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How to Grow Pole Beans

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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I live in a townhouse community now so I have a plot in a local community garden to garden in. Space is at a premium so I am always looking for ways to maximize my growing area. Pole beans are a great way to grow a lot of plants in a very small area.

What are Pole Beans?

Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are native to Central and South America. They generally grow in two forms, either bush beans which grow like the name implies in small bush form (up to 2 feet tall) or pole beans which are vines, 10 – 15 feet in length, that are trained up poles or other supports. The term “pole beans” also includes runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) such as the scarlet runner bean and yardlong beans (Vigna unguiculata subsp. Sesquipedalis). Beans that are known as “half-runner beans” are somewhere in-between, growing 3 – 10 feet long.

Bush beans mature more quickly than pole beans. They start to produce within 50 – 55 days after planting. Pole beans take a little longer, producing beans within 55 – 65 days after planting.

Pole beans produce more beans for a longer period than bush beans. Unless you stagger your plantings, bush bean plants will produce their beans all at once. Pole beans usually produce their beans over a period of about a month.

Pole beans can be grown on a trellis or tepee.

Pole beans can be grown on a trellis or tepee.

What is Nitrogen Fixing?

All beans, no matter what form they take, are nitrogen fixing plants. That means that they are able to produce their own nitrogen without you having to add it in the form of fertilizer. They do it thanks to bacteria that grow on their roots which are able to take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that plants can use. Nitrogen is vital to photosynthesis which is how plants produce “food” for themselves.

If you practice crop rotation, beans are an excellent crop to follow heavy feeders (use a lot of nitrogen) like pumpkins or tomatoes. The beans will enrich the depleted soil, replacing the nitrogen that the previous year’s crop used.

How to Plant Pole Beans

Before you plant your beans, install your trellis or tepee. If you try to do it after your beans start growing, you will damage the fragile roots. If you are using tepees, space them 3 to 4 feet apart. Whatever support you use for your vines, it should be 6 to 8 feet tall.

If you want more beans, pinch off the tops of the vines when they reach the tops of your supports. This will encourage the plants to put more energy into producing beans instead of growing longer vines.

Pole beans should be direct sown in your garden. It’s not a good idea to start them indoors because they don’t like their roots to be disturbed. Transplanting bean seedlings could result in killing them.

Plant your seeds in the spring when the soil has warmed to 70°F. Germination will be slower in colder soil. The ideal temperature for germination is 70°F - 80°F. In my zone 6 New Jersey garden, I wait until the end of May or beginning of June for my soil to be warm enough for my beans.

If you are using a trellis, plant your seeds 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart at the base of your trellis. If you are using tepees, plant 4 – 6 seeds at a depth of 1 inch around each leg of the tepee.

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Germination should occur in 8 to 10 days. It could take two weeks or longer if your soil is too cold.

Space your tepees 3 - 4 feet apart.

Space your tepees 3 - 4 feet apart.

How to Grow Pole Beans

Pole beans need full sun. Partial shade will reduce the yield of your vines. Beans prefer rich, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH, 6.0 – 6.8. There is no need to fertilize your beans because they produce their own nitrogen.

Make sure that your beans are getting at least 1 inch of water each week. Drip irrigation is the best. If you water by hand, use a watering wand with a long handle so that you are watering at the soil level. Avoid watering from overhead or using a sprinkler.

Add a thick layer of mulch after the plants develop their second set of true leaves. Mulch will help the soil retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing to compete with your plants.

Flowers should develop about two months after you plant your seeds. They are white on most pole beans. Runner beans usually have more colorful flowers.

The flowers are usually white.

The flowers are usually white.

How to Harvest Pole Beans

Pole beans are easier to harvest than bush beans because you don’t have to lean over to harvest them. Since they grow on supports, you can harvest them while standing. Depending on the variety that you are growing, your beans should be ready to harvest about 2 months after your plant them.

Harvest your beans first thing in the morning when their sugar levels are high. You can try pulling or snapping the beans off of the vines but be careful to not damage the plants. I prefer to cut the beans off the vines with my pruners so that I am not damaging the vines.

Get out in your garden every day to pick your beans. The more you pick, the more that will grow!

Harvest by carefully pulling the beans from the vines.

Harvest by carefully pulling the beans from the vines.

How to Store Freshly Harvested Pole Beans

Freshly harvested beans can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for 4 days. After that, they start to get tough. You can also blanche and then freeze them for up to a year.

Beans can also be pickled or canned.

© 2022 Caren White

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