Green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are prized for their easy growing nature and quick growth habit. One of the easiest vegetables you can grow, whether you are new to gardening or an experienced grower, everyone can enjoy the great taste of freshly picked green beans. If you want to enjoy their sweet taste, the pods are best picked when they are young and tender.
Despite the name, these reliable annuals also produce pods in shades of purple, yellow and red. Some even produce streaked or striped pods.
A great way to add height to your vegetable garden, the wide range of different cultivars on offer means that you are guaranteed to find at least one plant that suits your space, no matter how large or small it is. If you want to try growing green beans, this is your complete guide.
These are attractive, elegant plants that are pleasingly easy to care for.
Different Varieties of Green Beans
Despite the name, green bean, these plants also come in a number of different shades including purple and yellow. They also come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and growth habits. Some produce edible pods while others produce edible beans or seeds. To make selecting green beans easier the various cultivars are often divided into one of two varieties: pole beans and bush beans.
Pole beans grow like climbing vines, reaching a height of 10 to 15 ft. These varieties require some form of support, either from a trellis or bamboo stakes. Producing edible crops around 12 weeks after the seeds are sown, harvest period lasts for 6 to 8 weeks. These are more disease resistant than bush varieties and usually produce heavier yields.
Recommended Pole varieties:
- Blue Lake Pole takes around 55 to 65 days to mature. Once mature it reliably produces good sized pods.
- Kentucky Wonder produces long, stringless, fleshy pods within 65 days of sowing. An heirloom cultivar, this can also be grown as a bush plant.
- Chinese or Asian long beans, also known as yardlongs produce slender green beans that are at least 1 ft in length. For something a little different try the Red Noodle cultivar, this produces eye catching red pods.
- Yellow Wax beans can be grown as either a pole or bush plant. A popule pole cultivar is the attractive, stringless Monte Gusto.
Bush beans are more compact, rarely exceeding 2 ft in height. This means that they rarely require external support. Seeds are usually sown in late spring for a harvest about 8 weeks later. Bush beans are determinate, this means that they produce one large harvest over a short set period of time, usually around three weeks. This short harvest period means that if you want a prolonged supply you should stagger your sowing, planting seeds every two weeks.
Bush varieties are more low maintenance than pole beans and are considered easy to grow.
Recommended Bush varieties:
- Blue Lake Bush is a quick maturing variety, producing a harvestable yield in 45 to 60 days. Its dense cropping habit makes it a popular choice if you want to can or freeze your green beans.
- Provider is a reliable variety, particularly in warm climates.
- Yellow Wax beans produce pods around 6 inches in length. The pods have a milder flavor than other varieties. Reliable, stringless cultivars include the yellow Golden Wax and Cherokee.
- Purple beans provide an attractive, flavorsome alternative to green pods. When cooked the pods often turn green. Reliable cultivars include Royal Burgundy and Amethyst.
- Italian or Romano cultivars are known for their wide pods that stretch up to 8 inches in length. Happy to grow in warm climates, reliable cultivars include Jumbo and Early Bush Italian.
- French varieties are known for their thin, tender pods which rarely exceed 5 inches in length. Reliable cultivars include Maxibel and Calima. If you are growing in a container garden Mascotte is a good choice.
As well as pole and bush varieties these plants come in a range of shapes and colors, including the eye catching yellow wax cultivar.
In milder climates, pole varieties are often preferred over bush varieties. They are also a better choice if space is at a premium.
While young plants are often sold by garden centers ready for planting, growing from seed is also easy and, often, more affordable.
Where to Plant
Plant in a full sun position, these plants like to receive at least 6 hours of sun every day. The soil should be at least moderately rich with a neutral to slightly acidic pH level. If your soil is too alkaline, there are a number of ways to increase its acidity.
Green beans happily grow in all humidity conditions as long as they are regularly watered. However the plants are at their best if the temperature is between 65 and 85 ℉.
How to Sow Your Seeds
Growing green beans is pleasingly straightforward. Most varieties are best direct sown into their final position. They dislike transplanting because of their shallow root system which is easily damaged.
In colder climates, or if you want to get a jump start on spring, you can sow seeds undercover in individual biodegradable pots filled with good quality potting soil.
Growneer 4 Inch Peat Pots are the ideal size for starting off seeds undercover. Once the seedlings have developed at least one set of true leaves, the pots can be planted into the garden where they will naturally breakdown, allowing the plant to flourish.
If you are sowing directly into the final position, the most important thing to remember is not to plant too early. Germination requires a soil temperature of 70 to 80 ℉. Sowing seeds too early or in cold soil can cause them to rot.
Wait until the danger of frost has passed and the soil has begun to warm up before you sow your seeds. To help warm the soil up you can cover it with plastic sheets or horticultural blankets such as the Agribon Floating Row Cover.
Work the soil over well before planting.
Sow each seed 1 inch deep and cover with soil. How much space you give each seed depends on the variety. If you are growing bush varieties, space the seeds about 1 to 2 inches apart, this can be thinned out further to 3 to 4 inches after germination. Each row should be spaced 2.5 to 3 ft apart. Pole varieties need to be spaced 2 to 3 inches apart.
Pole varieties also need some form of support, such as a trellis or bamboo pyramid. The support should be at least 6 ft tall. Plant no more than 4 seeds per pole, space your supports 3 to 4 ft apart. Empire Home Bamboo Stakes are thick and rigid enough to support the plants vigorous growth habit.
Stakes or supports are best installed when you sow the seeds. This allows you to begin training the young seedlings as soon as they are tall enough.
Water well straight after planting. Continue to water gently and regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist until sprouts emerge. Bush varieties often sprout before pole varieties.
Sprouts are often quick to emerge after sowing. Make sure that the soil is clear and supports are in place before you sow.
These plants also grow in raised beds as well as pots and window boxes. If you are growing bush varieties select a container that is at least 15 inches in diameter. Pole varieties require slightly more growing room, the pot should be at least 18 inches wide. Fill with an even mix of compost and good potting mix and sow as described above.
Caring for Growing Green Beans
Once planted, care is pleasingly straightforward. Remember to weed regularly around growing green beans. Weeds can easily smother small plants or stunt their growth. There are a rage of different weeding tools available to help you keep your garden neat.
If you are growing pole varieties, when they reach the top of the support pinch off the top. This forces the plant to place more energy in pod production.
Watering Your Plants
Growing plants require about 1 inch of water every week. Only water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
Take care when watering not to get the foliage too wet, this can lead to disease. Water in the morning gives wet foliage time to dry before the cool, evening temperatures arrive.
Under-watered plants, and those exposed to the extreme heat of summer can stop flowering. Applying a little extra water can encourage flowering to resume. These plants have a shallow root system. A layer of mulch helps to keep them cool during the heat of summer. It will also help to improve soil moisture retention.
When to Fertilize
Growing legumes helps to fix nitrogen in the soil. Avoid fertilizers rich in nitrogen. A 10-20-10 fertilizer, such as Espoma Garden Fertilizer, is recommended. This helps to sustain healthy growth throughout the growing season. Water soluble or liquid fertilizers are easily incorporated into your watering routine.
Pole varieties have an extended harvest period so they may also benefit from a side dressing of compost. This should be applied about halfway through the growing season.
Avoid applying fertilizers too rich in nitrogen. These promote foliage development at the expense of flower and pod production.
Warm Weather Care
In the heat of summer plants can struggle and may cease producing flowers and pods. Too much heat may also cause blossom drop. This can reduce your harvest yield. Keeping the soil moist during this time encourages plants to carry on growing. Mulching the soil helps to improve moisture retention and keeps plant roots cool. Row covers can also be used to shade young plants.
Companion planting is a great way to naturally protect your plants and promote healthy growth and heavy yields Green beans, like other legumes, increase the nitrogen levels in the soil. There are a number of plants that can benefit from this. These include:
Other plants that benefit from growing in close proximity to green beans are:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Swiss chard
Plants to Avoid
Avoid planting beets near growing pole varieties. The plants are not compatible and can stunt each other’s growth. Bush beans do not suffer from this problem.
Sunflowers and alliums, such as leeks and onions, can also inhibit green bean growth.
Common Problems and How to Solve Them
Fungal diseases such as Alternaria leaf blight can be problematic if you are growing in damp conditions. Blights, white mold, bean rust and mosaic virus can also strike. To help keep plants healthy adopt good growing practices such as properly spacing the plants. Air can struggle to circulate around overcrowded plants, causing them to become unhealthy or weak. Many varieties are also now disease resistant.
Regularly inspect the foliage for signs of aphids, Japanese beetles and spider mites. These can all target the foliage as can bean leaf beetles. An application of homemade insecticidal soap can cure most infestations.
You will also need to protect young plants in particular from slugs and snails. There are a number of reliable organic ways to protect young plants, such as copper tape or encircling with eggshells and sawdust.
Young plants in particular require protecting from slugs, snails and other destructive pests.
Failure to Flower or Low Yields
These are self-pollinating plants, so a lack of flowers is not down to a lack of pollinators. Instead it is usually caused by either a lack of sun or a nutrient imbalance in the soil.
Plants that otherwise look green and healthy may be growing in soil that is too rich in nitrogen. Use a soil test kit to determine the makeup of your soil. Armed with this information you will be able to make the necessary amendments.
If you intend on growing green beans every year try implementing a simple form of crop rotation. This helps to keep your garden healthy and avoids build up of certain nutrients.
Deer and rabbits can also eat your growing foliage. Protect growing plants with a fence or, when they are young, a cloche. The GrowAway Garden Cloche Dome not only protects young plants from pests but also offers protection from unexpected cold snaps.
How to Harvest
When it comes to harvesting remember, the more you pick the more you get. This particularly applied to pole varieties. If you cease to harvest and allow the pods to mature on the plant it can cause the plant to cease flower and pod production completely.
Harvest your green beans when they are young and tender. They should be about 5 inches long and smooth. Allowing green pods to remain on the plant for too long can cause them to become stringy and tough.
As I have already noted, bush varieties are usually ready for harvest after about 55 days, pole varieties take a little longer, about 65 days. The exact time differs between each variety so check the seed packet for precise information.
Harvesting is easy. Gently pull the pod from the vine. You can also cut or snap them away at the vine end. Take care when harvesting not to damage the plant. Harvesting is best done in the morning when the pods sugar level is at its highest. This means that the pods will be sweeter than those picked later in the day.
Storing your Harvest
Harvested pods stay fresh for about 4 days.
You can store green beans in airtight, moisture free containers in the refrigerator. However they will toughen over time. Excess green beans can also be blanched or frozen. This should be done immediately after harvest. You can also pickle and can the pods.
Warning, while they may look inviting most types of green bean are not meant to be eaten raw. Some can even be toxic, particularly if consumed in large amounts. Smaller raw amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea. One of the most common toxic varieties is the red kidney bean. Once they have been properly prepared and cooked green beans are safe to consume.
Easy to care for and full of flavor, growing green beans is one of the easiest things you can do in the garden.
If you want to start growing your own food, green beans are a great place to start. Easy to care for and surprisingly reliable, even a novice gardener with only limited space can enjoy the taste of sweet, freshly picked pods.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.