Green Beans Overview
|Official Plant Name||Phaseolus vulgaris|
|Common Name(s)||Green Beans|
|Native Area||Globally Cultivated|
|Hardiness Rating||H1C (mostly)|
|Foliage||Can be bush or climbing beans|
|Flowers||Flowers followed by edible pods|
|When To Sow||April, May|
|When To Plant Out||June, July|
|Harvesting Months||July, August, September|
0.5 – 1.8M
0.1 – 0.5M
Most Soil Types
Moist but well drained
The humble bean has been a staple of British cooking for generations. Whether boiled up and served alongside a piece of gammon, or gently fried and sprinkled in rock salt and served with salmon, it makes a fine side to almost any dish.
Growing green beans – or, variously, Phaseolus vulgaris, string beans, snap beans, or French beans – is an easy way to ensure regular access to these versatile vegetables. No longer will you have to buy overpriced packets at the supermarket; instead, you’ll be able to pick a few beans from your very own stalk, and add them to whatever scrumptious dish you’re cooking.
We’ve written this guide to get you started growing this humble legume in your garden. Inside you’ll find information on where to grow beans, the conditions that will help them to thrive, and care tips to ensure their best health year-round.
What are green beans?
The Latin name Phaseolus vulgaris translates to ‘common bean’, and sums things up nicely. These beans are tasty, nutritious, and easy to grow, making them common in gardens and on plates alike.
When you eat a bean you’re actually eating the plant’s fruit in its unripe form. You can eat the whole thing, skin and all, or you can pop them open and eat the individual beans inside. Your choice depends on your tastes and the dish you’re making: Whole beans often accompany meats and veggies in traditional dinners, whereas the individual beans inside work best in salads. Edamame salad is a good example of using just the bean (although this is actually soy bean – a different type to what we get in the UK).
Why grow green beans?
They’re easy to grow, the stalks reach satisfying heights in your garden, and the fruit they bear is tasty and versatile. Three perfectly good reasons to grow beans.
If you’re looking for more, consider this: Beans have an impressive CV! The plant is one of the Three Sisters – a method of companion planting associated with Native American communities that sees squash, corn, and beans grown together. Each of the three plants makes a unique contribution to the symbiotic relationship, ensuring stronger growth for all three without unnecessary depletion of the soil nutrients.
You can tell this story to anyone who visits your garden.
How to grow green beans
If you’ve bean paying attention, you’ll know by now that they’re fairly easy to grow. The trickiest part is remembering to water frequently, and choosing which support structure to provide for your beans – more on this shortly.
Where to grow your beans
Start beans outdoors straight away, rather than sprouting indoors and transplanting. While this method suits some plants, beans have weak roots that may not survive the transition.
You’ll want a spot with full sunlight – ideally 8 hours a day or more – to ensure maximum yield from your bean plant. They also like well-draining soil with low acidity (pH somewhere between 6.0 and 7.0).
Supporting your bean plants
Beans are windy fellas, and they like to send shoots upward to help them grow. Without some kind of support for them to wind around, your beans won’t be able to thrive.
You’ll need to place your support before planting your beans. You have a few options –
- A pole: Simple and effective, just pop a 2.5m pole in the centre of each set of bean seeds. You’ll need one pole per plant.
- A wire fence: Beans can grip onto wire, meaning that a wire structure can be used if you have one. This can be a dedicated structure for plants, or something multipurpose like chicken wire.
- A wooden trellis: This can support a few bean plants, depending on the size. Beans growing on a trellis is a nice visual element for your garden.
How to grow green beans
For best results, plant your beans in rows. Plant each seed about 2.5cm deep, and leave around 5cm between seeds in a row. You’ll want to leave about 45-50cm between rows. This distance should ensure that all plants have enough space to thrive once they reach full size.
Some gardeners advise planting a row of beans each fortnight, as this will result in staggered harvesting opportunities. It depends how many you’re growing, and whether you want a bumper harvest all at once, or the ability to pick a few plants worth of beans every couple of weeks.
Fertilising green beans
A bit of mulch around each seed when planting keeps the soil cool and protects beans’ shallow roots, but this plant doesn’t require much beyond that in the way of fertiliser.
This is because beans fix nitrogen themselves, meaning there’s no need to provide nitrogen-rich fertiliser.
Beans are thirsty, so make sure to water them at least weekly. Check that the soil is deep to about 5cm.
A common cause of plant damage is residual moisture left on leaves and stems after watering. To avoid this, try to water your beans on warm, sunny days so that excess water has a chance to evaporate away.
Left unchecked, your bean plants may grow beyond the height of the structure supporting them. For optimal growth, pinch the top of the plant when it reaches the top of the support structure: This will encourage your bean plant to divert resources to fuller growth on existing stems, rather than growing new ones that won’t be supported.
Pinching should result in more flowering and more beans on the section of your plant below the top of any support structure.
This is a rich and rewarding plant to grow, often giving you the option to pick beans daily at peak harvest – especially true if you decided to plant out a few rows a fortnight apart.
Look for beans that are large but whose internal seeds are not bulging through. This indicates over-ripeness, and results in less favourable flavours for cooking.
You can pick mature beans with your fingers or use scissors to cut them away from the plant. Whatever you do, take care not to damage the stalk as this will hinder further growth.
Picking beans in the morning gives you a sweeter plant, as this is when sugar concentrations are highest.
As beans ripen they become tougher, so the aim of storage is to slow this inevitable process.
If you’re not planning to use your beans right away, they will do best stored somewhere dry and airtight. If you’re planning to wait more than a few days, we recommend freezing the beans after a gentle blanching, as this will keep them as close to their natural freshness as possible.
Troubleshooting green bean problems
Weeds can wreak havoc on bean plants as their roots are delicate and shallow. Be vigilant and remove as many weeds as you can, as quickly as possible. This will result in stronger bean growth.
Although beans require sunlight, too much can scorch the plant and lead to stunted growth. If you notice your plants not flowering as much as expected, considering covering them during peak sunlight to protect against the worst of the heat.
Various aphids and mites are attracted to beanstalks, and can cause damage should they take up residence. Keep an eye out for small bugs, or blemishes or blotches on leaves. Should you notice an infestation, try first to remove the pests by hand and see if that keeps them at bay. If not, you may need to investigate a pesticide to remove them and prevent further damage.
Have you ‘bean’ reading carefully?
After reading our guide to growing and caring for green beans, you should be suitably equipped to get this delicious, easy-to-grow plant thriving in your garden.
Whether you’re planning to grow in high volumes to provide a steady supply of beans to your pantry, or you’re just planning to grow one plant for the experience, this guide has got you covered. Soon you’ll be popping these tasty treats from your very own stalk, great to eat from the plant, to pop in a salad, or to store for use in a more elaborate dish later on.
You’ll be able to bestow beans upon friends and family, too. It’s always a treat to receive freshly-grown produce from the garden of someone close to you, and beans provide a reliably frequent supply.