Planting Vegetables in January
Eating healthier is a great resolution to have for the New Year & January is the perfect time to start planning what vegetables to grow in the garden!
Day temperatures have been fluctuating between 40 degrees to 70 degrees in the mostly mild winters of Charleston. These fluctuations can easily confuse a gardener about what to plant in their garden in January. With a little guidance on cool season plants and a handy list, anyone can plant their vegetable garden in January.
Cool season vegetables are plants that do their very best growing when temperatures are between 60-65 degrees F. While the list of vegetables available to grow in the cooler seasons, Fall through Spring, is extensive, planning your garden to produce for many months with harvest throughout will make you a successful gardener. Before planting, understanding some “do’s and dont’s” in the winter garden is essential for you to have a bounty on your table in February, March, and April!
Do: Till your soil a minimum of 6″ deep (12″ is even more beneficial). Many winter vegetables are root vegetables which means the primary vegetable you will harvest will be under the soil. Tilling and loosening the soil will allow root vegetables an easy path when growing. Compacted soils can lead to small and misshapen roots.
Do: Water you winter garden. While cool season vegetables do not have the same thirst as warm season vegetables, mature plants should still be watered every two to three days. Continue fertilizing with natural fertilizers, such as; fish emulsion, bat guano, worm castings, bone meal and blood meal. There are many “all-purpose” organic liquid fertilizers also that make your plants happy.
Do: Mulch your vegetables. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, supresses weeds, can add organic matter to your soil and keeps your plants tucked in tight on chilly evenings. A layer of wheat straw over your plants can be the difference in them surviving on a night of below freezing temperatures or having a bed full of freeze burned plants. Natural mulches that can be tilled into the soil are leaf litter, wheat straw or grass clippings.
Do: Add compost to your garden when planting or before seeding. Compost provides a plethora of nutrients that will be slowly released for your plants to use throughout their life.
Do: Remove dead plant material. Other than being unsightly, dead plant leaves, stalks or roots can be available food sources for insect pests or can harbor disease.
Do: Thin your plants and space them in order to give them room to reach their full maturity.
Don’t: Buy seeds or plants that are not intended for the Southeastern climate or the USDA hardiness zone in which you are gardening. Find a reputable seed supplier that has varietals for the Southeast like Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
Don’t: Seed too deep or too shallow. Seeds planted too deep will take too long to germinate or will not germinate at all. Seeds planted too shallow will not have sufficient root systems to support the plant. Always follow the planting depth guidelines.
Don’t: Forget to protect your plants with a frost blanket. When temperatures dip into the 20s & especially into the teens, plants can survive the freeze with a frost blanket that does not allow wind to blow through. Frost blankets can increase the temperature by 5 degrees.
Don’t: Let seeds dry out. Whether direct sowing into a garden or sowing into seed trays, seeds must be kept moist for optimal germination. If seeds are watered and then left for two days to dry out, germination rates will be reduced significantly.
Don’t: Let your plants freeze. Prepare for cold weather by buying a frost blanket and mulching your plants before freezing temperatures come. A blanket of straw and a fabric cover will help seedlings & tender plants survive freezing temperatures.
Don’t: Allow anyone to tell you what to grow. If you don’t like beets, don’t grow beets. Plant what you will eat and enjoy everytime it is on your table. But experimenting with your tastebuds every once in a while can be a very good thing to do.
Now that you have some of the basic do’s and dont’s for the winter garden in your pocket, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty and figure out what to plant and how to plant it. Below, you will find lists of cool season vegetables that are best direct sown (seeds planted straight into your garden) and plants that you can seed into trays or purchase transplants from a garden center or nursery. Hyam’s on James Island and Sea Island Savory Herbs are two locally owned nurseries which usually stock vegetable transplants.
Direct Sow: *Follow the seeding directions and plant these veggies right into your garden in January and February*.
Garden Peas: These are not only beautiful plants but provide opportunity for four different harvests. Pea Tendrils are a little treat and the first part of the plant available for harvest. Flowers follow the tendrils and both can be tossed into salads. Don’t harvest all of the flowers or you won’t have any peas! The seed pod is a crisp, sweet flavor of Spring which the gives way to the plump pea.
Beets: Don’t forget to eat the beet greens. Packed full of vitamin A & C, calcium & iron, these tasty greens can be eaten raw or slightly wilted as with spinach.
Carrots: Make sure the soil is very loose for carrots to grow well. Don’t give up on these little seeds…they can take 21+days to germinate. You can, also, make pesto out of the carrot tops.
Lettuce: Loose leaf lettuces and Romaine are varieties that are last to bolt or form seed heads when weather begins to warm. Continue to sow every four weeks until end of March.
Mustard Greens: Find a mixed variety seed packet for different colors and textures. Once the plant bolts, leave the flowers for the bees then collect the seeds to make your own mustard.
Radish: French Breakfast varieties are ready for harvest within 25 days. Sow radish through March.
Spinach: Continuously sow every three weeks through the beginning of March.
Turnips: Combine the greens & root for a delicious winter soup. Sow January until mid-March.
Transplant from pots or seed into trays
Broccoli: Seed into trays in early January, transplant in February and March into the garden.
Cabbage: Seed into trays in December & January, transplant into garden in late January & February.
Parsley, Cilantro & Dill: Transplant into garden in January & February.
Kale & Collards: Transplant into garden in January & February..
Pak Choi: Transplant into garden in February.
Onion: Onions are daylength sensitive and temperature sensitive. Choose short day onion set varieties to plant in January and intermediate day onion sets to plant in late February/early March for a summer harvest.
Asparagus: Order crowns now to plant in January & February. Try a purple variety called purple passion. Keep in mind, asparagus beds are “dead beds” because nothing else can be planted in them & your first harvest will be in three years. Well worth the wait, nothing compares to the fresh, crisp flavor of freshly harvested asparagus!
Potatoes: Potatoes can be planted in February so order your potato seeds now to make sure you get the variety you want.
Sweet Potatoes: Begin sweet potato slips by cutting sweet potato in half and putting each half in water leaving at least two inches out of the water.
Tomatoes & Peppers: Begin seeding in trays indoors for a head start. Heat mats are beneficial to begin the germination process. Tomatoes germinate in six days with 80 degree temperatures. Peppers germinate in 8 days with 85 degree temperatures. Make sure you have high light so they do not become leggy indoors.
If you are seeding in trays, make sure you are using a light, airy potting mix. A recipe for a successful soilless mix is listed below but there are many great soilless potting mixes that can be purchased from local garden centers.
– 2.5 gallons Peat Moss
– 2.5 gallons Vermiculite
– 2 3/8 ounces Blood Meal
– 2 3/8 ounces Limestone
– 1 3/4 ounce Bone Meal
### Hooray! You now have the basic gardening know-how to begin planting your garden in January so that you can begin reaping the rewards February through April.