Want to take your garden vertical? Love beans but you just don’t have the space? Pole beans are a versatile and easy to grow option for any spring/summer vegetable garden. Perfect in raised beds, row gardens, or even in the flower bed, these fast growers put nitrogen back into the soil and produce delicious beans!
Pole Beans vs. Bush Beans
Deciding whether to grow pole beans or bush beans may be all about the variety of beans you want to grow. Not all bean varieties come in both pole and bush types. A sturdy blue lake pole bean is a classic that requires very little maintenance. But if you’re looking for something more exotic, then a dragon’s tongue bush bean may be more up your alley.
If you know your space is limited, then pole beans can easily be grown vertically. Bush beans, while not always large plants, will need space to fill out.
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Why Grow Pole Beans
- Save Space– One of the best reasons to grow pole beans is simply to save space in your garden area. Pole beans easily grow up a trellis or a bean teepee, giving you the chance to grow multiple plants in just a few square feet. (And making your own bean trellis is so easy or you can snag an affordable obelisk trellis here!)
- Aesthetic interest– Having a vertical element in your garden or landscape can add beauty and interest. Pair the vertical element with something like a scarlet runner bean, and you have a colorful and tall addition to your yard or garden.
- Nitrogen rich– all varieties of beans can fix any nitrogen deficiencies in your soil. So while they’re busy producing delicious beans for you to eat, they’re also hard at work below ground providing much needed nitrogen.
Popular Pole Bean Varieties
- Scarlet Runner Bean – This classic runner bean can reach up to 10 feet tall, and has beautiful scarlet blooms as the fruit begins to set.
- Kentucky Wonder Pole– A classic pole bean that’s easy to grow with good yields.
- Lazy Housewife– Try not to be offended by the name if you’re a lady gardener, but this pole bean variety requires no stringing, so it saves some work. It can also be picked early and eaten, or allowed to grow larger and shelled.
- Blue Lake Pole– Another traditional heirloom pole bean with dark green beans and heavy yields.
- Rattlesnake Pole Bean– Light purple streaks on vibrant green beans are a signature of the rattlesnake pole bean. Check out the fantastic reviews of this bean at Baker Creek Seed.
- Romano Pole Bean– This flat, long bean has a long European history. If harvested early, they are tender and pretty stringless, but they can also be kept on the vine to be used as shelling beans.
Soil Requirements for Pole Beans
- Ph– An important part of growing pole beans is optimal soil conditions. Most bean varieties do well with a soil of Ph of 6.5, not too acidic or basic. Always be sure to get a soil sample of your garden area before you being planting or amending your garden soil. This is a free or low cost service provided by the local Cooperative Extension office.
- Well-drained– The soil should also be in a place that is well drained and not susceptible to holding water when it rains. Also watch out for areas where rain run off from gutter spouts or concrete tends to accumulate.
- Non-compacted soil– While growing pole beans in non-compacted soil may seem obvious after the well-drained point above, loose soil is crucial for bean growing success. Their root systems aren’t dense enough to break up hard, compacted soil. Raised beds are perfect for beans, but soil can also be gently loosened in preparation for beans.
How to Grow Pole Beans
- Use good quality seed always. Non-GMO companies such as Baker Creek Seed, Eden Brothers, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are my go to’s, but you can see a full list here of quality seed companies.
- Pole Bean spacing and depth– plants should be place 18 inches apart. This will give the beans plenty of space to grow without being overcrowded, since those conditions can lead to issues down the road with pests and disease. Seeds should be sown 1-2 inches deep.
- When to Plant– Depending on your zone, and the particular variety of bean, pole beans should be planted in mid-spring and can be succession planted well into late summer in warmer areas. We usually plant two crops of bean in zone 8b.
- Feeding and fertilization– Since pole beans are natural nitrogen producers, there’s no needy to fertilize with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer. Instead, use compost dressed alongside your plants once they begin to bloom.
When to Harvest Pole Beans
For a full post on when to harvest beans, see my article When to Harvest beans. But for a short tip, harvest pole beans when they’re still smaller and tender. Beans that are allowed to grow large will often be tough and not nearly as good even when cooked. And if you do let the beans get overly large, some varieties can be harvested large as shelling beans. So always be sure to read the seed package information for details.
Some varieties are longer naturally, so be sure read that valuable seed package information before harvesting. You don’t want to harvest a small rattlesnake bean at 3 inches long when they’re actually going to be so much longer!
How to Preserve Pole Beans
An important part of growing pole beans is knowing what to do with them once you have them! Harvests can be large if many pole bean plants are grown at the same time. So have a plan in place for how you’ll preserve any beans that you aren’t able to eat soon after harvest.
- Freezing– The easiest way to preserve any variety of pole or bush bean is to freeze them after blanching. See my full tutorial on how to freeze beans to see how easy it is, video included!
- Canning– Have more time on your hands? Canning beans is a great way to have garden beans on hand in your pantry all winter long. My Granny always canned beans, and I loved eating them straight out of the jar!
- Drying– Drying green beans, whether in the oven or dehydrator is another method of preserving the harvest. Check out the instructions here.
Common Pole Bean Pests
Garden pests abound, especially in the warm months of spring and summer. These common pests are big lovers of pole beans, but even if you spot them, don’t resort to harsh insecticides to get rid of them. Natural Pest Control for the Home Garden is my full e-book all about how to keep garden pests at bay without using chemicals that could be dangerous to your family and other beneficial bugs in your vegetable garden.
- Cutworms– These pest will literally cut a plant off at the base, much like squash vine borers. If you’ve experienced cutworm issues in the past, then use preventative measures such as wrapping the bottom of your bean plants with foil or ace bandage.
- Bean Leaf Beetles– If you begin noticing holes in the leaves of your bean plant, then be on the lookout for bean leaf beetles. These pests can be picked off (like Japanese beetles ) and placed in a jar of soapy water.
- Spider Mites– Tiny arachnids that can easily take over a plant, spider mites use their mouth parts to suck the nutrients out of the leaves of your plant. A dappled appearance on the leaves is an indication that tiny spider mites may be present. If there is a large infestation, then you’ll also see webbing on the plants. To combat spider mites on bean plants, use an insecticidal soap or neem oil spray.
Other FAQ’s for Growing Pole Beans
- How tall will pole beans grow? Many pole beans grow at least 6 feet. Once they reach the top of the trellis or teepee, they can hang down. But pinching them off at the top of your bean structure is the easiest way to keep the size under control, and keep their energy focused on producing beans.
- How long do pole beans take to grow? Depending on variety, pole beans can begin to fruit in 50 days or go so long as 80 days before producing.
- How often should I harvest my pole beans in season? Once pole beans begin producing, you’ll want to check on them daily to harvest what’s ready. This is a good reason to use succession planting, planting beans several weeks apart, so you’re not overwhelmed by your bean harvest.
- What grows well with pole beans? The classic Three Sisters growing method includes corn, pole beans, and squash or zucchini. These plants do well together, since the corn can be used as a support for the beans, and the low-lying zucchini or squash spreads wide, helping to cut down on weeds. This is a classic combination to try in the garden!
Learning how to grow pole beans isn’t difficult, and it’s a great way to have success early on as a beginning gardener. Pole beans are beautiful and practical, since they feed your family, and they preserve easily. Give them a try in your vegetable garden this year!
Need help planning your vegetable garden? Check out my Complete Garden Planner to help you save time and money by only buying what you need and knowing exactly where to plant it!