Brrrr, itís time to build a fire and put that extra quilt on your bed. And just outside, some of your more tender garden plants might need a blanket or a warmer location to survive Old Man Winterís cold temperatures. Here are some ideas to protect these plants.

ďFirst of all, itís very important to read plant labels,Ē says Connie Skillman, owner of Pot Luck Container Gardens in Ashland. Labels tell you what winter temperature tolerance your plant has, but even plants that would be considered hardy in our (mostly) zone 7 climate may need some protection. We have many pockets of colder and warmer temperatures, she says. Plus, the roots of container plants are more susceptible to weather than they would be in the ground, especially in smaller containers. Large containers distribute temperature more evenly, whereas the dirt in a small, thin-walled container can actually freeze into a solid block, says Skillman.

ďThe reflected heat off a white south-facing wall will warm cannas and calla lilies, star jasmine, and some passion vines (Passiflora),Ē says Jason Hazeman, nurseryman at Southern Oregon Nursery. ďIf we have a mild winter, potted geraniums and begonias can be left outside. Bring them close to your house or under a porch or awning,Ē Skillman says. Donít forget to water plants if winter rains donít reach them. It is the very dry cold that is most dangerous to your plants. In-ground plants can be mulched with 6 inches to a foot of fine bark mulch or covered with a fabric blanket.

Skillman covers her geraniums and other tender plants with a thin porous sheet that allows rain and sun to come through, but protects from deep cold and winds. Be sure to secure the edges with rocks or pins to keep it from blowing off in heavy winds, she adds. Newspaper can be used to cover plants but itís unattractive and tears apart. Plastic is OK to use in a cold frame, but should never be laid directly over the plant: it freezes, and doesnít breathe or allow evaporation, so too much moisture may rot plants. It also intensifies heat so even winter sun can burn plants through the plastic.

Those of you who prefer not to take any chances with your prized begonias or lilies can dig the bulbs out of the ground or pot, trim off old flowers and foliage all the way back to the bulb, let bulbs dry out completely, and lay them in a single layer in a nursery flat. Store in a cool, dark and dry place such as a garage until spring.

Tender shrubs with woody stems such as some varieties of gardenia, some salvias or the yellow daisy (Euryops)can be wrapped in burlap blankets, says Hazeman. He has customers who have overwintered hardy banana plants with burlap.

Fuchsias, tropical plants, bougainvillea and citrus trees can grow all winter in a greenhouse. To put them into dormancy, store them in a building with minimal light and above-freezing temperatures. Do not fertilize dormant plants and water only when soil is very dry to the touch, perhaps once a month or so, says Skillman.

All is not dreary and dead in winter. ďPeople donít realize they can have beautiful color and texture all winter long,Ē says Skillman. Containers and hanging baskets with spectacular coral bells (Heucheras ), colorful winter pansies, golden and variegated grasses and evergreen ferns can keep your attention until itís time for your well-protected tender plants to wake up.