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Growing Beans in the Home Garden close of up green beans

Learn how to plant, fertilize, and harvest a variety of home-grown beans.

Growing beans requires:

  • a sunny location
  • well-drained soil
  • medium to rich fertility
  • a pH of 5.8 to 7.0
  • warm temperatures
  • average moisture

When should you plant beans?

You will plant after the first frost or in the late summer. Beans are sensitive to cold temperatures and frost, so ideally, you should plant them in the spring after all the danger of frost has passed. The soil temperature should be above 62 degrees F. They are usually planted in mid to late April in southern Arkansas and early May in northern Arkansas. To ensure a continuous supply of beans, plant every two weeks until mid-August.

Spacing and Depth of Planting

Plant seeds of all varieties 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep.

Bush beans should be planted two to three inches apart in rows at least 18 to 24 inches apart.

Plant pole beans four to six inches apart in rows 30 to 36 inches apart or in hills (four or six seeds per hill) 30 inches apart with 30 inches between rows.

The seeds of most bean varieties tend to crack and germinate poorly when the moisture content of the soil is too high; therefore, do not soak bean seeds before planting or water immediately after planting.

When should I harvest beans?

  • Green and wax beans – harvest when the pods are firm and crisp but before the seeds within the pod have developed significantly. Pick beans after the dew is off the plants and when beans are thoroughly dry. If beans are picked when the leaves are wet, bean bacterial blight, a disease that seriously damages the plant, can spread. The bean plant continues to form new flowers and produce more beans if all pods are removed before the seeds mature.
  • Lima beans – harvest lima beans when the pods are plump and firm. The pods of different varieties vary significantly in external appearance as the beans develop. Test pick a few pods to ensure beans are at a desirable stage of maturity. Lima beans are best when young; they become mealy and tough-skinned if allowed to remain on the plant beyond peak maturity.
  • Bush-type lima beans are usually harvested in two to three pickings. The pole variety continues to flower and yield until frost if the old pods are removed before the beans mature.
  • Horticulture beans – harvest horticulture beans when the pods start to change from green to yellow. Then the beans, often called “shellouts,” are fully formed and can be stored for a short time under refrigeration.
  • Dry beans – dry beans are seldom planted in home gardens because they are generally available in food markets at reasonable prices. They may be grown much like snap beans and produce good yields. Pull the vines when the plant leaves have turned yellow and begin to fall naturally. Dry the plants in the garden or on a clean floor. When the plants dry up, pods start to split, and the seeds are easily removed. Store dry bean seeds in jars or cans in a cool, dry location.

Common/ Potential Bean Problems:

  • The bean mosaic disease causes the plants to turn yellowish-green and produce few to no pods. The leaves of infected plants are mottled yellow and are usually irregularly shaped. The only satisfactory control of this disease is to use mosaic-resistant bean varieties.
  • Bright yellow or brown spots on the leaves or water-soaked spots on the pods are signs of bacterial bean blight. Bacterial blight is best controlled by planting western-grown, disease-free seeds, avoiding working among wet bean plants, and removing all bean debris from the garden.
  • Bean leaf beetles feed on bean plants, causing holes in the leaves. These beetles can cause severe damage, especially when the plants are young. Use a suggested insecticide for control.
  • Overfertilization may cause the plants to become too vegetative, with dense foliage susceptible to diseases. High nitrogen levels will reduce pod set and yield.
  • Diseases – mosaic (use resistant varieties); anthracnose; bacterial blight (use disease-free, western-grown seed); seed rot (do not plant in cold, moist soils); root and stem rot insects – Mexican bean beetles and larvae, corn earworm, mites cultural – large plants with few beans (excess nitrogen); blossom drop (excessive heat, dry winds).

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My beans appear healthy, but few pods are formed. What is the problem?
A:  The blossoms drop and fail to form pods during periods of hot, dry, and windy weather.

Q: Is it a good practice to plant pole beans at the base of corn plants for double-cropping?
A:  No. Neither crop will reach its maximum potential. Weed control becomes difficult, and corn stalks offer weak support when the beans are maturing.

Q: What are the fuzzy, bright yellow insects that are on my beans?
A:  These are the larvae of the Mexican bean beetle. The adult resembles a large ladybug. The larvae do the most damage. Use the suggested insecticide for control.

Q:  Why do some snap bean varieties have white seeds?
A:  Most bean varieties are developed for the canning and freezing industry. When varieties with colored seeds are used, the cooking water is slightly off-colored. White seed is preferred because it does not discolor the cooking water.

Q:  Will bean varieties cross in my garden?
A:  Since the flowers are self-pollinated, bean varieties will not usually cross. Obtain new seeds each year to avoid seedborne diseases.

Q:  Occasionally, green beans germinate and come up but only have two leaves or maybe none at all. What is wrong?
A:  This condition is termed “snake head” or “bald head” and is generally caused by planting cracked or damaged seed. Occasionally, the beans literally pull their heads off when forced to germinate and come through heavy or crusted soil. Planting a high-quality seed and maintaining the soil in a moist and friable condition will help eliminate this problem.

Q:  What causes my plants to bloom but not set pods?
A:  Excessive fertility causes beans to bloom profusely but fail to set any pods. High temperature combined with low humidity also cause beans not to set. Most recommended varieties will produce a crop of high-quality beans when planted at the right time and without excessive fertility. A light fertilization after the first harvest will greatly increase subsequent yields and improve quality of later-harvested beans.

Q:  Why are some types of beans able to climb and others are not?
A:  Pole beans are characterized by an indeterminate or vining growth habit, while bush bean varieties are determinate. In the vining type, flowers form in the axils of the leaves and stem, allowing the stem to grow indefinitely. In the determinate-type growth, the main growing point ends in a flower cluster, preventing stem elongation. Beans climb because of the twining growth habit of the stems.

Q:  What causes garden beans to become tough, stringy, and fibrous?
A:  High temperature during pod formation is usually the cause. Excess fiber and vascular tissue formation in the pod walls make them tough.

Q: Can I save seeds from this year’s bean crop for next season’s garden?
A:  Yes. Since beans are self-pollinated, they will breed true from one year to the next. However, certain diseases can be seedborne and may appear in next year’s garden if seed from the previous garden are used for planting.

Q: Can mung beans be grown in Arkansas gardens?
A:  Yes. Seeds of the mung bean are one of the sources of sprouts. Plant them after all danger of frost is past in rows three feet apart with plants three to four inches apart in the row. The pods are ready for harvest when they are fully mature and dark brown in color. Remove the seeds, and germinate under clean, moist, and dark conditions to produce long, tender, nutritious sprouts.

Q: What is the “yard-long bean” advertised in many seed catalogs?
A:  The “yard-long bean” or asparagus bean is a close relative of the southern pea and produces pods up to three feet long. The plants are vining and need support. The pods are tender when young and frequently used as snaps. For this use, harvest them when the pods are partially developed and before seed enlargement shows. For shelling, harvest them when the seeds are full-sized but still immature. They may also be shelled when fully mature.

Q: Can I grow soybeans in my home vegetable garden?
A:  Yes. Certain varieties, commonly called vegetable soybeans, are milder in flavor than those grown in fields. Soybeans are highly nutritious and are normally eaten in the green shell stage. The pods should be thick when fully mature but still green and tender. Seed them in rows 30 to 60 inches apart with plants two to three inches apart in the row.

Q: What is a broad bean?
A:  Broad beans, which are also called Fava, horse, or Windsor beans, are not true snap beans. They are closely related to vetch and will grow in cool weather unsuited for green snap beans. Varieties commonly grown include Broad Windsor and Long Pod. They can be planted very early in the spring. The commonly grown varieties require from 85 to 120 days from seeding to harvest.

By Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
(501) 268-5394