Pole beans are a staple garden vegetable that are very easy and rewarding to grow. You can easily fit them into your garden, even if you’re short on space, and they’ll reward you with a prolific harvest.
Often referred to simply as green beans or string beans, pole beans actually come in an astonishing range of colors and varieties for you to choose from.
Here’s what you need to know about planting, growing, and harvesting pole beans.
What Are Pole Beans?
Pole beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are an annual vegetable crop grown widely in both commercial farms and backyard gardens.
Plants are climbing vines that can grow up to 15 feet tall in one season. Bean plants will flower in mid or late summer and start producing as the flowers fade. Although not grown for their flowers, some varieties like runner beans have a very ornamental appearance.
Once pole beans start producing, they can continue for 1-2 months, giving you a pretty large harvest from just a few vines.
Pole Beans vs. Bush Beans
The other commonly grown type of green beans is bush beans. Each type has unique characteristics, and you can grow one or both depending on what will work best in your garden.
Green beans are a classic garden vegetable and very easy to grow. The two main varieties are pole beans and bush beans, each with their own pros and cons.
Growth– As mentioned, pole beans are vines that generally grow 10-15 tall. Bush beans, on the other hand, are much more compact, and usually only grow about 2 feet tall. Because pole beans can be grown vertically, they’re usually the better choice for small garden spaces.
Support– One of the advantages of bush beans is that they don’t need any support structures. Pole beans will need something like a trellis or teepee to grow properly.
Maintenance– Each type has pros and cons for maintenance. Bush beans require less care because they don’t need to be trained up a support structure, but pole beans are more likely to be disease-resistant.
Production– Bush beans start producing earlier (about 50-55 days to maturity) but typically produce a lower quantity of beans. Pole beans take slightly longer to produce (55-70 days to maturity) but typically have a larger yield.
Harvest– Bush beans usually produce all of their crop at one time, probably spread over a few days to a week. They would be a good choice if you want to do one big harvest during the summer. Pole beans will produce continuously for about 1-2 months once they get started. You’ll get a bigger crop, but you’ll also need to harvest regularly.
Pole beans come in a wide range of varieties. Some have flat pods and some round. There are delicate, slender types and larger, meatier cultivars. Besides green, beans can be yellow, purple, red, white, and mottled.
Beans come in a variety of colors besides green. Purple, burgundy, and yellow are common as well as mottled and streaked varieties. Most often, the beans inside the pod will be colored as well.
Here are a few classic and unique varieties to try:
- Kentucky Wonder– This an heirloom variety with the classic green bean shape, color, and size. Plants grow about 7 feet tall and have high yields.
- Kentucky Blue– This variety is a cross between Kentucky Wonder and a bush bean called Blue Lake. If you want to be harvesting lots of beans for months, this is the cultivar to try! Beans are sweet, stringless, and straight, reaching up to 7 inches long.
- Romano– This is an Italian variety that has distinctive wide, flat pods that reach about 6 inches long. Pods are stringless and about ¾ inch wide. Another Italian heirloom variety to try is ‘Grandma Rose’s’.
- Emerite– This is a French variety, which means that beans are very slender and tender. The pods grow up to 9 inches long, and plants are very prolific. Beans are great for stir-fries and steaming and snap crisply when broken in half.
- Monte Gusto– This is a yellow wax variety. Pods are a light golden-yellow color and grow 5-6 inches long. The beans are sweet, crunchy, and have a milder flavor than green varieties.
- Purple Podded Pole– As the name suggests, this is a purple pole bean variety. Plants grow about 6 feet tall and produce reddish-purple pods that turn green when cooked. Pods are 5-7 inches long and stringless.
Here you can see several different varieties. All will have a slightly different flavor, though still a green bean taste. Yellow varieties tend to be the mildest.
- Chinese long beans– If you’re feeling up for an adventure, try growing this type of bean, which is also known as yardlong or asparagus bean. ‘Orient Wonder’ has long, green, round pods that grow 16-20 inches long. ‘Red Noodle’ is a burgundy variety that produces a high yield.
How to Grow Pole Beans
Pole beans are one of the easiest garden vegetables to grow. The biggest “maintenance” problem you’ll have is keeping up with harvesting them!
When to Plant
Pole beans need warm weather to do well, so don’t plant them too early. Wait until after all danger of a spring frost has passed and soil temperatures have warmed up.
Seeds can go out in the ground when soil temps are around 50°F, but for best results you should wait until it has warmed up to 60°F or above. Germination will be slow and poor when the soil temperature is below 60°F.
If you really want to get a headstart on planting, you can lay down black landscape fabric or a biodegradable paper mulch to warm the soil more quickly in your garden area.
Pole beans need full sun to grow in and do best with well-drained soil. Cold and wet soil will slow or stop germination and cause plants to grow poorly.
All beans fix their own nitrogen in the soil, so you don’t need to worry about adding fertilizer before planting. However, you can mix in homemade compost or aged manure for better drainage and more nutrients. Preferably, this would be done the fall before planting.
Beans prefer a neutral to slightly acidic pH (6.0-7.0) but grow well in most garden soils.
Planting Seeds Outdoors
Pole beans are best planted by seed outdoors in spring. Before sowing seeds, it’s a good idea to work your garden soil, breaking up clumps, getting rid of rocks, and smoothing the soil out.
Seeds should be planted 1 inch deep and 3-5 inches apart. You can simply push them into the soil an inch deep or make holes with a stick (or something similar) and drop them in. Make sure seeds are completely covered with soil.
Depending on your garden size and design, you can either grow pole beans in rows or in clumps.
Bean seeds are quick to germinate and sprout up out of the soil. Their main requirement is that the soil be warm enough and they get enough water in the ground.
If you have a small garden or just want a few plants, it’s best to plant your beans in clumps around a teepee, trellis, or some other support system. If you want more of a farm-like garden or a big harvest, plant in rows that are spaced 2-3 feet apart from each other.
To keep your harvest going all summer, stagger your plantings by sowing seeds every two weeks for a month or two.
Water seeds and keep the soil damp while they germinate. Germination should take about 8-10 days.
Can Seeds Be Started Indoors?
Starting seeds indoors is generally a good way to get a headstart on the growing season. But because beans grow quickly and are sensitive to being transplanted, the recommended method is to start them outdoors.
However, if you live somewhere with a very short growing season (like the far north), you can start bean seeds indoors.
Because they grow so quickly, it’s easier to start bean plants outdoors than in, but it can be done inside if needed. Once plants flower, they start to set fruit and will continue to do so for months.
To reduce transplant shock, use peat pots or some other kind of biodegradable containers. Sow seeds only 1-2 weeks before planting, since the beans will quickly outgrow their small pots.
Be sure that the soil has warmed up enough outside before planting the bean seedlings in your garden, and harden the plants off for a few days to get them used to outdoor weather.
Pole Bean Maintenance + Support Options
Pole beans don’t require much maintenance once seeds are up, but watering regularly during dry spells encourages flowering, which will in turn give you a great harvest.
You can put a light layer of mulch or straw down around the plants to keep weeds down and moisture in. Beans have shallow root systems and will appreciate the coolness mulch will provide in hot weather.
Avoid using fertilizers high in nitrogen because they will give you lots of foliage and few beans. If you want to fertilize, a side dressing of compost after plants start blooming is the best option.
The biggest maintenance required for pole beans is putting in a support system and helping vines to climb up it. Here are a few ideas for support options:
- Teepee– A teepee made of bamboo poles or something similar is a great option for doing a few backyard plantings. You can plant your beans seeds straight in the ground, or make a rounded hill and plant 4-8 seeds. Then, construct your teepee around the hill by pushing the poles into the ground and tying them all together at the top. If the poles are thick, run some string down each one and in between to give the bean vines something easier to grab hold of.
For a unique garden design, you can grow your bean plants up a low arbor like this one. You’ll need to run some string down the sides to give the vines an easier support to grab hold of, but they’ll happily climb all over it.
- Trellis– Using a trellis will give your vegetable garden more of a decorative look while still being functional. You can buy a trellis that goes straight into the ground, and stake it if needed. Or you can lean your trellis against a shed or another support to allow your beans to climb up at an angle. Just make sure the wall or shed won’t shade out your beans.
- Arbor– A very whimsical way to grow pole beans is to have them climb up and over a low arbor. You can twine string, if needed, through the arbor to give the beans something to grab onto, but otherwise they will happily cover the whole thing. At harvest time, you’ll be able to walk under the arbor and pick beans hanging out the sides and overhead.
- Fencing– If you’ve gone bigger with your bean planting, fencing is probably the best and least expensive option to support a large row or rows of pole beans. You can buy something like cattle panels or galvanized fencing and set them up going down all your rows of beans. The vines will easily grab hold of the fence and climb up and down the other side for easy picking at harvest time.
How to Harvest Pole Beans
Harvesting poles beans is mainly about timing. They can be picked at different stages depending on what kind of beans you want.
Any time you pick beans, snap or cut them off right at their stem, and try not to rip the plant itself. The more beans you pick, the more beans your plants will produce.
Picking Green Beans
Most people grow pole beans to eat them when they’re green and tender. To harvest at this stage, wait for beans to get about as thick as a pencil, although this will vary based on which variety you’re growing.
Be prepared for a big harvest if you’re growing pole beans! Most often, you’ll want to harvest green beans that are still thin and tender. You can also harvest later for shell or dry beans.
You want to harvest while the beans are still tender. If they get too large and start to bulge, they’ll be tougher to eat.
Morning is the best time to pick green beans because the sugar content is at its peak. Harvest all the beans you can see that are ready and refrigerate or cook with them the same day.
After you start picking beans, plan to harvest every day or two for the next 1-2 months.
Picking Shell Beans
If you let green beans keep ripening on the vine, they’ll turn into shell or shelling beans. As the name suggests, this type of bean is shelled, meaning the green pod is discarded and the beans inside are used.
Examples of shelling beans are lima beans, scarlet runner beans, black beans, and fava beans.
To harvest shell beans, wait until the pods are plump and bulging but still tender. You can store the unshelled beans in your refrigerator for about a week, but the shelled beans should be cooked or used right away.
Picking Dry Beans
Dry beans are similar to shelling beans because they are taken out of the pod. The major difference is that dry beans are hard and can be stored for a year or more in containers.
Kidney beans are probably the most popular and well known dry bean, but other varieties like pinto beans and soldier beans are easy to grow as well.
Kidney beans are one of the most familiar dry beans, but there are so many more varieties to choose from. Dry beans have the advantage of lasting a long time in storage: 1-4 years.
To harvest dry beans, wait until pods have turned completely brown and brittle. The beans inside should be dry and hard and won’t dent when you push your finger nail into them.
Keep in mind that many bean varieties can be harvested at any stage: green, shell, or dry. It all depends on how long you leave them on the plant.
Pests and Diseases
Many pole bean varieties are fairly resistant to diseases and insects, but there are a few pests that can be problematic.
One of the most destructive pests in the Mexican bean beetle. The adults look like yellowish lady bugs and will voraciously eat through leaves. Occasionally, the yellow, spiny larvae will eat young bean pods.
The best way to control Mexican bean beetles is to handpick adults and larvae. You can also try companion planting with nasturtiums, rosemary, or French or African marigolds.
Mexican bean beetles look a lot like yellow ladybugs. They can do a lot of damage to leaves, which is sometimes severe enough to kill plants.
Beans can also be susceptible to diseases like powdery mildew, anthracnose, mosaic viruses, and rust. The best method to combat these is prevention. Make sure plants are adequately spaced, and rotate your crops every one or two years.
Saving Seeds for Next Year
Pole beans have some of the easiest seeds to save. Beans are self-pollinating and less likely to cross-pollinate than many other vegetables. This means there’s a very good chance your beans will come true from seed.
To save seeds, simply let the pods dry completely on the plant (as you would for harvesting dry beans). If it’s the end of the season or rain is coming, you can harvest yellow or brown pods and lay them out in a single layer indoors to finish drying.
When the pods are papery and dry, pick one and shell it. Press your fingernail into one of the beans. If it makes a dent, they need to keep drying. If not, they are dry enough.
Once your beans are dry and you’ve shelled them, store them in airtight containers and label. If stored in a dark, cool location, bean seeds will remain viable for 1-4 years.