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Authors as Published

Diane Relf, Extension Specialist, Environmental Horticulture, and Alan McDaniel, Extension Specialist, Horticulture; Virginia Tech

Table of Contents

Environmental PreferencesCommon Problems
CultureNutritional Value
Cultural Practices Harvesting and Storage


Environmental Preferences

Light: sunny

Soil: well-drained

Fertility: medium rich

pH: 5.8 - 7.0

Temperature: warm (65 degrees - 80 degrees) except fava beans

Moisture: average

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Planting: seed after danger of frost is past. Inoculating seeds with nitrogen-fixing bacteria may increase yields on land newly planted in beans.

Spacing: bush snap 2" x 24-30"; bush limas 4" x 18-30"; pole beans 4-8" x 24-36".

Hardiness: tender annual, except fava - semi-hardy annual

Fertilizer Needs: beans are medium feeders. Excess nitrogen will delay flowering, so sidedress only after heavy bloom and set of pods, using 1-1/2 oz. or 3 T. of 10-10-10 per 10 feet of row. Since beans are legumes they will fix nitrogen once a good root system is established; inoculation will speed the process. This nitrogen will be available to crops after the beans die.

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Cultural Practices

Bush Snap Beans

The bush snap bean is the most popular garden bean because of its early maturity and because trellising is not required. Varieties include standard green, yellow wax, and purple-podded types, giving the gardener a larger choice than is generally available in supermarkets. Though wax beans are yellow and waxy in appearance, their flavor is only subtly different from that of regular green snap beans. The purple pod beans are different in appearance while growing, but the pods turn green when cooked. Flat-podded green snap beans are somewhat different in flavor and texture than the round-podded ones, and are preferred by many gardeners. These are available in both bush and pole types.

First plantings of bush beans should be made after danger of frost is past in the spring and soil is warmed, since seed planted in cold soils germinate slowly and are susceptible to rotting. Also, seedling growth may be slow in cool temperatures. Plant several crops of bush beans 2-3 weeks apart, until August 1 for a continuous harvest. Snap beans should be kept picked to keep plants producing heavily.

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Half-Runner Beans

Half-runner beans have a growth habit between that of bush and pole beans, producing beans usually used as snap beans. Though they have runners about 3 feet long, half-runners are generally grown like bush beans. Trellising, however, may increase production of these already heavy yielders.


figure1.jpg Trellises


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Pole Beans

Pole type beans come in many varieties, generally bearing over a longer period than bush types. They require trellising, and for that reason generally yield more in the same amount of space. Pole beans are natural climbers but will not interweave themselves through horizontal wires. A teepee tripod support can be made with three wooden poles or large branches that are lashed together at the top. 5-6 seeds are planted in a circle 6-8 inches from each pole. Many types of homemade trellises work well as long as they provide the needed support. Trellises should be 6-8' tall and sturdy enough to withstand strong winds and rain. Interplanting pole beans with corn is often recommended, but practices vary. Beans should be planted late enough to allow some growth and development of the corn first.



Scarlet runner beans are a type of pole bean which is quite ornamental as well as productive and delicious. The vines grow rapidly, producing beautiful red flowers and beans, which may be harvested as snap beans when young and as immature shell beans later. Beans are ready to pick in 75-85 days and several pounds are produced per plant. However, the value of scarlet runner beans is mainly ornamental; the lush 6-15 foot vines can be used to cover arbors, trellises, or fences. An added feature is that the flowers are attractive to hummingbirds. According to some catalogs, the scarlet runner bean grows best in cooler weather than standard beans prefer; in some very hot areas the vines may not keep producing all summer, as they will in cooler regions. Keeping maturing beans picked off will prolong the life of the vines.

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Lima Beans

Lima beans are available in bush or pole types. Bush limas mature about 10-15 days earlier than pole limas. Pole type limas have better yields and produce longer than the bush forms. Soil temperature must be 65 degrees for 5 days in order for the beans to germinate well. Because the large seeds store considerable amounts of carbohydrates, limas are quite susceptible to soil fungi and bacteria. So, the sooner the seedling sprouts, the better. Pregermination or starting indoors helps if care is taken not to damage the shoots when planting and if soil remains moist for several days. Seed treated with anti-fungal agents also have improved germination rates. Soil should be kept moist but not wet until the seedlings emerge from the ground; do not allow a crust to form on the soil, since the seedlings will have trouble pushing through. Prevent crusting and conserve moisture by spreading 1/4" sand, sawdust, or a light mulch over the seeded row.

A cold, wet spell can cause lima flowers to drop, as can excessively hot and dry periods, reducing yields. Baby limas or butter beans are less susceptible to blossom drop problems.

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Southern Peas

Southern peas are not actually beans or peas, but are used in the same ways. There are three commonly grown types - blackeyed pea, cream pea, and crowder pea. They are available in both pole and bush forms. Southern peas may be harvested in the green shell or in the dried "pea" stage.

The yard-long or asparagus bean is related to blackeyed peas and has similar flavor, but the entire pod may be eaten. On trellised vines, pods may be produced which are 1-1/2 to 2 feet long ("yard-long" is stretching it a bit). Asparagus beans need warm temperatures and a long growing season to do well. Look for the seeds in novelty, gourmet, Oriental, or children's sections of seed catalogs.

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Soybeans are increasing in popularity because of their high nutritional value and their versatility. Catalogs often list them as "edible" soybeans; all soybeans are actually edible, but those in garden catalogs have been bred to do well under ordinary garden conditions, requiring a shorter season and not growing as tall as the field types. There is also a difference in flavor and texture, as there is between sweet and field corn. Soybeans are less sensitive to frost and may have fewer problems with Mexican bean beetles than standard beans. Soybeans are quite delicious when harvested as green shell beans, but may also be allowed to dry on the vine. The pods of soybeans are quite difficult to open; cook for a few minutes to soften the pod before removing the beans.

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Dry Beans

Beans used primarily as dried beans are many and varied. Many can be used green, but dry well for easy storage. In the small garden, growing dry beans is somewhat impractical, since the amount of space required to raise a large enough quantity for storage is great. Many types of dry beans may be purchased in supermarkets at a very low cost, so it may be more worthwhile to grow higher-value crops in the limited space. However, if you have a very large garden area and a desire to sit on the front porch rocking away and shelling beans in the fall, they are worth a try. Some varieties available to gardeners are either rare or completely unavailable in the supermarket.

The horticultural, or "October," bean is very widely grown in parts of the state, called a "Virginia delicacy" by one Extension Specialist. The colorful pods and beans of the October bean make it an attractive addition to the garden and kitchen.

The seeds of pinto beans look similar to those of the horticultural beans, but are smaller. They are widely used as "brown beans" and as refried beans in Mexican dishes.

Black beans or black turtle beans make an unusual, delicious black-colored soup. They are easy to grow if given plenty of air movement to prevent disease problems to which they are susceptible.

Kidney beans are the popular chili and baking bean, available in deep red or white types.

Navy pea and Great Northern beans are used in soups and as baked beans. Cranberry and yellow-eyed beans are heirloom varieties again gaining favor among gardeners.

Mung beans, native to India, have enjoyed a rise in popularity because of their use as sprouts in Oriental dishes and salads, and gardeners now find seeds available for home production. Mung beans require 90 days of warm weather for good yield in the garden.

Garbanzos, or chickpeas, produce plants which do not look like other bean plants. Garbanzos are actually neither true beans nor peas, but are leguminous. The fine-textured foliage is an attractive addition to the garden. Plant many seeds; the meaty seeds tend to rot if they don't germinate and grow rapidly. Also, each pod contains only one or two seeds. The nutty-flavored beans of unusual texture are good roasted, in salads, and in soups. Garbanzos also require a warm climate and long (100 day) growing season.

Fava beans, or broad beans, are quite hardy. In cool climates they are often substituted for limas. Favas are sown early in spring, and are the exception to the rule, as they do not grow well in warm weather; in fact, if sown in April, they may be ready as green shell beans in late June or early July. It should be noted that some people of Mediterranean origin have a genetic trait which causes a strong allergic reaction to fava beans.

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Common Problems

Diseases: mosaic (use resistant varieties); anthracnose; bacterial blight (use disease-free western-grown seed); seed rot (do not plant in cold moist soils); root rots and stem rots.

Insects: Mexican bean beetles and larvae, corn earworm, mites, cabbage looper.

Cultural: Large plants with few beans (excess nitrogen); blossom drop (excessive heat, dry winds).

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Nutritional Value

 Grams % U.S. R.D.A.
Bean Type(1 cup)CaloriesVit. AVit. C
Green snap125301525
Lima beans1701901050
Mung sprouts125352220
Grt. Northern180210--
Yellow snap12530730

Beans are an excellent source of protein for vegetarians when combined with foods that complement their various amino acids.

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Harvesting and Storage

Days to Maturity: snap beans 50-60 days ; pole limas 85-110 days; bush limas 65-75 days; pole beans 60-110 days.


Snap beans - full size pods, small beans or larger beans as long as pods are still tender; pods break easily with a "snap" when ready; seed should not cause pods to bulge.

Lima/Dry beans - Seeds will be full sized and pods will be bright green. End of pod will be spongy. For dry beans (of all types) pods should remain on bush until dry and brown.

Sprouts - rinse, shake off excess water, and store in plastic bags after sprouts are 1" long or more.

Preservation: drying, freezing, and canning. For "leather britches," string snap beans on sturdy thread or fishing line and hang to dry.

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Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.


Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.


May 1, 2009

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