Green beans are one of our
favorite garden vegetables. They are easy to grow, tasty
and nutritious. These beans come in three basic types:
bush, half-runner and pole. Bush beans are the most
common form. Half-runners are basically a bush bean with
vines about 3 feet long. Pole beans are tall, vining
types that climb by wrapping their growing vines around
some type of support as they grow.
have some distinct advantages over bush and half-runner
beans. First, they are easier to pick. If you’ve ever
stooped over to pick a row of bush beans, you can
certainly appreciate a plant that brings the harvest up
to you, although your chiropractor might miss seeing you
as often! Pole beans tend to produce over a longer
period of time than bush beans. They also are able to
set their crop in a little warmer temperature than their
For gardeners with
limited space, pole beans are an especially valuable
option. Perhaps you don’t have a vegetable garden area
but could put in a narrow bed beside a fence around your
property. Pole beans, if provided support, could turn
this otherwise unproductive area into a garden spot.
Site and Soil
Like other garden
beans, pole beans need sunlight to produce well.
Sunshine on the leaves enables the plant to produce
carbohydrates needed in bloom and fruit production, so
the less sun your plants receive, the lighter their
production will be. At a minimum, they will need 6 hours
of sunlight to produce a good crop.
location with good drainage. Beans don’t like soggy-wet
soil conditions for extended periods of time. If your
site has marginal drainage, plant on raised beds to
facilitate drainage. Mix an inch or two of compost into
the soil prior to planting. This will help a sandy soil
maintain more even moisture levels, and it can improve
the soil structure and internal drainage of a heavy clay
soil. It also adds a slowly available source of
nutrients for the growing plants.
Pole beans grow
best in a pH range of 6.0–6.5 but are tolerant of a
little higher pH levels. However, if the soil pH gets
too high, iron chlorosis will be a problem and
production will suffer.
Prior to planting, remove
rocks, sticks or other debris and rake the soil surface
smooth, breaking up any clods, to create a good seedbed
There are many varieties of pole beans in the garden
trade, and trials in Texas have shown that most do
fairly well if they are not too slow to reach harvest.
Look for the days-to-harvest (DTH) interval for the
variety you are considering. Whenever possible choose
varieties that will produce in 65 days or less from
planting. Our Texas gardening seasons are rather short,
with spring being interrupted by early summer heat and
fall by an early cold snap. Varieties with long DTH
intervals will likely be hampered by either summer heat
or a fall cold snap before they produce to their full
Pole beans come in the standard form
with rather rounded pods and in a flat-podded form. Both
can do well in our gardens. Some examples of proven
varieties for Texas include:
‘Fortex’ (60 DTH) —
Pods up to 11” long.
‘Rattlesnake’ (56 DTH) —
Purple streaked 7” pods.
‘Kentucky Blue Pole’ (60
DTH) — From ‘Kentucky Wonder’ and ‘Blue Lake’ parents;
has 6–7” pods; rust resistant.
‘Blue Lake’ (63
DTH) — 6” pods.
‘Kentucky Wonder 191’ (65 DTH) —
‘McCaslan’ (65 DTH) — Slightly
flattened 7” pods; a Southern heirloom.
(aka ‘Early Riser’) (50 DTH) — Flat pods 8–10” long.
‘Northeaster’ (56 DTH) — Flat pods approximately
3/4” wide and 8” long.
Plant bean seeds about 1–2 inches apart and then thin
plants to about 3-4 inches apart. Place the seeds 3/4–1
inch deep and press the soil in gently over the seeds
before watering the area well. Soaking the seeds
overnight prior to planting will speed germination.
Beans are legumes and their roots have a symbiotic
relationship with certain types of soil bacteria
enabling them to take nitrogen from the air in the soil
and change it into a form that the plants can use. If
you have grown beans in an area previously, these
bacteria may be present in the soil in significant
numbers. Otherwise it can be helpful to inoculate the
seeds immediately prior to planting them with a product
available from many seed suppliers. Just soak the seeds
in water for an hour or so and then roll the moist seed
in the powdered inoculant and plant before they dry out.
Gardeners debate the need for inoculating the seed, and
you can certainly get good results without inoculating
if you provide adequate fertilization, but this defeats
one of the advantages of growing a legume crop. That
said, it would probably be helpful to inoculate seeds
the first time you grow beans in a new garden spot.
Pole beans can be grown in the spring or the fall
season. They are sensitive to frosts, and heat in the
90s can cause the blooms to abort and not set pods.
Therefore, you should make your spring planting as early
as the last average frost date. If you have a soil
thermometer, check for when the temperature is 60
degrees about 4–6 inches deep. Remember to choose
fast-maturing varieties to get in a good harvest before
the heat sets in.
I think fall is the best season
to grow green beans because the harvest is ripening in
cooler weather and the quality is outstanding. In the
fall, plant your pole beans 10–12 weeks before the
average first frost date. It will still be fairly hot
outside, so it may be helpful to shade the planting row
a little to reduce the soil temperature. The late Dr.
Sam Cotner, vegetable specialist with Texas AgriLife
Extension, recommended planting 1–1.5 inches deep when
planting in warm weather to keep the seed just a bit
If your soil is on the dry side, irrigate
the area well 2–3 days prior to planting to wet the soil
deeply. This is especially important when planting in
late summer to early fall. This pre-plant irrigation
will significantly improve the establishment and early
growth of the plants.
Pole beans need some type of support on which to grow.
Make sure to get your support set up before the young
plants start to vine. There are many options including
wire fencing, poles and twine woven between posts. Just
remember to make your trellis at least 6 feet tall to
allow the vigorous vines plenty of room to grow.
I’ve also grown pole beans on tall tomato cages. Another
fun technique is to form an arch with livestock panels
by placing one end in a bed and then arching it over the
walkway and securing the other end in the adjacent bed.
By placing more than one archway down the row, you can
create a tunnel. Kids will like the tunnel of beans, and
it makes for shady picking! One additional option that
kids love is to use 3–4 bamboo poles tied at the top
into a “teepee” structure. Plant 5–6 seeds in an 8-inch
circular area around each of the poles and the plants
will wrap around the poles as they grow.
Fertilizing and Care
The best guide for
fertilizing is to have your soil tested. In the absence
of a soil test, spread 2–3 pounds (4–6 cups) of a
complete fertilizer in a 1-2-2 or similar ratio per 100
square feet of soil surface and mix in at least 4 inches
deep. If you are using an organic product, double or
triple that rate. When the plants start to bloom,
sprinkle a complete fertilizer with a little more
nitrogen (such as a 3-1-2 ratio) in a 6”-wide band
alongside the plants down the row at a rate of 1/2 cup
of synthetic or 1–2 cups of organic fertilizer per 10
feet of row and gently work it into the soil surface
inch before watering the area well. Avoid using a lot of
high nitrogen fertilizer on pole beans or it will result
in excessive vine growth at the expense of production.
Beans need moderate soil moisture to grow and
produce well. It is important to not allow them to dry
out, especially during the critical stage when they are
blooming and setting pods.
competition with mulch or with shallow cultivation.
Beans are fairly shallow-rooted plants and deep
cultivation will destroy roots.
Pole beans can suffer
from a handful of pest and disease problems. Perhaps
their greatest pest problem is spider mites. These pests
hide underneath the foliage and suck juices from the
leaves. Because pole beans are growing upright, you can
use strong blasts of water directed upward from beneath
the plants to dislodge these pests and reduce their
numbers. Mites are primarily a problem in warm weather,
and a weekly blast of water will do a fair job at
keeping them under control. Sprays of insecticidal soap,
also directed at the lower leaf surfaces, will also work
Aphids will occasionally become a
problem on beans but can be quickly dealt with using
insecticidal soap. These pests tend to congregate on the
succulent new growth or sometimes under the foliage.
Stinkbugs are occasionally a concern. There are
pesticides on the market that can reduce their numbers,
but you’ll need to weigh the moderate amount of
potential damage against your personal concerns about
pesticide use. A few species of beetles and caterpillars
will sometimes bother your beans by consuming foliage,
but it would take a lot of foliage damage to cause a
reduction in yield, and these pests seldom cause such
Common diseases include root
rot and foliar rust. The best way to manage root
diseases is to avoid overwatering and to rotate your
vegetable crops each year, waiting at least 3–5 years
before planting beans or Southern peas in the same
location. Rust fungus can be reduced somewhat with
foliar sprays, but it is also important to not harvest
the plants when the foliage is wet to minimize spreading
beans, like bush beans, are at their peak quality when
the pods are still tender. For round-podded types,
harvest when they are the diameter of a pencil and just
nearing their mature length, but before the seed fully
develops inside. You can harvest earlier, but if you
wait too long, the beans will become tougher and much
less tasty. A fresh green bean should be tender, not
stringy, and should easily snap in two.
flat-podded types will show more of a bulge when the
seeds are at harvest stage, but must still be harvested
before they become too mature. Some sampling and
practice will help you know when to harvest the variety
or type you are growing.
When harvesting the
pods, grab the pod near the point of attachment and also
grab the vine. I’ve learned that the hard way when I’ve
broken off a section of the plant by getting into a
hurry and trying to pull off several beans at a time.
One additional word on harvesting: if you leave even a
few pods to mature on the plant, they will reduce the
future yield of the plants. So harvest every few days to
avoid letting the pods become too mature.
best to harvest beans in the morning when they are still
cool. This will maintain better post-harvest quality.
The sooner you cook them, the better. If you need to
store them, place the beans in the refrigerator right
away, where they’ll maintain good quality for about a
week or so.
When cooking beans, remember that
less is better! I grew up eating green beans that were
cooked to death until they were no longer very green. As
a result, I was not a big green bean fan! Now we either
cook them in boiling water just until they are tender or
we spread them on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive
oil, sprinkle with salt and then broil in the oven.
Pole beans are productive and delicious, and well
worth the limited space they require in your garden. Why
not give them a try this season? I’ve mentioned a few
varieties in this article, but there are many others
that deserve a try. Try out some new ones with shorter
days-to-harvest intervals. Then let us how they did for