Edible Gardening in the Willamette Valley

Real Tomatoes, So Much Better!

by Brenda Powell

Growing your own fruits and vegetables has grown in popularity the last few years, but interest exploded in 2020.  In the Willamette Valley, we are fortunate to be able to grow and plant almost year-round.  There are a few things to know about our area.  Western Oregon receives most of its rainfall from October-March.  We tend to receive very little moisture July-September.  Also, we can get very warm in those 3 months.  This makes it more difficult to establish plants in our hot, dry summers.  Fall planting once the rains start reduces the amount of water needed and makes it easier for the plant to get established.  However, not all plants are available to purchase in the fall.  Our average last frost date is April 20th.  Average means that on April 20th there is still a 50% chance of frost.  On May 11th, there is a 10% chance.  Our average first frost date is October 27th, with October 4th having a 10% chance of frost.  In general, our completely frost-free days are May 23-Sept 30th.  This gives a good guideline for when it is safe to put out tender plants (ones that would be killed by a frost) without needing to protect them.  It is possible to plant out some things earlier if they can be covered in the event of a frost.  Soil temperature plays an important part in when to plant warm season vegetables.  So even if we are pretty sure we will not have another frost, the soil temperature may be too cool for something like beans or cucumbers to really start growing.

Although things are changing slowly, the nursery industry is still geared to a seasonal approach to plant availability.  Here is a brief guide of when to plant and when to find the best selection.

Late January-February:  Bareroot fruit trees, fruiting vines and berries.  A good portion of apples, cherries, pears, plums, blackberries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, and others are grown by nurseries in fields.  They are dug in the winter and shipped without soil, hence the term bareroot.  They need to be immediately covered with sawdust or soil to keep the roots moist until they are planted into the ground.  Bareroot plants are usually less expensive but are only available for a short time.  Not everything is available bareroot and not all garden centers choose to carry bareroot items. 

February-May: Container grown fruits including all of the above listed fruits plus blueberries, elderberries, figs, kiwi and more.

February-April: Cool season vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, greens and mustard, kale, peas, spinach, Swiss chard and more can be planted outside beginning in mid-February through April.  Many vegetables can be planted from seed directly into the ground or started indoors to transplant at the appropriate time.   Also, bareroot vegetable starts like asparagus, horseradish, rhubarb.

Lettuce Fresh From the Garden

March-May: Lettuce, celery, potatoes, leeks, onion sets, root vegetables, cilantro and hardy herbs. Although you can buy starts for almost any vegetable, the root vegetables (beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, turnips) are best started outside from seeds.  Many warm season vegetables may be started from seed 4-6 weeks before they are ready to be planted outside.

April: You may be able to plant tomatoes provided you are able to protect them if necessary and the soil temperature is warm enough. Corn in the second part of the month.


May-June: Basil, beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash, tomatoes, peppers. Make sure the soil temperature is warm enough before planting the cucumbers and melons.  You can plant beans through July.

July-mid-September: Fall and winter vegetables such as arugula, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, mustard and more.  Some varieties are harvested in late summer and fall and some are harvested in late winter.  Root vegetables can be planted again during this time.  Parsnips in June/July, beets June-Aug, carrots and turnips July-Aug, radishes Aug-Sept.

Garlic from the Garden

Mid-September-October:  Garlic, shallots, and bunching and overwintering onions. Citrus:  Lemons, limes, and oranges are not hardy outside here.  They can grow outside from May-September but must be brought into a greenhouse or very bright light area in your house.  Citrus plants are available through much of the year but give thought to whether you have enough bright indoor light before purchasing in the late fall/winter. This is a simplified list but hopefully helpful to those that are new to the area or new to gardening.  Certainly, there will be other, experienced gardeners that may disagree with something.  Every year and every garden are just a little bit different.  There are good resources to give more detail and cover varieties of vegetables not mentioned here: OSU Extension monthly garden calendars, OSU Extension “Growing Your Own” online publication, and Territorial Seed Company fall growing guide.  Hopefully, the increased interest in edible gardening will continue well into the future.  After all, you what can be fresher than produce harvested from your own back yard.

Brenda Powell is a regular contributor to Willamette Living, and is a co-owner of Garland Nursery in Corvallis.
To learn more about Garland, or to contact Brenda, visit: https://www.garlandnursery.com/

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