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15 Seeds To Start Indoors In January In Zone 3

by on January 10, 2024
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Though the weather outside in January is usually absolutely terrible (hello -40°C) it doesn’t mean you can’t start gardening indoors. It sounds early, but January is actually a great time to start some of those plants that require an extra long growing period! Especially for us gardeners in a Zone 3 or colder, seed starting indoors allows you to grow foods that aren’t typically found in cold climates .

So, what seedlings should you start in January?  This post will cover 15 seeds you can start in January in zone 3. I’ve included both flowers, herbs and veggies to grow in January.

Believe it or not — there’s actually a whole lot of seeds you can start indoors in the winter. Let’s get growing!

P.S. If you’re reading this and eager to get planting, first make sure you are well equipped with the proper seed starting gear. I’ve included my must-have seed starting tools at the end of this article!


This post may contain affiliate links to products for your convenience. From Soil to Soul gains a small commission from purchases made through those links, at no additional cost to you.

1. Onions

If starting onions from seed, they are extremely slow growers, which is why starting onions in January is recommended for Zone 3. Most varieties of onions — including sweet onions, storage onions, yellow, red and white onions — need to be started early in order to harvest by mid Summer.

Start onion seeds as you would any other veggie under grow lights.

The biggest difference is that you will need to prune them back continuously until they are ready to be transplanted outside. You can easily do this by cutting off the long shoots every few weeks, leaving 2inches of stem above the soil. Trimming your onions helps the roots get thick and strong.

For a quicker way to grow onions, try growing them from sets. You simply plant a started young onion into the soil and let it grow from the transplant. This is my preferred way to grow onions. It’s fast and easy!

Give my full onion growing guide a read for more info on planting, growing, harvesting and curing.

2. Leeks

Similar to onions, leeks take a very long time to grow! Don’t be alarmed if you do not see much growth indoors under grow lights. Leeks can take up to two weeks to germinate and put on growth at a snail’s rate. Seriously, so slow. But, they are such a delicious allium to add to your garden, so definitely worth it.

My fav variety of leek to grow in zone 3 is Chinook Organic. I find it grows much faster than other varieties!

Follow the same growing tips as provided for onions, including trimming back your leek tops every few weeks.

When it comes time to transplant outside, you will notice the growing process will speed up significantly. Your leeks will start to thicken and sturdy leaves will form. Leeks will be ready to harvest in the late Summer – early Fall.

3. Oregano

Oregano qualifies as a slow growing perennial herb. Though once it gets established in your garden, it will spread out and develop into a beautiful oregano patch that you can enjoy year after year!

To overwinter your oregano in the garden, just be sure to protect it with a layer of mulch in the Fall. Some varieties may not be suitable to Zone 3, so also take note of the variety before seeding.

You will notice that oregano seeds are extremely fine and tiny. So small that they are almost dust-like! It’s easiest to sprinkle several seeds into one cell and then thin them later on. For best germination rates, I’ve found that providing bottom heat from a seedling heat mat works best. It speeds up germination and helps with root development.

4. Ginger

Oh ginger — my most fav tropical plant to grow in Zone 3! It’s pretty amazing to harvest your own homegrown ginger roots. And even better to add them to curries, smoothies and desserts. I love ginger.

You can find my full grow guide for growing ginger here!

Ginger rhizomes need to be started indoors in January because ginger needs upwards of 9-10 months of growing time before it is ready to harvest. This means, if you start ginger in January, it won’t be until the Fall that you can harvest the roots. Luckily, ginger leaves are also edible, so you can snack on them while waiting.

For best results, soak your ginger rhizomes in warm water for 2-3 days before planting. This will speed up the days to germination. In past years, I’ve skipped the soaking step and gone straight to planting and still had success. But it did take about two weeks before I saw any shoots sprouting up.

I plant my ginger just below soil surface level. Once they sprout, I transfer to a 6inch container where they grow until they’re ready to be transplanted outside.

5. Turmeric

Turmeric is a cousin to ginger and requires the exact same growing process. You’ll also find the step-by-step approach I take for growing my own turmeric here in my ginger grow guide.

Also start turmeric rhizomes indoors in January by first soaking the roots prior to planting. I’ve had the best success with sourcing organic ginger and turmeric from my local health food store. I select the rhizomes that are largest and have no damaged skin.

When it comes to moving turmeric outdoors, try growing it in a 1 gallon fabric grow bag. The breathable material is great for root development!

6. Lavender

Lavender is another slow growing herb that can be a perennial in Zone 3 if you select the right variety. Avoid seeding a French variety as they usually aren’t hardy to Zone 3 or 4.

I’ve found that the best variety of lavender for Zone 3 is Munstead. It’s considered an English lavender and can withstand the long, cold winters we have here in Manitoba.

When starting lavender from seed, sprinkle a few seeds in each cell on top of the soil surface. Lavender seeds are very fine and can be difficult to plant individually. Gently press the seeds into the top of the soil and mist with a spray bottle.

Now here’s the trick! Place the seeded lavender in your freezer for 7-10 days. Sounds bizarre, but the cold actually breaks the seed dormancy. Think of it as “waking up” your lavender. After a week or so in the freezer, remove and place under grow lights.

7. Strawberries

You should start strawberry seeds in January in order to have your plants produce fruit in their first year. Strawberries need an extra long growing season in order to produce a yield in year one.

Similar to lavender, strawberry seeds also benefit from being kept cold. This process is called vernalization — it’s the period where a plant is in prolonged cold before flowering.

Strawberry seeds can be quite tricky to germinate. They are extremely tiny and delicate, making them somewhat difficult to work with. I’ve never germinated strawberries myself and have always bought started plants from a greenhouse instead. But if you’re brave enough to give it a shot, here’s what horticulturalists suggest.

Place the entire unopened strawberry seed packet in the freezer for 3-4 weeks. After, remove and let sit until seeds have reached room temperature. Then, open the “thawed” strawberry seeds and sow on the surface of damp soil. Move under grow lights and keep soil damp, misting daily.

Strawberry seeds can take several weeks to germinate, so be patient!

8. Thyme

Thyme is a woody herb that should be started as early as January in Zone 3. It’s a slow growing seedling that takes months to establish.

Thyme seeds are so small they are almost dust-like. So sprinkle heavily on top of seed starting soil mix and then gently mist with water. Be cautious not to overwater as thyme seedlings are prone to dampening off. For best germination rates, place your seed tray on a seedling heat mat. Keep under grow lights until ready to be transplanted into the garden in Spring after your last frost.

Pro Tip: After your thyme plant is established and strong, take cuttings from it to propagate.

Thyme cuttings root easily in a little bit of potting soil! It will allow you to grow more of the herb without needing to go through the long germination process again.

9. Columbine

Columbine is a new to me flower, but I have heard from other Zone 3 gardeners that it is actually a hardy perennial flower in our cold climate.

I have never grown columbine seeds as they have a complicated germination process. However, the plants are so stunning that I’m intrigued to give it a shot!

Horticulturalists suggest starting columbine seeds indoors in January as they likely won’t produce flowers in their first year of growth if started any later. The flowers will eventually appear later on in year two or three, but if you want to enjoy blooms right away — get a head start!

10. Asparagus

Starting asparagus from seed is the long method of growing asparagus. In fact, it takes many years until you will be harvesting asparagus. Yes, years!

Horticulturalists say it typically takes 3-4 years after transplanting asparagus before you will get a harvest.

The more popular and speedier method is to plant asparagus crowns, which is a central group of stems surrounded by roots.

Asparagus is loved by many Zone 3 gardeners (myself included!) because of how cold tolerant it is. Plus, it’s usually one of the first edibles to pop up in the Spring.

To start asparagus seeds indoors, first soak in water for a few hours to soften the seeds. Plant 1 seed per cell and keep under grow lights.

11. Foxgloves

Foxgloves are one of those striking flowers that make you look twice in the garden. They are absolutely stunning and add lots of height to beds.

Foxgloves can be a hardy Zone 3 perennial if mulched and protected over winter. Be sure to cover your foxgloves with a heavy layer of straw or leaf mulch in the Fall.

I suggest starting your foxglove seeds indoors in January in order to have them flower in their first year. You can certainly start them later on, as late as March, but you likely won’t see flowers in year one.

Foxgloves are actually a biennial plant, meaning they require two years to complete their life cycle. In year one, the plant typically only produces foliage and leaves. Whereas in the second season the plant flowers.

However with foxgloves, if started in January you can trick the plant into flowering in its first year!

12. Artichokes

I LOVE growing artichokes. They’re one of those unusual edibles you wouldn’t expect to see in a Zone 3 garden.

Though artichokes are not hardy enough to be a perennial in Zone 3, they actually do really well as an annual and can produce several fruits per plant if started indoors in January.

In past years, I’ve grown both edible and ornamental artichokes. Cardoon artichokes are a fantastic flowering variety that produce spikey flowers. They look great mixed into a flower bed. Imperial Star artichokes are my preferred edible variety that produce uniform artichokes late in the growing season.

Starts the seeds indoors as you would most other edibles, using a seed starting soil mix and place the seeds under grow lights. Transplant into the garden in the Spring after your last frost date.

13. Rosemary

Rosemary is another woody herb that benefits from being started indoors in January if you are in Zone 3, 4 or colder. It is very slow to get started and can take weeks to germinate.

Follow the same seeding instructions as you would with the other woody herbs mentioned in this list, like oregano and thyme.

Rosemary is unfortunately not hardy as a perennial in Zone 3. It won’t survive our cold winters. But I’ve had a lot of luck bringing my rosemary indoors over winter. I simply place it near a south-facing window where it is a bit cooler. I water it irregularly throughout winter, waiting until the soil is really dry before heavily watering. I start fertilizing my rosemary again come Spring.

14. Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a tropical plant you might be surprised to learn you can grow in Zone 3 with the right growing conditions.

Because it is native to regions in Asia, lemongrass requires lots of heat and humidity to thrive as an annual herb. But if you start lemongrass seeds indoors in January, you will definitely harvest a good yield come late Summer-early Fall!

Sow lemongrass seeds on the surface of damp seed starting soil mix. Keep moist and humid during germination. Bottom heat from a seedling heat mat is especially beneficial with lemongrass.

I’ve had success with germinating lemongrass under grow lights. However, many horticulturalists suggest actually providing lemongrass seeds a dark period during germination. Some say keeping them in a dark room for up to 21 days will result in the best germination rates.

15. Sage

Sage is one of those herbs you can’t help but bend down and smell every time you pass it in the garden.

I unfortunately haven’t had any luck keeping sage as a perennial in my Zone 3 garden. It has never made it through our winters even when protected with a thick layer of mulch. But I still grow sage as an annual every year. It’s worth it!

Start sage seeds indoors in January by sowing just under the soil surface. Keep soil damp but not too wet and keep under grow lights. I have found that sage is also quite slow to germinate, sometimes taking up to two weeks before I see any growth. Keep at it and ensure your soil remains moist during this time.

Sage plants are ready to be transplanted into the garden after the risk of frost is gone. For me, this is usually the first week of June.

And there you have it!

15 seeds to start indoors in January in Zone 3. See, there’s lots of seeds you can start indoors in the Winter.
Now, if you’re brand new to seed starting and wondering where to start — keep reading!

My Must-Have Seed Starting Tools To Invest In:

  • Full Spectrum LED Grow Lights — A MUST if you want to grow strong seedlings. There simply isn’t enough natural daylight in January for seeds to germinate otherwise. LED grow lights maximize the quality of light output to nourish your plants while creating little to no heat. Invest in 1-2 lights to get started.
  • Organic Seed Starting Soil Mix — You need a light growing medium for seeds to germinate. You can purchase a pre-made mix or make your own. I prefer the PRO-MIX Organic Blend.
  • Seedling Plug Trays — This is what you’ll plant each seed into. I like purchasing a tray with 48 to 72 individual cells in it so that I can maximize how many seeds I’m starting. I’ve found that Bootstrap Farmer offers the best quality seed trays made from recycled plastics. They’ve lasted me almost 5 years without cracking!
  • Seedling Heat Mat — For years I didn’t see the value in buying a heat mat and germinated my seeds just fine without one. But when I did finally buy one, I was shocked at the difference it made! My seedlings have stronger roots and germinate exceptionally faster. The heat mat also warms up the air temperature, which is ideal if you’re starting seeds near a drafty window or in a cooler area of your home.
  • Small Fan — Air circulation is essential for seed starting indoors. It reduces the chance of mold and strengthens your seedlings’ stems. It also gives your seedlings a better chance at succeeding outside when it comes time to transplant.
  • Sea Magic Fertilizer — My FAV plant-based liquid fertilizer for seedlings. I apply Sea Magic to my seedlings once every few weeks. It helps keep them happy while indoors for long periods of time and reduces the chance of disease. You can purchase it right here on From Soil to Soul!

The hardest part of seed starting is getting started. My best advice — just go for it! A pack of seeds will cost you $2-$5, so you really don’t have much to lose.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram @fromsoiltosoul so I can see your seed starting set-up!

Happy seed starting!

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Latest Comments

  1. January 13, 2022

    Awesome post! I never realized you could grow turmeric here! That’s awesome! I like to try one or two new/unusual plants each year, alongside my regular plants. Maybe i’ll give turmeric a try! thanks for sharing! i’ll be following along 🙂 Happy gardening!

    — Jess
  2. January 20, 2022

    Thanks for the comment! Definitely give turmeric a try, it’s a fun tropical plant to have in the garden. You just need patience to wait out the 9 months it takes before being ready to harvest!

    — Maggie