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Seed-Starting Vegetables in January

Bio-degradable pots and trays for seed starting.

If you haven’t started already there’s no time like the first month of the year to jump-start spring. In the coldest regions, the first weeks of January are the time to begin planning the spring and summer garden. As soon as your plans are set, get seeds ordered.

In low frost and frost-free regions of the country, seed starting can get started immediately for planting out in the next four to six weeks. Cool-weather seedlings already started can be set in the garden this month.

Browse through seed catalogs today and make notes on what you’d like to grow this coming season. Two questions: What vegetables, herbs, and small fruits do you like to eat? How much room do you have? How many people will be sharing the harvest? Answer these basic questions first and you will begin to have an idea of how many packets of each seed you’ll need to order.

Seed rack
The best selection of seeds will be available early in the season both in the stores and online.

Visit a garden center for seeds or place your order online as soon as you can. Some varieties sell out quickly. And since most seed packets contain far more seeds than you’ll grow this season, consider teaming up with a friend to share seed.

In warmer regions–zones 10 and 9–you can begin sowing seeds right away. Spring has already arrived even though the calendar says it’s eleven weeks away.

More tips at Seed Starting Supplies.  Also seed-specific crop tips at Seed Starting Specific Crops.

Beginning with the warmest regions first, here is a seed starting guide for January:

Zone 10-11; No frost regions

  • Sow cool-season vegetables in flats
  • Start warm-season vegetables in flats.
  • Start seeds of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants indoors this month.
  • Sow greens, beets, carrots, and peas in the garden this month.
  • Set out transplants of onions, potatoes, cabbage, and broccoli.
  • Plant edible flowers such as pansies and violas in the garden and containers.

Zone 9: Low frost regions

  • Sow cool-season crops indoors in flats or outdoors by mid-month: beets, carrots, cabbage family members, lettuce, peas, and spinach. These will be slow-growing while the days are still short.
  • Sow indoors tomatoes, pepper, and eggplants by mid-month.
  • Start warm-season vegetables in flats indoors

Zone 8

  • Plan seed orders for starting seed indoors and get seed ordered right away.
  • Start seeds of cabbage and hardy lettuces indoors. When they are about 4 inches (10cm) tall set them out in the garden under plastic milk jug cloches or portable plastic tunnel and harden them off.
  • Harden-off cool-weather transplants: cabbage, broccoli started indoors last month or early this month.
  • Sow peas outdoors late this month.
  • Set seed potatoes in a bright spot to encourage sprouting.

Zone 7

  • Start seeds of cabbage, onions, and hardy herbs indoors under bright lights early this month.
  • Clean out the cold frame and get ready for early spring seed starting.
  • Collect plastic milk jugs for cloches.
  • Sow winter cover crops late this month.

Zone 6

  • Order seeds for cool-weather crops: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, celery, lettuce, and peas.
  • Mid-month start cabbage family crops and onion seeds indoors.
  • Prepare the cold frame. Mound straw or leaves around the outside of the cold frame to help it begin holding solar heat.
seed starting
Seed for cool-weather crops can be started this month in most zones; seed for warm-weather crops can be started in Zones 8-11.

Zone 5

  • Order seeds of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, and peas: all cool-weather crops right away. Plan your warm-season crops this month.
  • Get seed-starting equipment together.
  • Start onions seeds indoors toward the end of the month.
  • Dig up chives and begin to force them indoors or sow seed indoors.

Zone 4

  • Check the viability of old seeds by sprouting a few of each kind in folded damp paper towels enclosed in a plastic bag.
  • Set up your seed-starting system.

Zone 3

  • Begin seed ordering from catalogs.

See seed starting instructions for more than 40 crops at Seed Starting Specific Crops.

 

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. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

Comments

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  1. I live in region 8 or 9. I assume the temps are gained from the downtown or airport area and I live in a warmer part of the area. I looked up my area and found I live in region 8B. What in the world does that mean?

  2. To answer your question about Zone 8B (also my zone), here is some background: The United States Department of Agriculture has developed a Plant Hardiness Zone Map. It divides the United States and Canada into 11 climatic zones based on the average annual minimum temperature for the zone. Plants are often described as “suitable” for a particular zone or range of zones: for instance the artichoke is suitable for zones 8 and 9 — meaning it won’t grow in zones that have average annual minimum temperatures lower than the minimum annual temperature for zone 8 which is 20°F to 10°F.
    If you take a look at the hardiness zone map you will see that each zone has a 10 degree Fahrenheit range: so zone 10 has a minimum annual temperature of 40°F to 30°F; zone 9 has a minimum annual temperature of 30°F to 20°F; zone 8 has a minimum annual temperature of 20°F to 10°F, and so forth. Ten degrees can be a rather wide range of chill, especially if you are a plant. Within a hardiness zone there can be as well a geographical range–you can live in zone 8 in a more northern town and the winter will be colder than if you live in the southern range of zone 8 where the minimum annual temperature might not fall to 20°F. So, each zone is divided further into a cooler and warmer (relatively speaking) range with “A” being colder and “B” being warmer.
    So the short answer to your question is that you live (in zone 8B) in the warmer half of zone 8–probably the southern range of zone 8, or perhaps near the ocean or a large body of water (which would keep the minimum temperatures a bit warmer than the overall range). In zone 8B your average minimum annual temperature rather than ranging down to 10°F probably ranges down to perhaps 15°F at the coldest. Remember this is a range and an average and it is based on years of meteorological data.
    When you are selecting plants, it would be best on to choose plants that can not withstand minimum temperatures of 10°F. For practical purposes, this advice applies to perennial and woody plants. Annuals—such as most vegetables and herbs usually don’t survive in temperatures that cold—but some do.

    • The terms “sow” and “start” are used interchangeably. Seeds that germinate and begin to grow are often called “starts” or seedlings. If you sow or start seed in a flat, use the same seed planting depth that you would in the garden or in a pot.

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