How to Grow Beans: Planting, Growing, Harvesting
Beans are a fantastic crop with so many benefits that they rightfully deserve a spot in all vegetable gardens. Their flavorful pods are rich in protein, vitamin B12 and other nutrients. Their nitrogen-fixing roots improve the soil quality and will even help other vegetables thrive. And growing them is a lot easier than you think.
In this guide, we’ll teach you how to grow beans at home, how to plant and harvest them, and we’ll also discuss growing beans indoors in containers.
Let’s start with the basics.
Understanding the Many Bean Varieties
The word “bean” refers to several vegetables in the Fabaceae family. To keep things simple, in this guide we’ll discuss the most popular variety, Phaseolus vulgaris, also known as green bean, snap bean, French bean, or just common bean.
Despite the name, the common bean is a very versatile crop that comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s also available in many cultivars, such as kidney beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, and heirloom varieties such as Blue Lake, borlotti or Romano beans, and Scarlet Runner.
Here are the most common bean types and their differences.
Bush Beans vs Pole Beans
- Pole beans are vining plants that can grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) in height. They typically take around 8 weeks to grow, have a long harvesting season, and will need some form of support to climb onto, such as a trellis or stake.
- Bush beans have a compact shape and usually grow to a height of 2 feet (60 cm). Bush beans grow faster than pole beans, require less maintenance, and don’t need any supports. On the other hand, they tend to produce their crop all at once.
Green Beans vs Wax Beans
Depending on the color, you can grow either green beans, or wax or yellow beans. Green beans produce green pods, whereas wax beans are typically yellow, but can also be purple beans.
French Beans vs Snap Beans or String Beans
The common bean pod has a fibrous string. But thanks to selective breeding, some bean varieties lack this string almost entirely. Stringless beans are often called French beans, whereas “string beans” are called snap beans.
Other Bean Varieties You Can Try
This guide may focus on planting and harvesting green beans, but you’ll be glad to know that most bean species have similar growing requirements. So, you can use our care tips to grow any other species you can think of, including:
- Garbanzo beans or chickpeas
- Butter or Lima beans
- Runner beans
- Mung beans
- Broad or Fava beans
- Lablab or hyacinth bean
- Yardlong or asparagus beans
- … and many more
When Should You Start Planting Beans?
Beans are a warm weather crop. They are not frost tolerant, and need a soil temperature of at least 60°F (15.5°C) to germinate. For best results, plant green beans after the danger of frost has passed. Depending on your growing zone, this could be early to mid-spring. For a fall crop, try growing bush beans, which mature faster and can be harvested before the first frost.
Ideally, you’ll want to sow bean seeds directly into the garden soil. In cooler climates, planting them indoors can give you a head start in the growing season. To prevent damaging the roots when transplanting, sow the seeds in compostable seedling pots, then plant the entire pot directly in the soil when the weather is warm enough.
Where Should You Plant Beans?
Beans need full sun to grow, especially in the first month after the seeds have sprouted. Plant beans in a part of your garden that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. If you want to avoid the work of preparing your soil, you can try straw bales instead. Beans and other legumes are some of the best plants for straw bale gardening!
How to Plant Green Beans
Let’s take a closer look at growing green beans from seeds, how to water and maintain them, and most importantly, when and how to harvest them.
Green beans grow best in a well-draining, moisture-retentive soil mix. They’re a good crop for amended clay soils, which retain moisture better than sandy soils. One thing they’re sensitive to is acidic soils, so if your garden soil has a pH of below 6.5, you can use some lime to improve it.
The best thing about growing beans is the fact that their roots help fix nitrogen in the soil as the plant grows. The roots have small nodules which contain rhizobia, a type of bacteria that takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it into the soil. This means that they need less fertilizer than other crops.
However, young bean plants will need a nutrient boost in the first month, until their roots develop the rhizobium nodules. To ensure a healthy crop, dig the soil to a depth of about 1 foot (30 cm), and incorporate plenty of compost and manure before turning the soil with a shovel.
Sowing and Spacing
Wait until the last frost has passed before planting green beans. Before sowing, you can also soak the seeds in water, overnight or for about 12 hours. Doing so isn’t mandatory, but it will help the bean seed germinate faster.
Plant seeds 1 inch deep (2.5 cm) into the soil. Plant pole beans at least 6 inches apart (15 cm), in rows spaced out by about 30 inches (76 cm). Plant bush beans 4 inches apart (10 cm), in rows spaced out by 20 inches (50 cm). Give the soil a thorough watering immediately after planting.
When planting pole beans, you will need to provide them with something to climb on. And the sooner you put supports in place, the better, as these plants don’t like having their roots disturbed. The easiest method is to use a trellis for beans. Another solution is to use bamboo canes or stakes arranged in a wigwam shape. You can also build a row of crossed poles tied at the top, with a long pole placed on top and secured in place with string.
A bush bean plant rarely grows taller than two feet (60 cm), so it won’t need a trellis or stake.
Water your green bean plants regularly and make sure to keep the soil evenly moist. Beans are not drought-tolerant. To keep on top of your watering schedule, installing a drip irrigation system will be of great help.
It’s best to water your beans at the soil line. Beans are very sensitive to too much moisture, which can result in diseases like powdery mildew, so avoid hosing them if the weather is very humid. Having said that, beans are also sensitive to too much heat, which can cause them to drop their flower buds. In very dry climates, hosing the flowering plants will actually help the buds to set. Pay close attention to the conditions in which your beans grow, and use whichever method works best in your climate.
Given the fact that beans fix nitrogen in the soil, they will attract many weeds, which you’ll have to pick early and regularly. Green bean plants have a shallow root system, and don’t like having their roots disturbed. To avoid damaging the plants, it’s best to do your weeding by hand. Remove weeds when they’re still small, and try to pull out their roots as well.
“Pinching” Your Beans
If you’re growing pole beans, pinching them is a must. Once the plant is 1 foot tall, pinch the top shoot, and repeat the process with all the new vines once they have at least 3 sets of leaves. This will encourage the plants to produce more vines, which means more flowers, and more beans. Bean shoots are safe to eat fresh, and are delicious fried in a bit of butter.
Do Beans Need Fertilizer?
Generally speaking, no. Bean roots fix nitrogen in the soil, and if you’ve used compost and manure as soil amendments before sowing, your bean plants shouldn’t need any additional fertilizers. This is true particularly for bush beans, which grow very fast and produce all their pods at around the same time.
On the other hand, pole beans have a longer growing season and can produce up to 3 harvests. In their case, a fertilizer boost after the first harvest is ideal. Use a fertilizer that’s low on nitrogen but high in phosphorus, to encourage blooming. An N-P-K nutrient ratio of 10-20-10 will work nicely.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Green Beans?
On average, beans are ready to harvest 50 days after sowing. Bush beans can be harvested as early as 40 days, but for pole beans, you may need to wait up to 65 days. To harvest beans, use a pair of gardening scissors and cut the pod stems. Try not to pull the pods or tear them by hand, as this can break the main stems.
There are three types of beans you can harvest from your plant: snap beans (or pods), shell beans (or horticultural beans), and dried beans.
For fresh green beans or snap beans, harvest the bean pods when they’re tender but firm to the touch, and before the seeds develop. To harvest shelling beans, wait until you can see the seed lumps inside the shell. If you want dry beans, leave the pods on the plant until the beans inside are fully mature and the shells are dry. You can then harvest them at the end of the growing season, by cutting down the entire plant, removing the beans from the shells, and storing them in an airtight container.
Green snap beans are safe to eat raw. However, shelling beans and dried beans contain lectins, which makes them toxic when eaten raw. You can eat shell beans when they’re fresh, but make sure you cook them beforehand. Dry beans should always be cooked, and preferably soaked in water for 12 hours in advance.
Green Bean Pests and Diseases
Beans are susceptible to a wide host of pests, mainly aphids, slugs and snails, stinkbugs, caterpillars, and the Mexican bean beetle. Check your plants daily, and pick slugs, larvae, and bugs by hand, then drown them in a bucket of soapy water. You can also use an insecticidal soap solution to spray your plants, especially if they’re infested with aphids or whiteflies.
The most common bean plant diseases are the mosaic virus, white mold, bean rust, and anthracnose. Unfortunately, most viral and fungal diseases don’t have a cure, so the best solution is prevention. Avoid overhead watering, cut infected plants and burn them, and practice crop rotation. By rotating beans every year, you will significantly reduce the accumulation of soilborne diseases.
Companion Planting With Beans
Companion planting will benefit your beans as well as other vegetables in your garden. On one hand, green beans will provide extra nitrogen for the vegetables growing around them, while companion plants will protect the beans from pests.
You can try planting beans with tomatoes, corn, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, carrots, even strawberries. Bean and potato is a fantastic combo: Bean leaves have a compound that helps repel the Colorado beetle, while the potato repels Mexican bean beetles. Plants such as marigolds, nasturtiums, catnip, and rosemary will also keep aphids and other pests off your beans.
How To Grow Beans in Pots
Growing beans in containers is a great alternative if you don’t have a lot of space in your garden, or if you want to harvest them throughout the year. The most important part is finding the right varieties to plant. Pole beans grow too tall for pots or indoor gardens, so your best choice is growing bush beans in containers. This way, you won’t have to complicate yourself with stakes and supports either.
To start planting beans in pots, find a spot that receives full sun, whether it’s your garden, a patio, or an open balcony. Pick a pot that’s about 1 foot (30 cm) wide and deep, or use a 5-gallon container. Fill the container with a well-draining soil mix, sow seeds 1 inch deep, and water them well. To give your plants plenty of space to grow, sow up to 9 beans per pot.
Growing green beans indoors from seed to harvest is possible, but there’s one crucial detail to keep in mind. Beans need a minimum of 6 hours of full sun per day, which is a lot more than average homes have to offer. Unless you have a room with southern exposure or a sunny balcony, you will need to invest in high-output LED grow lights to keep these plants happy.
Bean plants are a wonderful choice for beginner and savvy gardeners alike. You’ll love them, your garden will love them, and if they’re not on your to-grow list, you’re missing out. So start planting your own this year!
Find more great vegetables to grow in your garden on our 28 Easy Vegetables page.