Growing Tomatoes

Growing Tomatoes

The beginning of May is an ideal time to start planting tomatoes in and around the Willamette Valley. As the weather warms, we can look forward to growing, anticipating, and harvesting these tasty summer fruits.

Steps to growing tomatoes:

  1. Select a sunny area with nutrient-dense, well-draining soil to plant your tomato start(s). You can use compost to increase drainage and soil health, such as Al’s Premium Organic Compost.
  2. Dig a trench about 3-5 inches deep. The plant’s roots do best in the warmer, top 6 inches of soil.
  3. Mix a big handful of Garden Lime into the bottom of the hole. Lime raises the soil pH so tomatoes can thrive. Tomatoes grow best when the soil has a pH of 6.0–6.5. If you like to be precise, you can test your soil pH to determine the appropriate amount of lime to add for your specific soil. Lime also contributes calcium to the soil, which helps tomato plants to grow stronger, and reduces blossom end rot.
  4. Use a small amount of liquid or dry (granular) fertilizer to support your plant’s growth. If using a dry fertilizer, such as Espoma Organic Tomato-tone, mix a small scoop into the bottom of the trench you dug. If using a liquid fertilizer, apply it to the soil around your plant about every other week—check the instructions on the bottle for specifics. Using too much fertilizer will cause your plant to grow too much foliage, which will block your fruit from the sun.
  5. Plant your tomato plant by laying it on its side in the trench, gradually adding soil so that the stem slants upward, leaving 4 inches of the plant’s stem and leaves above the ground once it is fully planted. Within 10 days, the stem above ground should be growing straight up, and the parts of the plant underground will grow new roots.
  6. Place cages or stakes around your plant to support the vines and fruit as it grows.
  7. Water the soil around your new plant. As it grows, water enough to keep your plant alive, but don’t over-water it. If the top few inches of soil are dry, it’s time to water. Watering in the morning allows the soil to retain the water best. At the beginning of July, stop watering your tomato plants. The extra stress this puts on your plant will cause it to put more energy into growing delicious fruit. Continue to water tomatoes planted in pots, lessening the amount you water them starting in July.
  8. Give the fruit room to grow and have access to sunlight by occasionally pruning some of the larger leaves.
  9. Pick the tomatoes when they can be easily pulled off the vine. Alternatively, and according to your preference, you can harvest the tomatoes early when they are just starting to turn red, by snipping the stem close to the fruit. They will continue to ripen off the vine. Store tomatoes on your counter at room temperature.
  10. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Selecting which tomato varieties to plant:

When considering which varieties of tomatoes to plant, think about how you plan to prepare and eat them. Al’s carries a wide variety of tomato plants. The following list contains just a few suggestions for selecting your desired tomato varieties.



Cherokee Green


San Marzano

Sliced for sandwiches, salads, and tarts


Big Beef

Cherokee Green

Dorothy’s Delight

Early Girl

Japanese Black Trifele

Striped German

Bite-sized for immediate enjoyment

Candyland Red



Sugar Rush


Sweet Million


Hierloom Marriage Marzinera



Heirloom Marriage Genuwine

Hierloom Marriage Marzinera


San Marzano


Every summer, Jack Bigej’s garden has a bountiful tomato harvest. Friends, family, and neighbors gratefully accept armfuls of fruit when they visit. He contributed his advice to this article. His favorite varieties of tomatoes to grow are Early Girl, Big Beef, and Sunsugar. About the last type, he says, “Everyone should plant a Sunsugar. It’s the best tasting tomato there is. The kids love them.” 


Happy planting!

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