How to grow beans

Val Bourne / 21 May 2012

Gardening expert Val Bourne recommends the best varieties of French and runner beans to grow, and explains how to grow them.

Beans are excellent plants to fill gaps left in the vegetable patch from harvesting early crops, such as potatoes. They can be sown directly into the soil and can crop within ten weeks of planting.

When to plant

Beans  can be sown between May and July. To get a succession of beans, plant a dozen or so seeds every few days to stagger the crop. Different beans mature at different rates, but dwarf French bean ‘Stanley’ is the fastest maturing dwarf bean to plant and you will get a good crop around ten weeks after planting. 

Runner beans need to be in the ground in early June, but it’s possible to repeat-sow French beans until late-July at least. Later sowings are dependent on weather, however.

Where to plant

Beans have soft leaves and they suffer in strong winds so try to find them a sheltered position. 

Sow the seeds straight into the ground because the soil is warm enough to ensure rapid germination.

How to plant

Sow directly into well-watered soil creating rows 30cm (12") apart with three to four inches between seeds. Plant them at a depth of roughly two inches.

Try to sow at least two varieties of runner bean because varieties are influenced by the weather. White-flowered runner beans have paler seeds and red-flowered forms have darker seeds. 

As a general rule the paler the seed the more heat tolerant the variety is:

Red-flowered beans often drop their flowers in hot weather once the night-time temperature reaches 16 C (62 C) 

White-flowered varieties thrive in warmer summers, as do climbing French beans and the dark-podded ‘Blauhilde’ and the green ‘Cobra’ are star performers.

Flat-podded varieties of bean (like ‘Pantheon’ and ‘Hunter’) crop very heavily whatever the weather too.

Growing a selection of varieties will ensure a crop - whatever weather summer brings. 

Using canes

Climbing beans are best grown on a tripod. Always put the structure up before sowing any climbing varieties.

A tripod of eight tall canes (securely tied at the top) withstands strong winds much better than a long row and one tripod could be accommodated in the flower bed as well as the vegetable patch.

Place three bean seeds round each cane and thin, if needed, once they come up. Also sow a handful in the middle of the tripod (or at the end of the row) for gapping-up, then sow dwarf beans in any remaining space.

Caring for beans

Once they begin to flower water them if the weather is dry.

Once they reach the top of the pole pinch out the shoots so that they bush out lower down.

When to pick

Pick your bean crop regularly. Often August is a peak month so, if you plan to go on holiday then recruit a neighbour to pick them and eat them for you.


Slugs can be a pest for young beans, runner beans and climbing French beans, especially if the weather is wet. Keep slugs at bay by using plenty of coarse grit or  by planting decoy plants, such as lettuces or French marigolds, nearby. These should lure any slugs away, for if they nip out the growing points of the young beans the plants never recovers.

Varieties of climbing beans


Probably the finest red-flowered stringless variety, producing a long succession of thick fleshy pods until late. A reliable and tasty heavy August cropper.

‘Red Rum’ AGM

The first red-flowered runner bean to crop, producing medium-length pods. Often over by August, so do grow a late variety too. 

‘White Emergo’

White-flowered bean producing very smooth light-green pods.


The first runner x French hybrid. Vigorous and long-cropping, producing pods that resemble the runner bean in shape, but when snapped the pods have the plumper profile of a French bean.


Another runner x French hybrid that crops heavily and produces 9" long beans with a plump profile. Plant 'Firestorm' with 'Moonlight' for a good crop, whatever the weather.

'White Lady'

An excellent variety of runner bean with a strong flavour.


A climbing French bean with dark stems and foliage, plus violet flowers so it is decorative as well as edible. 


A first-rate climbing French-bean.

Varieties of dwarf bean (18 inches/ 45 cm)

Dwarf French Bean ‘Stanley’ AGM

For vegetable growers, who find themselves with gaps after harvesting potatoes and other early crops, the dwarf French bean ‘Stanley’ is the fastest maturing dwarf bean to plant. 

It’s disease resistant, can be planted between May and July inclusive, and will produce slender green beans within ten weeks. This variety crops more abundantly than any other I’ve ever grown, producing lots of white-seeded green beans all at once.

‘Purple Tepee’

Six-inch long stringless, slender pods with extra flavour due to being purple podded. Holds its pods well above the main foliage for easier picking and less damage from soil splash. Fast-maturing variety that I always grow.

‘Delinel’  AGM

A strong-growing bean with long, dark green pods and black seeds.

‘Sonesta’ AGM

Bright-yellow, waxy-podded bean with slightly flattened pods, grows best in sunny summers.

‘The Prince’ AGM

A Sutton’s speciality, with continuously heavy crops of long, slender, flat pale-green pods. Best eaten young.

‘Nomad’ AGM

Good resistance to Bean Mosaic Virus and Anthracnose. Dwarf Bean ‘Nomad’ produces bumper crops of straight, stringless, dark-green pods. Flavour is outstanding.

'Cantare' AGM (Duchy Originals Organic Seeds via T&M)

Heavy yields of dark green pods of about 10cm (4") in length that can be picked over a long period.

Visit our fruit and veg section for more growing guides

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