7 greens to plant early spring (January)

January is the ideal time to start to plan and plant your herb and vegetable garden. Plant early and you can have a thriving garden that produces plenty of fresh produce all through the spring and summer. 

And even though our methods each January are a bit different, we have over the years learnt what works to be planted early and what does not.

We often hear that it is too cold or too wet to plant seeds as early as January. And yes, that can be true – but not for all plants and vegetables.

Cover garden beds if you have longer periods with consecutive days of freezing temperatures. A layer of mulch will always help keep the soil protected. But just one or two days of freezing temperatures should not be a cause for concern or give you any long term problems. 

It is a perfect time to plant sturdy leafy greens like Pak Choi and Tatsoi but also Kale, Arugula and Spinach in January for an early spring harvest.

Wait for a mild day with a temperature above 5 degrees Celsius (40 F) and no rain. And having put garden beds to rest for winter several weeks earlier, your soil is just sitting there full of goodness under a protective layer of mulch.

Plant early for simplicity

To sow seeds outdoors in January is all about patience and faith. The seeds will just sit there in the ground waiting for a temperature that will allow them to germinate and sprout.

So even if it’s rain and wind outside and you’re thinking that this is the most unlikely condition to start planting, we recommend you go ahead and get those seeds in the ground.

Needless to say, you are unlikely to see anything happening above ground in January. But with seeds planted we will be able to catch the very first days that are warm enough for the seeds to start germinating.

After all, if all seeds would rot from wet or die from cold there would be no self-seeding in our gardens. This may seem overly simplistic. But the fact remains that planting seeds in January will give you an early spring harvest every year. And yes, seeds will sprout in February / early March even after snow and frost in February following a mid-January planting.

And this leads to an early spring harvest. We plant early to avoid having to plan, schedule and time when to plant.

Reasons to plant early 

You can choose to plant early for different reasons. As you may remember we planted garlic outdoors late last year (2021) for harvest this year. 

Garlic is one of those crops that takes a long time to grow and we need to plant early to allow the bulbs to develop. Some garlic varieties even require a period of cold temperatures to trigger their growth. 

And then there are the plants we need to plant early indoors as they need time to develop. Chillies are a great example where we need to plant our seeds in January/February to grow strong seedlings for transplanting outdoors. 

And with chillies, earlier is better as long as you can provide sufficient light. You will need grow lights as the natural light is not enough early in the year. Without enough light the seedlings will grow weak and leggy on their search for light.

But of course, we also plant early to get that early harvest. Planting in January will give you crops to harvest in March. Sure, it will not be bumper crops that you see high season but there will be plenty to eat and use.

And finally, gardening is fun and any excuse to get started should be taken.

What we are planting outdoors in January 2021

Rows marked out and seeds ready to be planted in raised garden bed
Planning where to plant what on a nice day in January (2021-01-05)

This year we will plant the following vegetables from seeds in cold outdoor raised beds.

  • Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
  • Arugula (eruca sativa)
  • Tatsoi (Brassica rapa)
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea)
  • Pak Choi (Brassica rapa)
  • Corn salad (Valerianella locusta)
  • Leafy allium (Allium hybrida)

These are all hardy greens and with one exception we know they will take well to being planted in January. The exception could be the leafy allium that we have not tried planting outdoors as early as January before. 

We try to add at least one new plant every year. And we often change between different varieties like for example different types of kale or Asian cabbages.

Spinach (spinacia oleracea)

Spinach sprouting 27 February (planted 5 January)

Plant spinach seeds 1-2 cm (⅓ – ½ inch) deep about 3-6 cm (1-2 inches) apart.

You can always thin out plants later as needed.

Keep a distance of about 20 cm (8 inches) between rows. Grown and planted as an annual.

The photo shows spinach seeds planted 5 January germinating and sprouting as of 27 February – almost 2 months later.

It may not look like much right now, but instead of sowing spinach seeds in March, we could be harvesting baby spinach leaves that very same month. And that is amazing!

Arugula (eruca sativa)

Arugula or rocket sprouting 27 February (planted 5 January)
Arugula sprout 27 February (planted 5 January)

Arugula or rocket (annual) is one of my favorites.

Store bought arugula varieties come nowhere near the homegrown crop in terms of flavour and texture.

For this very reason we grow arugula year round. We grow arugula indoors in winter using Ebb and flow hydroponic grow beds.

We also make sure to plant arugula late in the fall and early in the spring like here.

Plant arugula seeds about 1 cm (⅓ inch) deep and 15 cm (6 inches) apart. Keep about 30 cm (12 inches) between rows.

Tatsoi (Brassica rapa)

Tatsoi also known as tat choy is an asian variety of Brassica rapa and is grown for its leafy greens. It is very cold-hardy. Plant tatsoi seeds 1 cm (⅓ inch) deep and keep distance between rows and plants to about 20 cm (8 inches). 

Tatsoi is also one of our favourites to grow in soil bags outdoors.

Kale (Brassica oleracea)

Nero di Toscana is a variety of kale that is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious to eat and easy to grow. The plant is also known as palm tree kale, Tuscan kale and even black kale due to its dark and beautiful leaves.

Nero di Toscana is annual but can grow to 75 cm (30 inches) tall if you allow it. I tend to harvest early but it is possible to wait until fall. 

Plant the kale seeds 1 cm (⅓ inch) deep and allow about 75 cm (30 inches) between plants and rows.

Pak Choi (Brassica rapa)

Pak Choi is in many ways similar to tatsoi but the variety I have chosen this year “Lilychoi” is fast growing and forms smaller plants. 

Plant the pak choi seeds 1 cm (½ inch) deep and allow approximately 50 cm (20 inches) between plants and rows.

Corn salad (Valerianella locusta)

Corn salad is also known as maché and winter salad and is extremely cold hardy. I always grow corn salad as an annual but it can be kept covered over winter to be grown for at least 2 years. 

Plant corn salad seeds 1 cm (⅓ inch) deep and allow about 15 cm (6 inches) between plants and 30 cm (12 inches) between rows.

Leafy allium (Allium hybrida)

As the name suggests this is an allium hybrid that grows like chives but has wider and more sturdy leaves. The variety I have chosen is a perennial that flowers from the second year and leaves, flowers as well as buds are edible. The leaves have an onion flavour with mild but distinct garlic undertones.

The plant grows stronger with each passing year and seeds should be planted in groups of 5 seeds. Plant allium seeds 1 cm (⅓ inch) deep with approximately 30 cm (12 inches) between plants and rows.

Our garden beds drain well and rarely need extra water. But if you have long periods (5-10 days) with constant light rain or drizzle, we recommend that you cover the raised bed with tarpaulin. Do not forget to remove it when the weather clears.

Summary and conclusion

Most people wait until March or even April before planting seeds outdoors. And it makes sense if you prefer to wait. 

Gardeners will start planting seeds indoors in starter pots in January or February to have plants ready to be transplanted outdoors when there is no longer risk of frost. Again, makes sense and no reason to change.

However, there are vegetables that can be planted outdoors in January for a garden-fresh early spring harvest. 

We do encourage you to try different things but if you are unsure what would work, think sturdy leafy greens like spinach or kale that can withstand cold weather and grow quickly in the spring when they will be most needed! 

And make sure to keep us updated on how things turn out – we’d love to hear about all of your gardening adventures!

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.