January Kitchen Garden Almanac

Cabbage seedling and frost
Cabbage seedlings takes on the cold

There is a lot to do in the garden–or for the garden–in January. You may want to print out this list of to-dos and get started as weather permits.

Of course, if you live in a warm- or mild-winter region, you can start sowing and planting in the garden this month. You’ll see the planting lists for your region below.

If you live in a cold-winter region, double check your average last frost date and note the number of weeks until you can set seedlings into the garden. If your last average frost comes in mid- to late-April, you may want to start many or your crops indoors before the end of this month.

Wherever you live, January is one of the best months to read vegetable gardening books and plan your spring and summer garden. In light of last year’s experience, what changes will you make in the new season? Start jotting down your ideas and make sowing and planting maps.

Rotating crops: In addition to new beds, January is the time to plan crop rotations and succession plantings for the upcoming season. Tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and potatoes will benefit from a three- or four-year crop rotation. Rotating crops will keep many pests and diseases from getting started in your garden.

Seed catalogs: If you don’t have the new seed catalogs, get them now or begin searching the internet for new vegetable varieties you’d like to grow this next spring. Apart from the old favorites which are usually easy to come by, order varieties–the ones you’ve never grown before–early. Many regional and hard-to-find seed growers have limited supplies.

Seed viability: If you have seeds on hand from past years, now is the time to test their viability. Most seeds will last 3 years if stored in a cool, dry location. To test seed viability place a few seeds on a wet paper towel for several days to see if they germinate.

January kitchen garden to-dos this month:

• Harvest continues in mild-winter regions: harvest winter cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, chard, parsnips, salsify, leeks, and spinach.

• Harvest sunchokes: make sure to lift every piece of tuber. Store tubers in a paper bag in a cool, well-ventilated shed or garage.

• Force rhubarb: cover the crowns with a deep layer of leaves or leaf molds, and then cover with a pot or a box to exclude the light.

• Force Belgian endive roots quickly in the basement or a dark place at this time of year.

• Plant patrol: Take a tour of the garden this month. Make sure all mulches are in place. Check perennial plants to see if freezing and thaws have lifted plants out of the soil. Press these plants firmly back into place.

• Tools and supplies: Check garden tools in storage. Sharpen and oil blades, oil wooden handles, and make sure tools are staying dry. Replace tools that are worn out before the season gets going. Be sure to check stakes, labels, pots, flats, spraying and dusting materials, and fertilizers.

• Soil preparation: Most garden soils will benefit from the addition of animal manure at least once every two years. Aged cow manure can be broadcast across the garden when the snow has cleared. Figure about 500 pounds of aged-manure per 1000 square feet of garden. Applied early, manure will find its way into the soil without your turning the soil. If planting time is near in your region, spread well-aged compost over the planting beds before planting. If you applied a sheet-compost last fall, turn it under at least three weeks before planting.

• Complete digging or turning the garden where the soil is dry and can be worked. Leave the ground rough until planting time.

• Test you soil. Lime if your soil needs it.

• Mulch: Winter vegetables can be mulched with unsifted compost. It will keep down winter weeds, conserve heat, and provide nourishment.

• Compost pile: On a mild winter day, turn the compost heap. Add a layer of soil on top. Place a plastic tarp or lid on the pile to protect it from heavy rains.

• Cold frames and greenhouses: Keep cold frames well-covered during mid-winter cold spells. Use tarps or heavy plastic to cover the frame or place straw under the sash. In warm spells, ventilate the frame during sunny hours and close it up again before temperatures fall toward evening. If snow is covering the frame, that will work to insulate the inside. Check plants growing under glass regularly and pick off any dead or dying leaves before they start to rot.

• Potatoes: Plant early potatoes in pots in a greenhouse or cold frame to produce a very early corp.

• Early seed starting: Where there is just 8 weeks to go before the last frost in spring, start seeds of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants indoors. Also start sweet potato sprouts.

• Seed sowing cell packs, trays, and boxes: Make sure seed trays and pots are perfectly clean. Clean previously used cells and trays in a 10 percent bleach solution and rinse–check to make sure there are sufficient drainage holes.

• Start sowing seed of hardy cabbage family crops and onions indoors. These are usually the first to go into the garden in early spring. Seedlings started indoors require uniform moisture and light during the early part of life.

• Containers and pots: Begin cleaning out pots and containers for spring planting. Scrub out loose soil and clean and disinfect pots in 10 percent bleach solution.

• Bareroot fruit trees and berries: Purchase or order bareroot fruit trees and vines for spring planting. In mild regions, plant bare-root, balled-and-burlapped, and container-grown trees, shrubs, and vines.

• Check stakes and supports for fall-planted trees. Be sure stakes are secure and haven’t been loosened by rain, snow, or wind.

• Protect fruit trees and shrubs from rabbits and other rodents: check tree guards and tree wraps.

• Protect citrus and cover fan-trained trees with spun poly covers.

• Prune apples and pears on clear days: cut out crossing, and dead or diseased branches. Do not prune cherries, peaches and nectarines, plums, and damsons in cold regions yet. Wait until late winter when the weather has warmed more so that pruning wounds heal more quickly. In mild-winter regions, prune these trees as soon as flower buds are recognized.

• Apply dormant oil sprays if the temperature is warmer than 40°F for at least twenty-four hours. Complete spraying and pruning before the sap begins to flow in February or March. Spray peaches, nectarines and almonds with a copper-based fungicide to prevent attack of peach-leaf curl.

• Berries, brambles, and grapes: Prune berries, brambles, and grapes on mild, sunny days. Remove a third of old vines and all undergrowth. New vines: reduce all leading shoot by half. Check and repair wires and other framework supports used for cane fruits. Apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost around the bases of gooseberries. Sow alpine strawberries indoors.

• Planting in January: Mild-winter regions sowing and planting:  In dry and and warm to mild regions, prepare the garden for planting; where necessary; water planting beds well to flush out built-up salts. Sow cool-season vegetables and herbs indoors or in cold frame to plant out next month. Direct sow cool-season crops where the winter is very mild: beets, carrots, lettuce, radishes, and spinach. Plant asparagus and artichoke roots and rhubarb crowns. Also set out horseradish. Where there is no threat of snow, direct sow early peas and broad beans under cloches and set out onion sets and early vegetable starts such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. In warm sandy soil, potatoes may be planted.

Regional gardening suggestions:

These suggestions are divided into 4 major geographical areas: North and East and Midwest (zones 2 in the northern most areas to 6 along the coast), the South (zones 7 in the north to 10 in the far south), the Southwest and California (zones 7 in the coolest areas to 11), and the Northeast (zones 5 in the highest elevations to 8 along the coast).

• North and East and Midwest. Plan the spring and summer vegetable garden. Mulch strawberry plants when the ground freezes. Force rhubarb and Belgian endive. Grow mushrooms. At the end of the month, sow early cabbage, cauliflower, celery, peppers, radishes, and tomatoes in hotbeds, cold frames, and greenhouses.

• South. Strawberries and berries can be planted in mild regions. Set out roots, crowns, and sets: asparagus, Bermuda onions, and rhubarb. Plant beets, carrots, garden peas, lettuce and greens, mustard, radishes, and turnips in most regions. By the end of the month in all regions: sow beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, leek, onion, parsley, peas, potatoes, radish, spinach, and turnip. Use smooth-seeded varieties for early planting

• Southwest and California. Asparagus, artichokes, horseradish, and rhubarb can be set out now. In warm soil plant potatoes. Make new strawberry beds. In mild-winter regions where the soil can be worked sow early-maturing seed crops by mid-month: beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots chard, endive, green onions, kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, mustard, parsley, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, and turnips. Divide and reset herbs. Divide chives.

In frost-free, warm-winter locations sow now beans, cantaloupes, cucumber, muskmelon, peppers, and tomatoes. Seeds can be germinated in a cold frame and then transplanted out.

• Northwest. Toward the end of the month seed onions, early potatoes, and carrots in sandy soil. In cold regions make cold frame and hotbed seedings of cool-weather crops at month’s end.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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