Planting green beans – from seed to harvest (the essential guide)

Green beans are easy to grow and give a generous harvest even if you do not have a lot of space.

Green beans (phaseolus vulgaris) are annuals and are also known as “snap beans”, “string beans” or simply coined the common bean.

Green beans are of course green but I do recommend you also look into growing other varieties of beans. Whereas the French bean or wax beans still are the most popular, varieties like yellow beans, purple beans, and beautifully streaked varieties are gaining in popularity.

Here in the Essential Guide to Planting Beans, we will look at What beans to plant as well as When, Where and How to plant your green beans. We will also cover fertilizers, diseases, and how to take care of your beans all the way to the harvest and storage of your produce.

What beans to plant – bush beans or pole beans?

Bush beans are generally speaking less work to grow. And the difference between bush and pole bean varieties does largely come down to how they grow and produce their fruits. 

And one of the main determinants when choosing between bush and pole beans comes down to the space and type of space you have available.

Bush beans grow compact to a specific height, produce fruits, and then stop growing. 

Pole beans on the other hand grow long and climb and need support and structure to support the vines. 

Choosing to grow bush or pole beans comes down to your personal preferences. 

Bush beans

  • Bush beans more hands-off to grow when they are established
  • Bush beans tend to deliver all their harvest at the same time (about 50 days)
  • Bush beans are planted in rows and need space to grow but do not need a lot of vertical space

Pole beans

  • Pole beans will grow long vines that need to be supported for the plant to thrive
  • Pole beans will continue to produce fruits if you harvest the continually and the yield is often richer compared to bush bean varieties (about 60 days)
  • Pole beans require vertical space but not a lot of ground area to grow

You can of course stagger your planting of bush beans for a more continuous harvest throughout the growing season. Just plant your bush green bean seeds over a period of 1-2 weeks for a more staggered and continuous growth and harvest.

Pole bean plants do not need to be staggered as the plant will continue to grow and produce fruit until the plant is killed by external factors like frost or heat.

When to plant beans?

Plant your bean seeds or seedlings outdoors when the soil temperature reaches 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) and there is no longer any risk for frost. 

But do not sow bean seeds too early. If the soil is too cold the green bean seeds will take longer to germinate and you risk that the seeds rot sitting in cold wet soil for too long. If you use raised garden beds you can cover the bed with a plastic cover to increase soil temperature. Adding organic mulch will have the same effect as it insulates the green bean seeds from the cold. 

Where to plant your beans

When growing green beans you should choose a location with full sun for at least 6 hours per day. So choose your location wisely. 

Green beans prefer fertile well-drained soil. The soil used for growing green beans should ideally be slightly acidic to neutral with a soil ph in the range of 6-7. 

Bush beans grow up to 60 cm tall (2 feet tall ) whereas pole beans grow up to 4-5 meters tall (15 feet tall) and need a trellis or some other structure to support their climbing vines.

Add compost or a slow-release fertilizer to your soil if you are working with soil of poor quality. 

If you are planting pole beans you need to make sure to allow vertical space for the pole bean vines to grow and develop. 

How to plant green beans

Whether you plant bush beans or pole beans, sow bean seeds 3 cm deep (1 inch deep) and about 6 cm apart (2 inches apart) in a well-drained fertile soil. 

When you grow green beans it is important not to sow pole or bush bean seeds too densely. The plants need space to grow and develop and the fragile roots do not like to be disturbed.

Rows of beans should be spaced about 40 cm apart (15 inches apart) to allow each plant to grow and develop.

Grow green beans from seed or seedling?

When you grow green beans you can sow seeds but also buy or grow your own seedlings for transplanting outdoors.

Green beans do however have fragile roots and can be difficult to transplant if planted too densely. And as green beans grow fast with a high germination rate you could argue that it is not necessary to develop seedlings indoors. 

But if you do, grow your seedlings in well-washed clean propagation pots or trays and keep 1 seed per pot or unit. 

You will later transplant the whole seedling with the root system and soil to avoid hurting or disturbing the gentle root system. Make sure your seedlings have good access to light or they will grow leggy in their search for light. Keep the temperature around 

Keep the temperature around 15 to 20 degrees C (60-70 F) to allow your seedling to grow strong without stress.

It is always better to harden plants a couple of weeks before planting outdoors. Start with 30 mins to one hour and increase time outdoors every day. After about 2 weeks or so your seedling will be ready to move outdoors permanently.

Pole beans need a structure to support them. You can buy a support structure like a trellis or quite easily put one together yourself using for example bamboo sticks and garden twine. 

It is wise to create a support structure for pole beans when you plant your seeds or seedlings to avoid disturbing the root system later.  Plant 2-4 seedlings around each structure and you will find that they are covered in no time.

As the plants grow, help them along by gently winding them up the support structure. Using garden twine across the panel is a great way to help the plants find something to grab onto. 

How to care for green beans

Green beans have shallow roots and will dry out and die if not watered during hot summer days. Adding organic mulch to your garden beds will help retain water and keep soil moisture at a higher level for longer. This is especially useful during times of hot weather.

If you are using mulch, weed should not cause you too many problems. If you do need to weed, be careful not to disturb the bean plants’ gentle root system. 

Always water green beans at the base to avoid getting leaves and foliage wet. Wet foliage will invite disease and can also cause leaves to burn when exposed to direct sunlight.

Using a drip irrigation system can also be helpful if you have many plants

After planting add a 3-4 inch layer of organic mulch to insulate against cold. Mulch also helps retain moisture during hot days and prevents the leaves and foliage from being in direct contact with the soil and any pathogens or diseases in the soil. The mulch will break down over time and add nutrients to your soil.

If you are growing pole beans you can top the plant if it reaches the end of your support structure. Pinching of the tops will encourage the plant to divert its energy into growing more fruits instead.

If you live in a milder climate plant beans about 12 weeks before first frost for a fall harvest. Living in zone 7 we can plant as late as September for a welcome late fall harvest as our garden is being put to bed for winter. 

Green beans and the use of fertilizer

Compost and fertile soil are usually enough for green beans to grow strong and produce plentiful harvests. And as the green bean root nodes have their own ingenious way of producing their own nitrogen you should use fertilizers with caution.

If you are not working with fresh and fertile soil you can add compost and aged manure or a slow-release fertilizer to your soil. 

But be careful to add a high nitrogen fertilizer when the plant is established and blooms as it will encourage growth of foliage rather than more bean pods to develop. 

I do however always add a slow-release fertilizer when I prepare my raised garden beds for green beans.

Green beans: Pests and plant diseases

Green beans are by no means immune to pests, mold, or fungal diseases.

There are however things you can do to prevent problems with pests and disease. I use Neem oil water solutions as my go-to product for problems with pests and diseases.

But it is sometimes not wise to try to save a heavily infected plant as you risk infecting all your plants in the process. Often it is better to simply remove and destroy the plant. 

Pests and diseases of green beans include but are not limited to the Mexican bean beetles, powdery mildew, bean rust, aphids, thrips, leafhoppers as well as spider mites, cutworms, and white mold. 

How to reduce the risk of pests and disease

Here are 10 key principles that will help reduce the risk of pests and diseases on your green bean plants.

  1. Remove and destroy infected plants
  2. Always water green beans at the base to avoid wet leaves
  3. Keep your green beans watered to avoid dry outs
  4. Plant disease-resistant green bean varieties
  5. Use crop rotation and never plant beans in the same location as last season
  6. Be vigilant and control weeds in and around your green bean garden beds
  7. Inspect your plants and remove for example bean leaf beetles by hand
  8. Do not compost infected plants
  9. Leave a wide space between plants and rows of green bean plants
  10. Do not save seeds from infected plants

Harvest green beans

Harvesting green beans when they are young and tender will give you the best possible tasting green bean pods. If you leave your beans on the plant for too long the fruit will grow tough and stringy.

Continuous harvest of your green bean plants will encourage the plant to grow more beans. Get into the habit of harvesting your beans every day – the more you harvest the more the plant will produce. This is true for bush beans but especially applies to growing pole beans.

Be gentle when harvesting to avoid tearing or breaking the plant when you pick your beans. Look for firm and healthy-looking beans and use two hands to break them off the vine. Or even better use a pair of garden scissors to harvest your green beans.

Few things beat fresh beans and harvested beans always taste the best when they are used the same day as they are harvested and ideally eaten raw. To harvest beans daily is a wonderful luxury that ensures garden fresh vegetables throughout the season for you and your family.

Store green beans

Harvested beans can be stored in an airtight container in your fridge for up to a week. But even if the beans are stored properly they will start to get tougher the longer they are stored.

If you are not planning to use the beans the same day it is better to freeze the beans in portion-sized freezer bags. 

Beans can of course also be stored by other methods. Some gardeners store dry beans or pickle and can beans for later use. But freezing the beans immediately after harvest is the best way to retain the green beans’ taste and texture. 

The essential guide to planting and growing green beans
Helpful resources:

University of Minnesota Extension 

NM State, College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants, and garden vegetables. For the past two years, he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.