A Guide to Growing Green Beans

Traditional green beans and their close companion, runner beans, make for a hearty vegetable garden crop that can't be missed.

Runner Beans Should Be Picked Often

Runner Beans Should Be Picked Often

Photo by: DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Whether you grow dwarf varieties or climbers, green beans are the perfect crop for a small garden because just a few plants will keep you well stocked all summer. They’re also a good choice for containers.

How to Grow

Green beans need a warm site, sheltered from the wind, and prefer well-drained soil with organic matter dug in the fall before planting. Sow seeds in spring indoors in modules or deep pots, 2 inches deep. When plants are about 3 inches tall, harden them off, and plant outdoors once all frost has passed. For a later crop, sow seeds outside when the soil is warmer. Support climbing varieties with tall canes 6–8 inches apart, one per plant. Plant dwarf varieties 6 inches apart, and support with twiggy stems. Water frequently when in flower or cropping. Pick pods often while they are big enough to use but are still tender.  

Varieties to of Green Beans to Try 

Climbing varieties have a good crop in a small space; dwarf beans do well in pots. If you seek a climbing variety, then try: ‘Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco 2’, ‘Cobra’ ‘Hunter’, ‘Pantheon’ and ‘Sultana’. On the other hand, dwarf varieties include: ‘Annabel’, ‘Delinel’, 'Ferrari’, ‘Purple Teepee’ and ‘Sonesta’.

Digging a Bean Trench 

To encourage the best crop, dig a trench 2 feet deep and as long as your planned rows of beans the fall before sowing. Loosen the soil at the bottom with a fork, then pile up vegetable and plant waste (the sort normally destined for the compost heap). Backfill with soil, and leave it to settle. By spring the soil will be rich and moisture retentive, ideal for both green and runner beans.

Why Not Try Runner Beans? 

Delicious and plentiful like traditional green beans, runner beans are also worthy of a place in the border as well as the vegetable patch. These climbing beans race up their supports in a flurry of lush growth, creating leafy columns of brightly colored flowers. 

How to Grow Runner Beans

These beans need a sunny, sheltered location with deep, fertile soil, improved with organic matter the fall before planting. They grow best in bean trenches. Sow seeds under cover in mid-spring in deep pots, harden them off, and plant outdoors once the risk of frost has passed. Provide support, planting one plant per cane. Runner beans can also be sown outside in late spring. Sow two beans per cane, thinning to the strongest plant. Water the plants well, especially when in bloom, or the flowers may drop off and won’t mature into beans. If planted into well-prepared soil, the developing beans won’t need additional feeding.

Tie plants into their supports, pinching off the tips when they reach the top to prevent beans from forming out of reach. Harvest the beans while they are young and tender, about 4 inches long, and before the seeds start to swell. Surplus fresh beans can be frozen. If you have found a variety you like, allow some pods to develop fully in late summer. Collect the beans, and dry them on a sunny windowsill. Store them somewhere dry, cool, and frost free, and sow them again the following year.

Varieties to Try

Most runner beans have either white or red flowers and are an attractive feature in the garden before the beans form. Red-flowered beans include: ‘Achievement’, ‘Celebration’, ’Enorma’, ‘Hestia’ (bicolor), ‘Lady Di’, ‘Painted Lady' (bicolor) and ‘Polestar’. White-flowered beans include: ‘Desiree’, ‘Moonlight’, ‘White Apollo’, ‘White Emergo’ and ‘White Lady’.

Providing Support

Runner beans are tall climbers and reliably produce heavy crops, so they need strong support. Put these in place before sowing directly or planting out. The supports should be about 6 feet tall and are most easily made from bamboo canes or bean poles. In smaller gardens, make individual wigwams using 5–6 uprights, or make a line of them. Where space allows, or if you are growing a large crop, make a linear support with two rows of uprights, linked together with a cane along the top for added strength.

Watch Out for These Pests and Diseases

Green and runner beans suffer many of the same pests and diseases. Anthracnose causes red-brown spots on the pods, followed by pink slime in wet weather. There are no chemical controls, so infected plants must be removed. You might also consider growing resistant varieties.

Halo blight is another disease that causes spots, this time leaving bright surrounding rings on leaves, which die and, therefore, reduce yield. Remove and destroy infected leaves. 

Birds can also be troublesome, attacking flowers and picking them off, which means the beans won’t then crop. Plant white-flowered varieties, and net plants in flower. Be sure to also watch for blackfly, which can form large colonies quickly, sucking sap and weakening plants. Pinch off the plants’ soft growing tips, and spray heavy infestations with a suitable insecticide.

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