How to Grow Beans

green-beans-cooked

Bean Varieties

There are two types of beans: snap beans and dry or shell beans.

Snap beans are what you typically think of as a garden bean. Sometimes snap beans are called green beans or stringless beans.

Popular snap bean varieties:
Kentucky Wonder
Blue Lake
Kentucky Blue
French “haricort vert” varieties

Dry or Shell beans have a fibrous pods, and must be harvested from the pod to be eaten. Once shelled, these beans can be refrigerated, frozen, or dried. These, also, make great soup beans.

Popular dry bean varieties:
Pintos
Cowpeas
Black-eyed peas
Black turtle beans
Field peas
Purple hulls
Cream peas
Southern peas
(Yes, I did say pea. Confusing, I know. But these peas are actually beans.)

Preferred Growing Conditions

Give beans full sun for a better yield. Some climbing varieties are can handle a little shade. But, still make sure they have at least six hours of unfiltered sunlight.

Beans need soil to be well drained, with plenty of phosphorous and calcium. The pH level should be around neutral, 6.5. That way the soil will not to block its absorption of phosphorous and calcium by being too alkaline or acidic.

Check with your local extension agency to test your garden soil or purchase a soil pH tester. You can pick up a soil pH tester for about twenty bucks. But, it’s a plus to have one on hand to help monitor soil changes while adding soil amendments and fertilizers.

How to Plant Beans

Beans grow as bushes or vines. Bush beans do not need any support, and don’t need a ton of space. These beans are great for containers. Climbing beans, or pole beans, need support.

Beans grow well from seed. Make sure soil temperatures are about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is 1-2 weeks past the last frost. Use a bacterial inoculant on the seeds, if not pretreated. I tell you why it’s important in the When to Use Organic Fertilizer section down below!

Here’s how to plant bush beans:
Again, check the specific variety. But, for most bush beans plant seeds 2-3 inches apart in 18 inch spaced rows. You’ll need to thin seedlings to be 3-6 inches apart after seedlings are established. Check out this video on why and how to thin seedlings. Also, if the seedlings don’t easily pull out as shown in the video, cutting them off with scissors will avoid damage to the fragile root systems.

Here’s how to plant climbing beans:
Climbing beans will need more space to grow properly. Plant seeds 8-10 inches apart. After the seedlings establish, thin them. Some climbing varieties need to be spaced 36 inches apart. Remember to provide a 5-8 foot trellis or structure for these beans to climb on.



Hill planting works well with vegetables that grow on vines, even beans. Plant bean hills 3 feet apart. I have talked a little about benefits of planting cucumbers in hills. It’s also an easy way to stake climbing beans. Just plant about 3 seeds at the bottom of each pole on a teepee structure.

Companion Plants for Beans

Growing these companion plants around bean plants will be helpful: eggplant and summer savory.

Some plants actually are bad to the health of bean plants. Avoid these plants around beans: Tomatoes, chili peppers, sunflowers, onions, garlic, kale, cabbage, and broccoli.

Maintaining Bean Plants

Besides watering, make sure to train vines for climbing bean varieties. This doesn’t involve dog biscuits, just guide them to the poles! You can secure vines to supports with pantyhose or gardening twine. But, the vines will grow pretty quickly working themselves around the poles on their own. Good bean plants! Wonder if they could harvest and cook themselves, too?

Mulch is important around bean plants. It does keep moisture in the soil, and keeps moisture away from plants. Mulch is a big help in prevention of bean diseases that develop from too much moisture.

Plant more beans every 2-3 weeks! Bean plants will produce beans for about 2 months. By staggering planting dates, you can have fresh beans all growing season.

When to Use Organic Fertilizer

Use a high phosphate and low nitrogen fertilizer on beans. Something with a NPK value of 1-1-1 or 1-2-1 works well on most beans. Sometimes, it’s suggested not to use nitrogen based fertilizers at all!

Here’s why:
Beans, being legumes, have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil. Beans are able to take in nitrogen from the air, store it in root nodules, and use it when needed. It’s called nitrogen fixation. Using high nitrogen fertilizers will interfere with this process. And, that’s one of the coolest things about beans, or legumes, is fertilizing themselves!

Inoculating seeds covers the seed with the right bacteria from the start. Not all soil has the right bacteria for your specific legume. Most seeds are pre-inoculated. But you can also purchase inoculants with the proper bacteria from gardening stores.

Harvesting Beans

Snap Beans
Pick snap beans while tender. The pods should be full sized, though. Enjoy snap beans fresh from the garden, or can and freeze them for the fall.

Dry or Shell Beans
Wait to pick dry or shell beans when the seeds inside the shells are full size. The shells will be tough, automatically. Enjoy them fresh, or shell them and dry them. There are not too many things tastier than a fresh pot of field peas from the garden!

Here’s another easy way to harvest shell beans: don’t pick them. That’s right, just let them dry right on the bean plant! Just make sure they are completely dry, so they don’t mold. If you’re not planning on drying them all the way, freeze or can them.

Bean Pests and Diseases

Keep a close eye out for these insect pests and garden pests: aphids, cutworms, Mexican bean beetles, spider mites, nematodes, and rabbits. Make sure to use an organic pest control method around beans, since it is a food source.



Common bean diseases to watch out for are: anthracnose, rust, powdery mildew, and bean mosaic virus. They sound terrible, don’t they? Check out common bean diseases to learn how to treat these. Amazing what a little garlic, baking soda, or an organic fungicide can do!


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Robin Ward October 26, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Sir, I have some climbing beans which are about 1m high. The leaves were a nice green colour but lately they seem to be slightly yellow and the lower ones look like they have some sort of mite eating the leaf and are falling off. What do you suggest? regards Robin Ward

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