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

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 by early June, but it’s possible to repeat-sow French beans until late-July at least. Later sowings are dependent on weather, however.

Bean seeds can be sown directly into the ground in June when the nights are warmer and the soil temperature is higher. They should emerge within two weeks.

Browse the Saga Garden Centre for great offers on fruit and vegetables now.

Where to plant beans

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 beans

If starting in pots begin sowing in mid April and sow two beans to each small pot.

Weed out the poorest of the two when young. Once all risk of frost has gone and the beans have started to produce leaves plant two plants to each cane.

If growing in the ground wait until mid May, when as beans are frost-tender and will only germinate in warm conditions.

Sow beans 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. If planting around a tripod plant three beans around each cane and plant a handful of beans inside the tripod as spares for gapping up.

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.

Planting decoy plants, such as lettuces or French marigolds, will hopefully prevent slugs nibbling your beans.

Water seeds well in dry weather until they germinate.

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.

How to make a bean tripod

Place a dustbin lid or other large round object on the ground.

Use eight tall canes and place the first four opposite each other, as though they were the four main compass points, roughly 12 inches away from the outer rim of the lid so that you're creating a larger circle.

Slant them into the ground so they make a tepee shape.

Remove the dustbin lid and place the last four canes midway between the compass points and tie securely at the top.

Find out about Saga Home Insurance

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 beans

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.

Why aren't my beans cropping?

Runner beans not cropping is probably due to warmer summers and hotter nights. Unfortunately if the nighttime temperature consistently exceeds 16C (62F) runner bean flowers often fail to set - however much you water the plants or spray the flowers. This is particularly true with red-flowered varieties grown from dark, mottled seeds. However varieties do differ. Pale-seeded, white-flowered runner beans show much more tolerance to warmer nights. They crop more heavily in warmer summers.

However if we get a cool summer, red-flowered runner beans perform better than white-flowered ones. So it's a good idea to sow both. Good red-flowered varieties include 'Wisley Magic', the early-cropping 'Red Rum' and 'Lady Di'. 'White Lady' is an excellent white-flowered runner like.

The most heat-tolerant beans of all are French beans and these crop heavily in hot conditions, although they often fail in cooler summers. Climbing varieties take up less space and tend to be less prevalent to slug damage. I recommend ‘Blauhilde’ for its dark-purple beans, lilac flowers and dark foliage and ‘Cobra’ a green French bean. 

I always sow a mixture of French and Runner beans. And now that we have windier summers I use tripods rather than rows - as bean crops can be devastated by strong summer gales.

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.


A long variety of runner bean that can be left on the plant longer than some other varieties. Buy runner bean 'Streamline' from Saga Garden Centre.

‘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.

'Scarlet Emperor'

A heavy cropping classic runner bean for harvesting from August to September.

Buy a collection of jumbo Scarlet Emperor and Streamline runner beans for just £7.99 with free P&P.

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.

'Borlotto Suprema'

A traditional Italian variety of French bean with colourful pink and white flecked bean pods. Buy 'Borlotto Suprema' from Saga Garden Centre.

‘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

Try 3 issues of Saga Magazine for just £3

Subscribe today for just £3 for 3 issues...

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.