Follow our guide to the best vegetables to plant in January, and you can be sure you’ll get the year off to the best start. There’s a massive sense of expectation this month, as we look forward to all those lovely crops we hope to grow in January. This is the time to take stock on what we learned last year, and make sure we are efficient as well as adventurous – not to mention successful with our crop choices and our growing spaces.
While you could be forgiven for thinking it’s pretty quiet out there in the garden this month, there’s no time to waste if you want to kickstart the growing calendar the right way. The simple truth is that there is plenty you can grow in January to lay the groundwork for kitchen classics and mouth-watering exotics. So don’t delay – get cracking and sow under glass with the help of a heated propagator or greenhouse. Invest in a thermometer, and boost light levels with lamps and a good old clean.
From sweet potatoes to chocolate chillies, there’s plenty here to inspire your kitchen garden ideas this month. So follow our recommendations for the veggies you need to prioritize in January. Start your year as you mean to go on - and grow for it!
Start your growing year with the top vegetables to plant in January
If you’re looking for the key vegetables to plant in January, read on! Whether you fancy leafy greens, banana-shaped bulbs or floor-to-ceiling tomatoes, this must-grow guide can point you in the right direction.
1. Aubergine / eggplant
Sleek, glossy and rotund – the eggplant, or aubergine (Solanum melongena), is a dramatic yet easy-going entry in our list of vegetables to plant in January. Cultivated in China and India for over 1,500 years, this botanical beauty is an excellent source of vitamin B1, potassium and folate. Formerly a mainstay of moussakas and baba ghanoush, the exotic aubergine is at home in a variety of growing conditions. All it needs is a warm spot, sunshine, moist compost and a balanced fertilizer.
Patience is needed with the eggplant because it is a slow-starter, which is why it’s a good idea to start yours off in January. As Chris Bonnett of Gardening Express observes, ‘Aubergines take a while to grow – so the earlier you plant them, the better. Find a place with sun, and keep them inside until the risk of frost passes.’
For firm yet plump perfection, these crops do best in a heated greenhouse. While content to flourish in the ground, the eggplant will also thrive with inventive container gardening ideas, as long as it is well supported and staked as it matures.
Although readily available in deep purple hues, you can also experiment with white, green and striped varieties. Great varieties to try include high-yielding ‘Long Purple’, container-friendly ‘Kaberi’, heirloom ‘Black Beauty’ and early-cropping ‘Moneymaker’.
It might not win any beauty pageants, but celeriac is a culinary revelation and one of the most versatile vegetables to plant in January. A cross between celery, fennel, walnut and aniseed, its tangled swollen roots look haphazard and messy, but its crisp, nutty parcels deliver an invigorating pay-off. As Amateur Gardening’s expert Lucy Chamberlain points out: ‘Moisture-loving, crunchy and nutritious, celeriac rewards the patient gardener with generous returns and robust flavors.’
Known botanically as Apium graveolens var. rapaceum (and colloquially as ‘knob celery’), celeriac isn’t hard to grow – it just takes time! Thanks to slow germination and a long growing season, you should sow now into shallow pots, keeping compost just moist. Protect from chills and irrigate freely as growth accelerates in summer.
Keep the soil fertile and moist as crops bulk up, water well and give mulching a try for the best returns. Harvest from late September, leaving in the ground longer for more intense flavors. Try ‘Monarch’, ‘Alabaster’, ‘Prinz’ and ‘Mars’.
Fans of companion planting should grow with tomatoes, spinach, peas and beans. Celeriac stores brilliantly and keeps for eight months. So it may not be a looker, but it’s definitely a keeper!
3. Banana shallots
For anyone after easygoing vegetables to plant in January, the advice is simple – have a banana! Banana shallots (or echalions, as they are also known) are like the sweet sisters of the ubiquitous onion. Mild in flavor and easy to grow, these torpedo-shaped treasures (Allium cepa) range from the decorative pink rings of ‘Simiane’ to extra-long AGM winner ‘Longor’ and spicy purple ‘Griselle’. Sweet and simple, they add crunch and character to stylish skewers cooked on the best BBQs, as well as classic French onion soups and dynamic seasonal salads.
Anyone wanting to know how to grow onions will find this crop a pleasant alternative to conventional pungent plantings. Sowing your shallot seeds now, that extra time spent under glass before being planted out works wonders for root growth and ultimately flavor. Seed-grown shallots are less susceptible to bolting. Just keep weed-free and well watered in a moist, well-drained soil once they are moved outdoors. And add a little sulphate of potash in summer to give your bananas a boost.
This shallot is one of the best companion plants for kale and grows happily with beetroots, tomatoes and carrots. They also do well in any patch where you grew cucumbers the year before.
4. French beans
Whether you fancy a rustic climber or a bushy dwarf, the French bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) is one of the best vegetables to plant in January. Given the number of varieties up for grabs and the comparatively long window for successive sowings, it makes sense to start a few off indoors as soon as possible. As anyone who knows how to grow French beans will tell you, it’s possible to enjoy months of colorful crops if you synchronize varieties sensibly and give them the right growing spaces.
You’re spoiled for choice in terms of both dwarf and climbing bean varieties. Compact yellow ‘Sonesta’ and purple container favorite ‘Amethyst’ are particularly suited to early growing indoors. Dwarf varieties produce pods in flushes and benefit from early as well as late sowings. But there’s nothing to stop you starting off creamy flat-podded ‘Golden Gate’, pencil-podded ‘Blue Lake’ or red-flecked ‘Borlotto Lingua Di Fuoco Nano’ beans now for transplanting out in spring.
If properly supported, climbing beans are great partners for all manner of raised garden bed ideas in warmer months, so you can experiment with endless edibles in style. All that’s needed is well-drained, crumbly soil or large containers for a French connection we can all indulge in!
5. Sweet potatoes
A tastier, more nutritious alternative to the humble spud? You heard us right – and the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is quite simply one of the most rewarding vegetables to plant in January. Whether you opt for the red-skinned Caribbean or the softer orange American types, an early new year start is key to knowing how to grow sweet potatoes – so don’t delay. Choose ‘Bonita’, ‘Georgia Jet’, ‘Beauregard Improved’, ‘Erato Orange’ and ‘O’ Henry’ to get the most from spuds in milder regions.
Technically, what you’re doing in January is packing one sweet potato tuber in warm, moist, gritty compost or sand. As organic fruit and veg expert Bob Flowerdew explains: ‘Kept somewhere warm, this will soon sprout. When the shoots (slips) are finger length, they can be detached and potted up in a warm, light place.’ As they grow, Bob recommends large containers and canes to support them.
As your sweet potatoes grow, you can keep them inside or try your luck outdoors – given the right trellis ideas and training, the trailing stems of your plants will flourish. Leave in big tubs and bring under cover in autumn to extend the growing period. What could be sweeter than that?
6. Collard greens
If you’ve never heard of the next entry on our list of vegetables to plant in January, now’s your chance to get acquainted. Packed with vitamins A, C and K, iron, calcium and manganese, collard greens (Brassica oleracea var. viridis) also actively help to lower bad cholesterol. And if you’ve already tried your hand at learning how to grow cabbage, you’ll enjoy cultivating the smooth, fan-like leaves of these nutritious beasts, which are perfect for dishes that involve braising, steaming and simmering.
Part of the thinking behind starting these giant croppers early should be self-evident: a fair bit of time is needed to build such lovely big leafy treats. Knowing how to grow kale may also give you a head-start with these plants – which also like to bulk up in a spot offering full sunshine. Still, they are tolerant of warm and cold weather, and can be grown in a range of soil types as long as it’s moist, fertile and well-drained.
Make sure they have ample room (and soil depth) to bulk up, and allow 12-14 weeks to reach maturity. Start these gorgeous greens indoors from seed and plant out when they have three true leaves. We recommend lush ‘F1 Sweetie’, high-yielding ‘Flash’ and sweet-tasting ‘Teddie’.
7. Glasshouse tomatoes
Perhaps it should go without saying that tomatoes are essential in our list of vegetables to plant in January. There are so many varieties to explore, it would basically be rude not to try growing a few undercover as quickly as possible.
A warm greenhouse is your ticket to knowing how to grow tomatoes – as long as you can regulate the temperature of your burgeoning tangy fruits and moderate the space, the rest is child’s play.
Start now and experiment with different varieties (or one variety in successive sowings) for bumper yields of glasshouse crops. If you’re stuck for ideas, there’s prolific cherry ‘Sweet Million’, succulent fleshy beefsteak ‘Tomande’ and the delightfully distinctive ‘Heinz 1350 Souper Tomato’.
As Lucy Chamberlain points out, germination is strong and swift with glasshouse tomatoes: some well-watered seed compost is all it takes. Once the first flower truss appears, plant in the greenhouse earth, pot up in large tubs or growbags, or hang in baskets if room permits.
You’ll get plenty of fruitful mileage under glass, even in modest spaces, and you’ll reduce the risk of blight to boot. Just choose the best mini greenhouse, water regularly, add a couple of high-potash feeds when fruits appear, and keep an eye on ventilation as the days get warmer.
8. Exhibition leek
Although you’ll often hear that size isn’t everything, the truth is it makes a big difference with leeks (Allium porrum). So if you want to know how to grow leeks with prizewinning potential, don’t delay sowing. These lush, hardy hearties need time to bulk up – and while you can sow out in drills in March, kicking things off in January guarantees the most flavorsome sheaths (or shanks).
‘You can’t sow leeks too early,’ says Bob Flowerdew. ‘Sow thinly under glass in pots, modules or root trainers, water well and keep in a warm place that’s as bright as possible.’ Thin to the strongest to grow on for planting out in summer. Our guide on how to transplant seedlings will ensure your pencil-thin leeks grow strong and stout. Pick quick-maturing ‘Pandora’, heritage-revival ‘Lyon prizetaker’, vivid purply blue ‘Northern Lights’ or tender ‘Musselburgh’ for a winter-hardy champ.
As they grow, leeks are amongst the best companion plants for carrots as they deter carrot flies. Spinach is also a smart planting pal for leeks as it keeps soil moist, whilst melons prevent the formation of weeds. Once leeks reach their peak in winter, your patience will be rewarded with months of proud chunky beauties to add to soups or stir-fries.
9. Mixed thyme
Aromatic, beguiling, delicate yet robust: thyme (Thymus vulgaris) presents a dizzying array of scents and flavors. With over 300 varieties, including pretty ‘Pink Chintz’, variegated ‘Silver Posie’, intoxicating ‘Golden King’ and vibrant ‘Red Carpet’, this bee-friendly charmer is a top pick for vegetables to plant in January and one no kitchen garden should be without. Thanks to its impressive resume, knowing how to grow thyme helps you treat everything from hair loss to liver dysfunction.
This hardy herbal stalwart works hard with little effort required on your part, and January is a great month to start some off. Just cut or dig up a small piece and pot it up indoors. It’s slow growing, but if kept in a warm and sunny place, you should see fresh shoots once it is established. Chris Bonnett of Gardening Express notes: ‘Thyme won’t need watering often; it does best in dry conditions. It doesn’t like cold conditions, but it’s fine to grow it indoors until the risk of frost passes.’
While it is possible to grow from seed, a division or cutting is more reliable. After that, all it needs is sunshine and a well-drained spot. For anyone with a vested interest in knowing how to create a herb garden or cultivating a small rock garden, thyme is a resilient, easygoing and rewarding crop to start now.
10. Habanero chillies
If your shortlist of vegetables to plant in January doesn’t include these feisty little sauce-pots, we urge you to reconsider! Chillies have been blazing a trail through kitchen gardens since they tickled the taste buds of 15th century European monks. But while you might think you know how to grow chillies, the heat-loving habanero (Spanish for ‘the one from Havana’) is where it’s at.
These compact croppers (Capsicum chinense) are perfect if you want to grow vegetables in pots – and the sooner you sow, the better! Starting habaneros early is key as they are slow to mature and need sufficient time to develop industrial-level levels of heat (crops clock in at between 140,000 and 400,000 on the Scoville scale). Under cover in containers is best to help develop those intense kicks. They are attention-seekers, as Chris Bonnett notes, but reward a long season of care, regular warmth, patient watering and a light seaweed feed with smoky, fruity flavors.
Happy in a greenhouse or polytunnel, habaneros crop prolifically in an array of shades: atomic red, Dulce orange, acid yellow, hot chocolate. Started now, they will start fruiting in July and keep cropping through autumn. So for unforgettable feel-good perennials that pack a real punch, fire up the propagator and start these scorchers off now!
What else can I do on the plot in January?
- For anyone who has discovered how to grow strawberries, January is a chance to start forcing early crops. The trick is to pick early-maturing varieties (‘Christine, ‘Honeoye’ or ‘Vibrant’) and grow them in pots. After being exposed to the winter chill, grow on in a heated sunny greenhouse or conservatory. When flowers emerge in March, dust gently with your hands to aid pollination. Be ready to pick from mid-April onwards.
- You’re probably already growing lettuce in winter for cool-season crops, but how about dandelion leaves for a punchy salad or stir-fry? The long taproots of Taraxacum officinale should slide out easily if you see some growing wild, says Lucy. Plant in a tub of moist potting compost and force into growth in a heated glasshouse. If their bitterness is a little much, blanch the new shoots by covering rosettes with an upturned pot.
- Why not start growing rhubarb weeks before your neighbors? Force pots over the rhubarb bed now and you can pull stems as early as March. Use an early variety like ‘Timperley Early’ or ‘Hawke’s Champagne’ and cover plants in situ. If you don’t have a forcing pot, an old chimney pot and terracotta saucer work well. Then all you need is darkness and a little patience – and soon, succulent hot pink shoots will be yours!
- If you haven’t already, now is the time to start chitting tubers. Anyone who knows how to grow potatoes will tell you this is key to the success of spuds. Pick ‘seed’ potatoes such as ‘Rocket’, ‘Swift’, ‘Maris Bard’ and ‘Lady Christl’. Opt for first-earlies, which are ready to lift in May. Place in an egg box with the ‘rose’ end uppermost. Site somewhere well lit and frost-free. Within a couple of weeks, shoots (chits) should appear.
- January is a good time to fight peach leaf curl, which affects peaches, nectarines and almonds. If you are growing fruit in pots, move them into a cold greenhouse. This means leaves are dry when they emerge, so spores can’t germinate. If you’ve fanned fruit against a sunny wall, cloak it in a polythene sheet. Erect a frame and staple the polythene to it. The cover needs to be kept in place until April, so make sure it’s robust.
- It’s not too late to start some garlic, so plant spring cloves in pots under glass. One key rule when mastering how to grow garlic is to avoid supermarket cloves. Stick to varieties for spring planting, like ‘Solent Wight’ and ‘Mersley Wight’. Fill 4in (10cm) pots with multi-purpose, and bury one clove 2in (5cm) deep per pot. Water, allow to drain and place in a greenhouse. Once the soil warms up, the plants can go outside.
- Give your gooseberries a good pruning now. Grab your best secateurs and get to work on congested main stems, says Lucy Chamberlain. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged growth, cutting back into healthy wood. If you are tying in new stems of fans, ensure they are evenly spaced out against the wall, fence or wire supports. Finally, cut back the side-shoots to assist in good air flow and encourage fruiting ‘spurs’ to form.
We hope our list has given you plenty of inspiration for your kitchen garden in January. Follow our tips and you’re sure to get your year off to the best start, and guarantee months of flavorful feasts!
As assistant editor of Amateur Gardening magazine, Janey's gardening passion was fostered from an early age, when her amazing mum had her deadheading hydrangeas, mulching roses, and propagating strawberry plants from runners for school open days. Her gardening childhood was like living with Tom and Barbara from The Good Life, with figs growing in the greenhouse, homemade blueberry jams piled high, and demijohns filled with her dad’s elderflower sherry experiments. City living has generally meant doing without a conventional outdoor space, but she is slowly transforming her thimble-sized abode into a haven of vertical vegetation. She's also taken part in lots of conservation and rewilding projects for the RHS and TCV as a way of exploring her horticultural horizons whilst helping to create and maintain beautiful spaces for others. When she grows up, she would like a Victorian conservatory, some proper old-fashioned cold frames and bell cloches, and a better system for storing all her seed packets.
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