs that are purchased just before severe cold? Is it better to leave them in the garage until warmer weather or would I be safe putting them in the ground?
A: Up North, where the ground is frozen for long stretches of time, shrubs and trees can only be planted when the earth is soft. Over the past several winters, we’ve forgotten that the soil can be frozen in Atlanta too. If a shrub has been watered and cared for professionally at a garden center, it will be perfectly happy being planted whenever you can physically dig a proper hole. Remember that a planting hole should be at least three times as big as the root ball before you decide to plant in cold weather.
Storing the plant in your garage might cause it to become less cold tolerant. If you must hold it for several days, put it in a sheltered spot outdoors near a north-facing wall. Once you finally plant it, take pains to water the root ball every few days while it is cold, particularly if the plant is an evergreen. Most evergreens protect themselves from cold by allowing their leaves to dry at night. If water is not available to the roots the next morning, the leaves will continue to wilt and may drop from the plant. A cover of mulch over the roots and the entire planting area guards against sudden swings in soil temperature.