How to grow vegetables in Oregon's colder regions

Short-Season Vegetable Gardening, PNW 497, is available online.
Short-Season Vegetable Gardening, PNW 497, is available online.
Last Updated: 
March 11, 2011

BAKER CITY, Ore. – Frost is a threat through much of the growing season in cold pockets of western Oregon and throughout much of the east side. Although summer vegetables can be a challenge to grow in these short-season areas, many fearless gardeners enjoy bountiful harvests just the same.

Janice Cowan, horticulturist with the Baker County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service, says there are steps gardeners can take to increase their chance for success:

  • First, choose the warmest and most sheltered spot for your garden site.
  • Look for a place that has full sun and protection from the wind. A south-facing side of your house, garage or barn is ideal. South-facing slopes also are good. Avoid low areas, which trap cold air.
  • Choose an area with sandy loam soil, which warms faster than heavy clay soil. If your soil is heavy, add organic material such as compost or manure.
  • Place clear plastic over the soil to warm it. Black plastic is not as effective.
  • Plant in raised beds, which warm the soil quickly and allow earlier planting in the spring. Orient plant rows north to south to maximize the sun's heat. Make beds three to four feet wide so you can work from either side.
  • Choose vegetable varieties that are adapted for cool and short seasons. Start seeds indoors and soak first to speed germination. Or you can buy already-started plants.
  • A small increase in temperature has a large effect on plant growth. Use floating row covers, cloches (clear plastic over hoops) or other protection to cover plants while days and nights remain cool. Individual covers, such as bottomless milk jugs, "walls-o-water" or old tires can provide heat and wind protection.
  • Cool season vegetables can germinate and grow at a soil temperature of 40 degrees. These include most kinds of broccoli, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, collard, kohlrabi, leeks, parsley, peas, radishes, rutabagas, chard, celery, turnips, lettuce, onion, parsnip and spinach.
  • When the soil warms to 50 degrees, you can plant early-maturing varieties of corn, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, eggplant, melons, okra and peppers.

For more detailed information, the OSU Extension Service offers an eight-page illustrated guide "Short Season Vegetable Gardening" (PDF - PNW 497) online. Or purchase a printed copy for $2 plus shipping and handling by calling 800-561-6719.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Janice Cowan