Horticulture Magazine

French Beans

beans growing on a climbing Hunter French bean plant

French beans are a great addition to a homegrown vegetable plot.

French beans, or green beans, are commonly cultivated through temperate and subtropical regions as an annual crop.

This is a crop which can provide a range of benefits.

As a legume, French beans provide not only an edible yield, but also help to maintain fertility in your garden.

string bean plant in dappled shade

Like other legumes, they have formed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their roots which take nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil. [source]

Some of that nitrogen is used by the plant themselves, but some may be available for the uptake of neighbouring plants, or for plants which follow the beans in rotation.

Overview

Botanical NamePhaseolus vulgaris
Common Name(s)French Beans, Green Beans
Plant TypeAnnual / Vegetable / Climber
Native AreaAmericas – Cultivated
Hardiness RatingH2/H3
FoliageThree oval smooth-edged leaflets
FlowersWhite, pink or purple
When To Sow / PlantApril – July
Harvesting MonthsJuly – September
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun

Exposure
Sheltered

Size

Height
Varies

Spread
Varies

Soil

Preferred
Any Fertile Soil

Moisture
Moist and well drained

pH
Neutral to Slightly Alkaline

French beans, also known as common beans, are cultivars of Phaseolus vulgaris.

A herbaceous annual plant, this crop is most commonly grown in the UK for the tender pods, eaten before the seeds inside develop (often called green beans).

These plants however can also be left to grow on for a yield of dry beans which can be taken from the pods at maturity.

Climbing Green French Beans 'Selma Zebra' shown on allotment wigwams

Cultivars produce many familiar dried beans, such as the haricot, kidney bean, cannellini bean and pinto bean for example.

These are pulses which can be a valuable addition to a homegrown diet – so growing types for a yield of dry beans could also be an interesting thing to consider in your garden.

Common Types

French beans are typically divided into two categories: climbing beans, and dwarf or bush beans.

The former grow tall, usually requiring some support, while the latter have a bushier, shorter form and do not always need a trellis or staking.

Some great climbing beans to consider include:

hanging climbing green beans 'Blue Lake' shown against a timber trellis
  • Abundance
  • Algarve (AGM)
  • Blue Lake
  • Cherokee Trail of Tears
  • Cobra (AGM)
  • Golden Gate (AGM)
  • Neckarkonigin

And some good dwarf types to consider include:

lilac coloured flowers and green foliage of Phaseolus vulgaris 'Purple Teepee'
  • Aquilon
  • Boston (AGM)
  • Elba
  • Lilana
  • Purple Teepee (AGM)
  • Sprite (AGM)
  • Tendergreen

If you would like to harvest dry beans rather than green beans try:

yin yang bush beans variety with visible pods and flowers
  • Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco
  • Jacob’s Cattle Gold
  • Lingot
  • Mor Kristin
  • Oro
  • Taylor’s Dwarf Horticultural Long Pod (‘October Bean’)
  • Yin Yang

Planting Guidelines

Climbing beans are ideal for garden growing.

They do best in the ground with sturdy supports, though they can also be grown in larger containers.

orange and white flowering Phaseolus vulgaris on vertical support

Dwarf or bush types are great where space is limited, and do very well in containers.

They can also work well in hanging baskets or other suspended containers.

Spacing & Depth

Sow French beans around 5cm deep, placing each one into a small pot, module or soil block if sowing indoors, or spacing around 15cm apart if direct sowing.

If planning on growing on your beans in a container, containers should be 30-45cm wide for dwarf types, and 75cm wide and 45cm deep for climbing varieties.

Hardening Off
small seedlings of green beans in small plastic pots

From the end of May or in early June (depending on your location and the weather conditions) harden off your young plants to get them used to outdoors conditions.

This simply means gradually moving them outside – gradually exposing them to outdoors conditions for increasing lengths of time over a couple of weeks.

Land Preparation

freshly watered French beans plants in garden soil

If you are growing climbing types which need support, it is best to get this support in place before sowing or planting out.

There are various different support options which you could consider.

young french beans with visible bamboo canes support

Choose a suitable location for your French beans, and prepare the soil by top dressing with plenty of homemade compost or well-rotted manure.

Make sure the area is weed-free, and water well.

Planting Out

If you are not direct sowing, indoors grown plants can be planted out (after the hardening-off process).

As when direct sowing, make sure you wait until the conditions are reliably frost-free, and aim for a spacing of around 15cm between plants.

small bean plant seedling growing against a bamboo cane in the garden

Make sure that you water the plants well before and after planting out.

With climbing beans, place the plants at the base of the support structure or structures you have installed and tie them in loosely with natural twine.

Plant Care

French beans are relatively easy to grow as long as you place them in the right location and meet all of their basic needs.

Watering

watering can shown next to raised beds growing chives, carrots, beans and more

French beans have relatively high water requirements and will provide the highest yields when watered regularly.

Remember, if growing in containers, more frequently watering will generally be required.

Soil & Feeding

Mulching around your French beans will help retain soil moisture, and will also help with fertility and weed control.

A mulch of high-quality homemade compost, worm castings or well-rotted manure will be ideal.

Light

view of an allotment, with French Beans growing on wigwam structures in rows

French beans should be grown in a location in full sun, which receives as much light as possible throughout the summer months.

Pollination

French beans are self-pollinated and are rarely insect pollinated.

Cross-pollination is rarely an issue because pollination usually occurs before the flowers open.

Weeding

Weeding around French beans is important.

Keep the surrounding soil covered with mulch, or consider planting ground cover companion plants, which will not compete overly with the beans for water and nutrients.

string beans hanging from the plant with orange marigold flowers in the background

French beans can be excellent companion plants for a range of other crops, due to their nitrogen-fixing capability.

One of the most famous companion planting combinations involves growing climbing beans alongside corn and squash.

This beneficial combination is called the ‘three sisters’ companion planting scheme. [source]

corn, squash and beans grown together as beneficial companion plants

The corn is the supporting sister, giving support to the beans.

The beans fix nitrogen, and the squash provides ground cover, for moisture retention and weed control.

Beans can also be beneficial companion plants for a number of other crops – especially green leafy vegetables with high nitrogen needs.

Storage

If you are not eating your green beans right away, you can store them (unwashed) in the crisper drawer of your fridge for up to a week or so.

If you wish to freeze your green beans, blanch them by boiling them for 2-3 minutes, then plunging then into icy water.

chopped and frozen beans

Once blanched, place them in the freezer in sealed containers.

They should keep well for around 8-10 months.

Shelled beans should be fully dried, then placed in airtight containers.

FAQ’s

How long does it take to grow green beans?

French beans for green beans can be ready to harvest around three months after spring sowing, though the exact time to harvest will depend on the conditions where you live, and the particular cultivars that you have decided to grow.

harvested string beans in a round wicker basket
Are French Beans a difficult plant to grow?

French beans do require warm and sunny conditions, and plenty of water.

But as long as their environmental needs are met, they can be a very easy and rewarding crop to grow.

Why are my green beans not growing?

French beans may not be thriving due to pest problems.

Commonly, people may wonder why seeds have not germinated, when in fact, they were eaten by birds or rodents or damaged by slugs or snails.

Sow indoors or use row covers or cloches early in the season if pests are a problem.

Phaseolus vulgaris plant affected by pests with discoloured beans and foliage

Aphids and other sap suckers can also be an issue, as they can stunt growth.

Encourage natural predation by companion planting, and attracting beneficial wildlife like ladybirds to your garden.

Aside from pest issues, if French beans are not growing it is most likely to be due to problems with environmental conditions or watering and care.

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