How to Grow Green Beans

Green beans are one of those vegetables that are extra-special when home grown. You also have a lot more options when planting your own beans – literally hundreds of different varieties are available. Colors range from green to purple to yellow, and some beans are striped, spotted or blotched with multiple colors.


What are Green Beans?

Green beans may not actually be green in color – the name comes from the fact that they are immature. In this case green means the opposite of ripe or fully developed. They are sometimes known as string beans, because older varieties had a tough fibrous string along one side that was removed prior to cooking.

What Kinds of Beans are There?

The legume family is extremely diverse. Green or string beans are available in bush, half-runner and pole varieties, as are dry beans. Shell beans (think of limas or cannellini beans) are grown for the immature, still soft seeds. Dry beans are used for winter storage. Other bean family members include fava beans (a different group). Yard-long beans are an oriental version, as are soybeans.

Are Green Beans the Same as Dry Beans?

Almost all varieties of beans can be used green, or immature. However, some are specifically bred for fresh eating and will be more tender and succulent. In addition to their use as green beans, most can also be used as shell beans – the seeds have developed but are still not mature – or allowed to dry on the vine for soups and chili.

What’s the Difference Between Pole and Bush Beans?

Pole beans, as the name implies, are a true vining form of the plant and must have poles or a trellis to grow on. Bush beans rarely grow more than two or three feet tall. They are not truly upright like a pepper, but tend to sprawl. There are a few called half-runner types that grow to four feet and do better if trellised.

Are Bush Beans or Pole Beans Better?

Each has its advantages. Bush beans tend to have a shorter maturity span. They often ripen all at once, especially hybrid varieties. This makes them easy to use in succession planting or for intensive gardening. Pole beans bear over a longer period and are more productive, but they must be trellised. Many green beans are available in pole and bush varieties.

What Pole Bean Varieties are Available?

You’ll find dozens of pole varieties in most seed catalogs. These are readily available:

  • Kentucky Wonder – popular since 1864; beans are green.
  • Kentucky Wonder Wax – slightly different flavor and bright yellow pods.
  • Blue Lake – very productive, resistant to bean mosaic virus.
  • Rattlesnake – heirloom, good in hot, humid climates; green streaked with purple.
  • Purple-Podded – deep purple beans turn green when cooked.
  • Romano – an Italian bean with flat pods.

What Bush Bean Varieties are Available?

Many bush beans, such as Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake, are the same as their pole namesakes. Here are some others:

  • Roma II – a good Italian canning variety.
  • Tendercrop – heavy yielding and short maturity.
  • Royal Burgundy – good for cooler climates; beans are deep purple.
  • Dragon Tongue – Dutch heirloom, yellow streaked with purple.
  • Cupidon – a filet bean with small, tender pods.

What if I Want Dry Beans?

Most bean varieties can be used as dry beans. Most varieties grown specifically for dry beans – like pinto or kidney beans – can also be eaten green. If your aim is to have lots of dry beans for winter meals, grow the plants just as you would any bean and allow the bean pods to ripen on the vine. Harvest when fully dry and remove pods.

Where are Green Beans Grown?

Although all are warm-season plants, the multitude of bean varieties means that you can have this vegetable no matter what your climate. Some are particularly well-suited to hot, humid climates, others to deserts and some to colder regions. In really cold climates, you may need to germinate indoors and transplant a few weeks later.

How Do I Grow Green Beans?

Beans are frost sensitive (favas are an exception), and should be planted two weeks after the last expected frost date. They need a steady supply of water. Whether your soil is sandy or clay, additional organic material will promote good drainage and provide nutrients for your bean plants. Full sun is necessary for leaf, flower and pod development. Keep the weeds down to prevent competition.

What Kind of Soil do Beans Need?

One of the easiest vegetables to grow, bush beans need fertile, well-drained soil. Although they are legumes and will add nitrogen to the soil, they should still have a soil with aged manure, well-rotted leaf mold of compost for humus and nutrients. Too much nitrogen will promote leaf growth at the expense of flowers and pods. Most garden soils don’t need additional fertilizer for beans.

What Spacing Do Green Beans Need?

Spacing depends on whether you are growing bush or pole beans and whether you are growing in rows or practicing intensive gardening. In good soil, space beans two to three inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. For intensive gardening, space plants on four-inch centers. For bean teepees, plant four to six beans two inches apart at the base of the pole. Plant pole beans on a trellis four inches apart. Beans don’t usually need thinning.

What Kind of a Trellis Should I Use?

Pole beans are true climbers, and will readily twine up almost anything. Many gardeners use three or four poles thrust into the ground and tied together in a teepee shape. Others set fence posts at each end of the row and string wires from one post to another. Wire fencing panels also make good trellises. Various styles of commercial bean supports are available.

How Do I Fertilize Green Beans?

Ideally, you should prepare the soil for green beans well before you plant. Work in well-rotted leaf mold, aged manure or compost. Beans can supply their own nitrogen, so if you use a commercial organic fertilizer, look for one that is 5-10-10. Unless your soil is very sandy or in poor condition, you shouldn’t need to fertilize beans while they are growing.

How Do I Water Green Beans?

Green beans should have a minimum of one inch of water per week. In most climates – especially those with no summer rainfall – they will need more. Depending on your garden situation, you could use drip irrigation or soaker hoses. Overhead watering is another option. However, in humid climates, overhead watering may promote molds and mildew. Let plants dry completely before picking beans or tying up vines.

What About Bean Diseases?

Like many vegetables, beans may be subject to various viral and bacterial diseases as well as molds and mildew. Healthy, well-grown plants can handle minor infections and in many cases will still produce well. Proper watering decreases the chances of many disease problems. Rotate crops to decrease the potential for disease. Disease resistant varieties are available for both pole and bush beans.

Are Insects a Problem?

Insects aren’t usually a major issue in most gardens, although hot dry weather can make insect problems worse. Proper soil preparation and watering will prevent plants from becoming weakened. Weak plants are more susceptible to insect damage. Aphids may spread viral diseases, but can be kept under control with soapy water, organic sprays or by releasing ladybird beetles. Bean beetles can damage leaves but are easily handpicked.

When Should I Harvest Green Beans?

If you are after what old-time gardeners called string beans, harvest as soon as the beans have developed three- or four-inch pods. The beans themselves will just be beginning to swell and the pod will be tender. Pick beans every day or two, as they can quickly become too large and will become tough. For shell beans, let the beans develop for a couple of weeks.

How Should I Store Green Beans?

Green beans are best when eaten within a day or two of harvest. They can be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for several days. For long term storage, you can freeze them – blanch for two or three minutes in boiling water, cool in ice water and package in plastic bags or freezer containers. Beans can also be pressure canned – follow tested recipes carefully.

How Do I Save Bean Seeds?

Bean seeds are very easy to save. They are self-pollinating (although crosses do occasionally occur). Pollination has usually occurred before the flower even opens. To save seed, simply allow the bean to grow on the vine until the pods have become completely dry. Pick the beans and remove from the pods, allow to dry until very hard, then store in a sealed container in cool, dry conditions.