Grow Perfect Climbing Beans Every Time

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Harvested green and purple beans

What’s the most productive vegetable you can grow for the space you have? Climbing beans of course! Also known as pole beans and runner beans, these guys really encapsulate the glory and abundance of summer. To make sure you grow a fantastic crop of beans, follow my seven steps to success…

1. Best Soil Conditions For Beans

Climbing beans love a sunny spot that receives at least five, and preferably eight, hours of direct sunshine a day. They adore a deliciously moist, fertile soil that keeps these thirsty plants quenched without leaving them sitting in pools of water. The best way to encourage perfect soil is to incorporate plenty of well-rotted organic matter such as compost before planting. Add a couple of inches (5cm) of compost on top of the soil a few weeks before planting to give it time to settle.

If summers are particularly hot and dry where you garden, consider preparing compost trenches during the winter before planting. Dig out a trench or pit where your beans will be planted, then fill it with kitchen scraps and other compostables before returning the soil on top. As all this organic matter decomposes it will create a rich, water-retentive cushion of goodness for roots to grow down into, and this will really help the plants in hot weather.

Chunky beans are easy to sow

2. Sowing Beans Successfully

Climbing beans need warmth to germinate. This is really important, because if you sow too soon your seeds will sulk, or may even rot, and you run the risk of weak seedlings that will set back your bean-fuelled ambitions.

If you’re gardening in a warmer climate you can sow directly when soil temperatures are at least 45ºF (7ºC), and preferably a bit warmer than that. Sowing direct, where plants are to grow, removes the risk of the young plants being disturbed by transplanting and it means there’s one less step in the whole process – just pop in two seeds at each support, cover with an inch (2cm) of soil, water well then, once they’ve germinated, thin to leave the strongest of the two seedlings in place.

Sow beans indoors then transplant outside in cooler climates

In cooler or more temperate climates like mine it’s worth sowing under cover for more reliable germination. Sow into large plugs or small pots. Fill them with potting mix, dib a hole in the middle with your finger, pop in a seed and cover back over. Give them a good water then wait for a week or two for the chunky seedlings to push through. Easy! The young beans can go out once all danger of frost has passed and it’s reliably warmer. They grow really fast, going from seed to planting in as little as three weeks, so there’s no need to sow them earlier than late spring.

3. Best Bean Supports

It's no surprise that to get the most from climbing beans you’ll need to provide strong supports, at least 6 feet (2m) tall. There are several designs of supports to choose from, ranging from long A-frames and T-frames, to teepees, which are very robust in more exposed gardens. A-frames and teepees can easily be made from bamboo canes. I’m very lucky to have metal arches in my garden to grow beans up. They look simply stunning once they’re cloaked in the beans’ lush foliage, covered in flowers and with the beans dangling down from overhead.

Bean teepees are sturdy and stunning - and make great dens!

Once planted, your beans will easily find their own way onto these supports, but you can always feed the shoots back onto them if they lurch too far off.

Once the beans reach the top of their supports (or in the case of an arch, meet in the middle), it’s time to cut off, or ‘pinch out’ the growing points to stop them climbing any further. This both keeps things neater at the top, and it stops further growth that might distract the vines from flower and pod production.

Pinch out the tips of each bean plant to redirect its energies into flowering and fruiting

4. Feeding and Watering Beans

Climbing beans produce masses of foliage and, of course, pods – and all of that requires lots of water. If you have relatively well-drained soil it’s really very hard to overwater these thirsty plants. In the summer I make sure to give my climbing beans a thorough, deep water at least once a week and when it’s really hot, will step up the frequency to at least twice a week or more. Aim the water at the base of the vines and thoroughly soak the soil. Go off and continue watering elsewhere, then come back to the beans to soak them some more. Whereas most vegetables might have, say, a foot or two of leaves to keep hydrated, pole beans have lots of foliage way over head-height to keep quenched, which is why such a thorough job of watering is so important.

If you don’t water enough the foliage may wilt and turn brown and dry, which ultimately weakens the plant and makes it susceptible to disease. Check soil conditions regularly when it’s hot, dry, and windy – just pop a finger into the soil and check how damp it is. If it feels moist below the surface you’re okay, if not – water…quick!

Nifty nodules on bean roots store nitrogen to help the plants to grow to dizzy heights

Beans, like other plants in the legume family, work with bacteria in the soil to fix nitrogen at their roots. It’s a clever I’ll-help-you-if-you-help-me relationship, and it means beans rarely need extra feeding. That said, they do still need rich, fertile soil. The organic matter you added before planting will both give plants that extra oomph they need, and improve the water-holding capacity of the soil. If you do find the foliage going a bit anaemic and yellow though, water on a liquid tomato or vegetable feed to give your beans a boost of nutrients to perk them up.

Pollinators flock to flowers like calendula

5. Companion Plants For Beans

Bean flowers draw in pollinating insects from far and wide, and they’ll even attract hummingbirds if you’re lucky enough to have those where you live. Nevertheless, you can supercharge pollination by companion planting with plenty of nectar-rich flowers among your vegetables and around your beans. Sweet alyssum, calendula, marigolds and nasturtiums are favorites of mine, and I’d also recommend other pollinator winners like cosmos and zinnias too. Just allow a few spaces throughout the veg garden for these blousy bloomers and watch pollination of all fruiting vegetables shoot up.

6. How to Dodge Slugs and Black Bean Aphids

In my garden there are two main pests to watch out for, at least when it comes to beans. Slugs may nibble at the young plants, which is another good reason to start them off in pots before planting, so they’re a bit bigger and more resilient when they go in the ground. Keep an eye on your beans early on, pick off any slugs you find, and consider setting up slug traps to make a dent in populations.

Blackfly love the tender leaves of bean plants

The other major pest is black bean aphids or blackfly. These tend to congregate on fresh new growth, at the tips of shoots. Inspect foliage every few days and if you spot them, try blasting them off with a strong jet of water. If you have plenty of nectar-rich flowers among your vegetables you’ll find that, in time, natural predators like hoverflies and ladybirds will manage to bring things under control, without you having to resort to pesticides.

Cut off any dead or diseased leaves that you come across. This prevents problems from spreading, improves airflow around the vines, and keeps plants looking nice and tidy.

7. Maximise Your Bean Harvest

Pick your beans – and pick them often! If you pick the beans while they’re still young and tender, the plant will be encouraged to produce more beans because it hasn’t yet fulfilled its goal of maturing viable seed to grow the next generation. Leave the beans to get too big, long and lumpy and there’s a danger that the vines will slow down or even stop altogether.

Pick before the pods get too fat or harvests may stall

So check plants regularly – every nook, cranny and underside! It can be tricky to spot them all, but a tip is to grow purple or yellow-podded varieties, which are easier to identify against the foliage.

Are you growing climnbing beans for the first time, or have you bean there, done that? Let us know in the comments below!

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Show Comments


"First time growing runner beans in Idaho USA. They have plenty of flowers now but some have dried up and dropped off. They are in raised beds and drip fed for 10 mins twice a day (2am and 2pm). Temperatures are 32 deg C and expected to rise over the next couple of months. Any suggestions? We don’t have rain in the summer (high desert) so is it a good idea to hose them with a fine spray?"
Jeni on Wednesday 12 July 2023
"Sometimes pollen production is inhibited in very hot weather, so plants will be a lot less productive. Certainly keeping them well watered will help, and you could try hosing them to cool them off. But it may be that bean production is sporadic until conditions cool off again later in the summer."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 12 July 2023
"Thank you for the tips on preventing pests and increasing pollination. I'll have a few new pests to look out for as it will be my first time planting pole beans. You've confirmed I'll be planting the correct flowers to compliment the beans. Thanks for the article. I watch your YouTube videos often. "
Eileen on Saturday 9 March 2024
"So pleased you've enjoyed the article Eileen, and thank you for watching the videos. Happy gardening to you! :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 10 March 2024
"How deep do pole bean roots go? I tried planting in a narrow pot that was 4' long, 5" deep and 5" wide, but they did not grow more than 3" high. I watered them every day, but did not stick my finger in the compost to see if the ground was wet, so don't know if it was a water issue or lack of soil for the roots. This was in the Arizona, USA White Mountains, elevation 6,500."
Phyllis on Friday 19 April 2024
"Hi Ben. Can you advise me on when I should start leaving runner bean pods on the plant rather than harvest them, in order to use the seed next year? I have succeeded in the past, but clearly only by happy accident as last year's attempt failed miserably - the beans just shrivelled to nothing inside the still-attached pods. I'm (in France) trying to keep a succession going from beans salvaged from my late father's garden in Somerset and have luckily found some healthy-looking beans from 2018 which I'm really hoping will germinate so I can keep the generations going! Your videos are wonderful - clear, informative, infectiously enthusiastic. If you've done one on saving bean seed forgive me - just point me to it!"
Jane on Saturday 20 April 2024
"Writing from Ontario. Thanks for your great web site. Grew pole beans for the first time last summer and had a bumper crop. We enjoyed them with our meals fresh picked. I will be planting more this year. Thanks for your tips on growing and maintaining healthy plants. I look forward to more of your posts."
Frank on Saturday 20 April 2024
"Hi Phyllis. I wonder if the pot was a little too narrow and not quite deep enough to support their growth. The roots would probably need to grow a bit deeper than that, so it was possibly a little cramped in that container and probably dried out very quickly too. I would opt for a deeper pot - at least 8-10in deep next time."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 21 April 2024
"Hi Jane. I leave it right up until early October to save some pods. You can do the same whenever plants look a bit tattered/battered from the summer and are beginning to slow down a bit. But for me, very early autumn is a good time for this."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 21 April 2024
"Hi Frank. Thanks for your kind comment. I'm so pleased you'll be planting more this year. Happy gardening! "
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 21 April 2024
"Just started showing my french vines to plant in my small garden. I am thinking about the best support and position in the garden for them, as I am considering putting them around the entrance of the garden but not sure how to do a cost friendly tall support that i can fit under. "
Alfonso on Saturday 18 May 2024
"Hi Alfonso. They like it warm and sunny, so a spot that gets good sun is important. If you're looking to walk under them then I reckon some sort of arch with them growing over the top would be good. I made one fairly cheaply with lengths of metal T-bar, onto which I secured stocking fencing with cable ties."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 19 May 2024

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