Dear Master Gardener: My camellias are beautiful, but the weather is freezing. There are still many buds on the bushes and I hate to lose them. Is there anything I can do to save them?

Dear Pauline: Oh, the perils of nature. Camellias are such a bright spot in our lives during the cold winter months with their beautiful blooms, from whites to pinks to deep reds.

Master gardeners have been on Facebook with their pictures of beautiful blooms while stressing over the same dilemma. Master gardeners extraordinaire, Vonnie and Tommy Bozard, recommended cutting as many blooms as possible and enjoying them inside as well as sharing with friends, then covering the bush with a sheet or cloth to protect the remaining buds from other hard freezes. I did both.

Camellias, azaleas, sasanquas and rhododendrons are all in the same family. Rhododendrons like the cold and actually do better in the Piedmont region than they do here in the Midlands. Azaleas will be one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring, with sasanquas blooming in the fall. I recommend you have at least one of each for year-round color.

As a side note, if you have a pet goat, they are toxic to goats. I thought goats could eat anything, but apparently not.

Dear Master Gardener: I am very anxious to start my vegetable garden. Is there anything I can plant this time of year?

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Dear Over Anxious: Sorry, but you should have planted your leafy vegetables, lettuce, kale, collards, etc., in the fall. You would be enjoying them now.

This time of year, the soil is not warm enough to start a spring garden, but not to worry. The seed catalogs are coming in every day so you can just sit by the fire and dream about your upcoming garden. Make a plan. Decide just how many plants you can feasibly take care of. If you want a large garden, consider planting a row or two for one of the food kitchens.

Now is the time to order your seeds. In a few weeks, start them in seed containers so you won’t need to buy big, expensive plants. If you need to do a soil sample, now is a great time. Also, consider building some raised beds. In this way, you can control your crop and have fewer weeds. Furthermore, the watering chore will be easier when the weather turns hot. Finally, vegetables in pots are easy to grow if you only want a few for yourself and your family.

For the time being, stay warm. Enjoy the brief respite from mosquitoes and gnats and plan to plant after Good Friday when the ground warms up. Happy New Year!

This column by Kay Williams (the Flower Lady) is designed to answer your gardening questions. Send questions to ktheflowerlady@gmail.com or to news@timesanddemocrat.com.

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