What to do in January

Salad harvested from my containers in January.

As the days start to lengthen, January is a month of planning and anticipation for the new season.

It’s too early to sow seeds outside, but you can continue experimenting with sprouts and micro greens on your indoor window sills – see December. You might be surprised by how much you can grow inside in a tiny space!

If you’re growing winter crops outside you should also get a few small (but fabulously tasty) harvests like the photo above.

Jobs for this month

  1. Start preparing for the new season.
  2. Get your seeds
  3. Plant apples, pears, plums, blackcurrants
  4. Harvest winter crops sparingly

1. Prepare for the new season

Start collecting together pots and other bits and pieces you’ll need to grow. If you enjoy upcycling, keep an eye out on local skips – it’s amazing what you can find.

Now is the perfect time to build – or buy – constructions for your vertical allotment: shelves, ladders etc. Just a quick word of caution if you are new to all this. Be wary of investing in big construction projects until you know your space well. When I first started growing, I spent hours building a huge wooden container on my balcony – only to discover that I’d built it in the shadiest spot on the whole balcony!

There’s no rush to get everything prepared this month. Outdoor sowing and planting will not start in earnest until March or April. Enjoy the chance to potter and plan – and try to visualise your space full of all the plants you love!

2. Get your seeds

After sorting through your seeds from last year, you may decide to buy (or swap) some more. Most of us do!

Try to buy seeds from a small independent supplier – ideally one who produces at least some of their own seeds (although this is hard to find these days) – or a heritage seed library.

If you’re looking for ideas on what to grow, you might want to check out ten of the best crops for containers

3. Plant apples, pears, plums, etc

Apple, raspberry, pears, plums and blackcurrants can be bought as bare rooted trees (ie not in pots) until the end of Winter (end of Feb in the UK). This is usually the best value way to buy them.

You’ll need big pots and patience to grow fruit trees successfully in containers (most take several years to fruit productively). But once established they can be productive – and attractive – for many years.

Most fruits come in many different varieties – and, to make it more complicated, different rootstocks.  It’s important you get a variety and rootstock that will grow well in container and in the amount of sun it will get (have you observed your space to find out?). In my experience it’s worth seeking out a specialist fruit nursery. You may pay a little more but you’ll usually get a better quality plant, and reduce the risk of getting something unsuitable.

Springtime blossom is one of the benefits of growing apples in containers. Make sure you get a variety and root stock that is suitable for container growing.

Springtime blossom is one of the benefits of growing apples in containers. Make sure you get a variety and root stock that is suitable for container growing.

4. Harvest sparingly

As I mentioned in December, harvest your winter crops sparingly so that the plant can put on new growth when warmer weather comes.


Your turn

What are you planning for your container garden this year? I’d love to hear in the comments below. 

12 comments… add one

  • Hy.mark. it is a pleasure to learn the secrets of vegetation and growing it. Keep it up

  • hi mark! i really enjoy your posts. I have a small terrace here in Madrid…. that I really am grateful for having, although in winter doesnt get lots of sun. I am starting a business of growing selected varieties of herbs. And my home garden is the most experimental one. I am looking forward to grow 15 different culinary herbs. (mints, sages, rosemary, mustards, thymes, basils, chiles) any suggestions??? would love to hear from you!

    • Hi Caroline, sounds like a lovely idea for a business. There are so many wonderful herbs! Chervil is one I’m very fond of for the cooler months of the year. Also lovage – a bit of a thug, needs a big container but worth trying, and great for adding flavour to stocks etc. I also like Vietnamese coriander – very easy to grow and very productive, one pot is all you need (muc easier than normal coriander). With mint, try to find a true Moroccan mint if you can, fantastic flavour. Lemon grass is nice in a pot and very hard to get really fresh in the shops. Coriander is another good one for winter (sow in August / September). Bay of course is essential. Blackcurrant sage is beautiful and smells wonderful although I haven’t quite worked out how to use it in cooking. Lemon verbena is a gorgeous herb, makes superb and refreshing tea, and a delicious water ice!

  • Hi Mark

    I have some silverbeet (swiss chard) Which grew over the summer and is still producing (slowly!) would you keep it going over next summer? Or should i plant new seedlings?

    Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Kim, chard is normally a biennual – which means it grows for two years. As long as don’t pick it too hard over winter (picking occasional leaves is fine though) it will come back strong in the spring – and you often get your best harvests in late March, April and May. After that it will usually bolt and go to seed. I have heard of people who have kept picking the flowers off (preventing it from going to seed) who have reputedly kept plants going for several years, but I’ve not yet had the chance to try this myself.

  • I’ve found that tomatoes do wonderful in containers. A few years back I had 4 huge tomato plants in those hardy 5 gallon buckets, they were in the green house, so they did very well. A few times in the summer it was really hot and they wilted pretty bad, but a load of evening watering gave them a come back and they continued on just fine (whew).

  • Hi Mark,

    I have just discovered your website and blog and wanted to let you know that I will be a regular reader!

    I have decided to turn our balcony into a mini allotment this year. I had a half hearted attempt last year which didn’t amount to much so really want to get it right this time.

    I just wanted to say that your website is the best I have seen for supplying the information I need and I am really grateful that you have made such an effort. I will keep you posted on the progress of our balcony wildlife!

    • Hi Mary
      Thanks for your comment – and so glad to hear you fount the site useful.
      I love the sound of your plan to convert your balcony into a mini allotment – and really look forward to hearing about progress. Exciting!

  • Just discovered your blog and have been reading it with interest. 2 years ago we moved to a house which had a huge garden, so made part of it into a veg garden which did well, cabbages, sprouts, kales, fennel, beetroot, carrots, turnips, french beans, runners and broad beans, peas courgettes, sweetcorn, tomatoes, leeks, onions, garlic plus numerous herbs, although very time consuming, I did enjoy it. However last year we moved again, smaller garden so no room for veggie garden. This year now that the garden is set out the way we want I can look forward to growing veggies in containers. I look forward to following your blog in the hope I pick up tips for growing in pots. Keep up the great work.

    • Hi Jules, very best of luck with your new container veggie garden. Exciting project! Do drop me a line if you have any questions. Mark

  • Here in France we’re still seeing some flowers and a bumper crop of parsley on our balcony. Strange but far better than the extreme cold our friends across the pond are experiencing. Let’s hope the mild winter lasts!

    • Yes… hard frosts predicted here over the next few days, maybe in France, too? How lovely to be harvesting parsley in quantity in January! Mark


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