How to Grow Green Beans

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

how to grow green beans

Story at-a-glance -

  • You’ll find growing green beans is most productive when the seeds are planted after the last chance of frost and the ground is warming
  • Plant seeds 1 inch deep and thin the seedlings 6 to 10 inches apart for pole beans and 3 to 6 inches apart for bush beans
  • Prepare the soil with organic mulch or compost, keep the soil moist but not water logged and provide the plants with a side dressing of organic fertilizer midway through the 50- to 60-day growing season; enjoy a second season by stagger planting or growing indeterminate seeds
  • Natural methods of controlling pests such as aphids, spider mites and Mexican Bean Beetles include dish soap and water sprays, along with attracting predator insects and handpicking beetles from your plants
  • Growing green beans in your garden offers you the opportunity to harvest healthy, pesticide-free vegetables you may use directly from your garden; add to soups, stews and salad

Enjoy the health benefits of green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) all year-round when you discover how to grow green beans in your garden, containers and even indoors. Green beans were originally grown in Central and South America.1 The vegetable was introduced to the Mediterranean region and cultivated around Italy, Greece and Turkey by the 17th century.

Today, backyard farmers grow green beans around the world as they are easy to grow and you may enjoy a large harvest from a limited space. Green beans come in varieties that may need support (pole beans), or may grow on their own without support (bush beans).

Although growing green beans in your own vegetable garden may seem challenging, as long as you provide some of the basic requirements, you'll be reaping a bountiful reward whether your beans are planted indoors or out.

Those rewards also extend to the health benefits of green beans, which include being high in fiber, low in calories and having repeatedly demonstrated the ability to lower your risk of chronic illness.2

Prepare Before Planting a Garden or Container of Green Beans

Green beans are annual plants so you'll be planting new green beans each year. The plants enjoy a slightly acidic pH, near 6.0 to 6.2, and moderately rich soil. Prepare your soil before planting green beans seeds by adding organic compost. The seeds may be sown directly outside after the danger of frost is gone.3

Plant the seeds about an inch deep and water immediately. Keep the soil moist by watering regularly. The most important factor for a good harvest is ensuring the soil is warm, as cool, damp soil will rot the plants.4

Sow the seeds for pole beans close together and then thin to about 6 to 10 inches apart after germination. Bush beans may be thinned to 3 to 6 inches apart after germination. Both may be started indoors before the last frost; transplant 3-inch seedlings to your garden or container after the threat of frost has passed.5

If you choose container gardening, the green beans will need at least an 8-inch pot. However, for best results, the container should be 12 inches or larger. The larger the container, the less they will need to be watered. However, the container should have good drainage soil and about an inch of gravel at the bottom to encourage drainage and reduce the potential for root rot.6

Green beans enjoy full sun, so whether in the garden or in a container, they should be placed where they'll receive at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Bush beans planted in containers need more space around them than pole varieties for airflow and to reduce the potential for fungal growth.

On the other hand, pole beans require more vertical space and a stake or trellis to support their growth.7 Once the seedlings are 3 inches or taller, add mulch around the plants to retain moisture and discourage weeds.

Green beans are not heavy feeders. When grown in garden soil an initial addition of compost and a side dressing of organic fertilizer midway through the growing season is usually enough to produce a hearty harvest of beans. In containers, the vegetables may benefit from monthly organic fertilizer.8

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Growing Green Beans Indoors Takes the Sting Out of Winter

You may also consider growing green beans indoors, especially if you enjoy the flavorful addition to your recipes all year long. As it is a relatively quick growing plant and quite pretty, it can make a visually appealing addition to your windows.

When growing indoors, the seeds may be planted any time of the year. However, it is helpful to remember the plants continue to have certain environmental requirements, such as plenty of sunlight. Alternatively, consider using grow lights if you don't have a window receiving at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.9

The plants are warm weather plants and enjoy a spot where the temperature will be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and up to 85 degrees F. However, excessive heat and humidity may trigger a variety of problems.10 Since they are an annual plant, you'll get the same number of harvests grown indoors as you would outside.

Fill your containers with the same type of soil as you would have used outdoors — enriched with compost, well-draining, with a pH of 6 to 6.2. Avoid using soil rich in nitrogen. When the seedlings begin to appear and are 3 inches tall, add mulch to retain moisture.

As with outdoor containers, a light feeding of organic fertilizer once a month may help your harvest. Whether grown indoors or out, most varieties will be fully grown and ready to begin harvesting within 50 to 60 days.11

The Determinacy of Your Green Bean Seeds Predicts Your Harvest

As you begin to choose your green bean varieties, it's helpful to remember your harvest will be determined on whether your plant is determinate or indeterminate. These are botanical terms identifying basic growth patterns. In general terms, bush beans tend to be determinant, while pole beans tend to be indeterminate.12

Indeterminate plants grow and produce until the first frost hits and kills the plant. Indeterminate growth also refers to sequential flowering on a plant, on which the production of beans relies. In your vegetable garden, the most common plants having determinate or indeterminate seeds are tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans and strawberries.

For the most part, your seed packets will be identified as determinate or indeterminate. In either case, by consistently harvesting your beans as they mature, you'll increase production. Usually, the first crop will be the largest and the subsequent crops will come in at a reduced number.13 

Gardeners who like to harvest green beans all summer long may prefer to use indeterminate plants. On the other hand, by stagger planting your green beans you'll get similar results with larger harvests.14

Some crops may also be semi-determinate, which means they'll stop producing but may be coaxed into a second round of production by regularly harvesting the beans as they're produced.

Pay close attention to the type of seeds you plant as it affects the type of pruning you may consider. As shared by the Daily Garden,15 indeterminate plants may be pruned of unwanted shoots, which then directs nutrients to the area of the plant you'd like it to go. On the other hand, determinate plants will perform better if they're not pruned excessively.

Types of Green Beans You May Grow in Your Garden

There are slight variations in the shape and size of green bean varieties and they are called different names depending upon the geographical region, such as fine beans, snap beans, string beans or French beans. However, despite the varying names they are all green beans.

Throughout the world there are approximately 150 varieties in all shapes and colors, but despite the differences in appearance, the health benefits are similar. As such, most green beans are more or less interchangeable in any recipe you find. The variations may come in the time it takes to cook or the texture. According to The Spruce, some of the more common varieties include:16

Green beans, string beans or snap beans — These are long, rounded and green. Heirloom varieties may have a fibrous string running down their sides, but since this has proved inconvenient for most cooks, it has been bred out of varieties sold in the grocery store. Kentucky Wonder is an old pole variety with good taste and Bountiful produces stringless heirloom bush beans.17

Wax beans — These are identical to green beans except they're yellow. Since this is the only difference, use wax beans in your recipes in much the same way you would use green beans. The Golden Wax Bean is a soft textured, yellow bush bean.18

Haricot vert — Also known as French green beans or filet beans. Although these look nearly identical to green beans, they're usually very thin, slightly more tender and higher priced at the grocery store. Many consider them to have a better flavor than regular green beans. Triomphe de Farcy is an heirloom haricot vert bush bean.19

Long beans — These are sometimes called yard-long beans and are from a different family than green beans. They're similar in flavor and look, but are extraordinarily long. They may grow over 24 inches, but for those with the best flavor and texture, look for long beans less than 18 inches.

Purple string beans — These are simply a purple variety of a classic green bean or wax bean. However, while they have a unique color, it's lost during cooking. Consider lightly steaming them with an immediate ice bath to preserve as much color as possible. Royal Burgundy is an early producing bush bean.20

Romano beans — Also called Italian green beans or flat beans, these are wide and need a little more cooking than other pole beans. The smaller ones are tender, while larger ones have more beans.

Take Care of Pests and Disease in Your Bean Garden Naturally

Insects and four-footed animals enjoy beans as much as you do. Deer and groundhogs may eat the entire plant so it is necessary to use fencing to deter them.

By giving the plants plenty of air circulation and keeping the ground moist but not soggy, you may help prevent fungal diseases thriving in damp conditions. Some of the more common pests described by Clemson Cooperative Extension, include:21

Aphids — These soft-bodied insects are usually green but may appear to be yellow, brown or black. Although aphids are most prevalent during cool dry weather, they may appear at any time during the summer. Heavy populations may stunt your plant growth and treatment should be started anytime you find them on your plant.

You may control aphid populations by taking advantage of their weakness.22 Beneficial bugs, such as lacewings and ladybugs, may be attracted to the garden by planting fennel, mint and dill nearby. A strong spray of water may dislodge a light infestation, or spraying the plants with a solution of several drops of dish soap and water.23

Thrips — These small insects measure one-eighth inch or shorter. They commonly feed on beans and peas and may negatively affect your harvest when they're present on early bloom flowers. As thrips affect pollination, if you have three or more thrips for every flower it may result in defectively shaped pods.

Prune your plants to get rid of any injured area of the plant.24 Garlic is a powerful way to remove these insects. Blend two cloves in 2 cups of water. Cover and let it rest for 24 hours and then filter with cheesecloth. Put two drops of the liquid in 12 cups of water and spray your plants.

Mexican bean beetle — This beetle is up to one-third inch long and yellow to brown in color. The wings have eight small black spots. After feeding for one to two weeks the female deposits yellow eggs on the underside of the leaves, which hatch up to two weeks later. Both adults and larvae feed on the undersides of the leaves.

Natural predators include several species of tiny parasitic wasps. Hand pick the adults and larvae, and squash egg clusters off with your fingers. Interplant companion plants between beans using petunias or potatoes to deter the beetle.25

Spider mites — These are tiny eight-legged creatures more closely related to spiders than insects. They appear on the underside of the leaves and a light infestation shows up as whitish stippling. A heavy infestation turns the leaves yellow or bronze. You'll find the underside of the leaves covered with silk and webs.

A strong spray from your garden hose may be enough to knock off a light infestation. The plants may be sprayed with a mixture of 3 tablespoons of dish soap to a gallon of water.26

Slugs — Slugs eat any part of your plant touching the damp ground, which means they may cause more damage to your bush beans than your pole variety.27 Fortunately, there are a number of organic home remedies you may use to get rid of slugs.

One of the more popular is a beer trap. Bury half a cup in the soil near your plants and fill it halfway with beer. The slugs will be tempted by the smell and drown in the beer.

Harvesting, Cleaning and Storing Your Green Beans

Harvesting is an ongoing adventure in your garden and the more you pick, the more beans the plant will likely set. Most varieties are ready for harvest between 50 and 60 days.28 Your green bean pods may be ready to harvest once they reach a length of 4 to 7 inches in diameter and are a little fatter than a pencil.

Some gardeners prefer determining the time of harvest based on the texture of the green bean and not the size. They should be firm, crisp and show no visible signs of bulging in the bean.29

However, since the plants continue to produce beans, it's important you take care not to damage the plant as you're harvesting. Use two hands to pick them and keep from ripping the vine as you use a twist and snap motion to remove the bean.

Once harvested, your green beans may be stored on the kitchen counter with the stems on. Once you remove the stems, they must be moved to the refrigerator. The stems usually snap easily and you may also be able to remove any fibrous strip running along the length of the pod at the same time.30

Your green beans may also be stored in the freezer for up to a year. Prior to freezing, add them to boiling water for two minutes and then directly into an ice bath. This blanching process helps the beans retain their bright green color. Place them in an airtight container prior to freezing.

Green beans may also be canned to preserve them over the winter. Only can fresh beans to ensure a better tasting bean later. Green beans need to be pressure canned since they are a low acidic food and pressure canning reduces the risk of botulism. Take care while using a pressure canner as they may be dangerous if not handled properly.31 Fermenting your green beans is another excellent and tasty choice that will make them last longer.

Health Benefits of Green Beans

Green beans are a rich source of vitamins A, C, K and manganese, fiber and folate. The combination of these nutrients make green beans helpful in the reduction of heart disease and colon cancer.32 The boost to your immune system helps reduce your risk of colds, and the nutrients contribute to helping you control diabetes.33

Fiber helps to regulate your digestive process and the nutrients also provide benefits to your eyes and bones. Folate present in green beans is important during pregnancy as it helps to prevent birth defects and is needed for the healthy growth and development of the infant. Read more about green bean food facts in my previous article "What Are Green Beans Good For?"

How to Cook Green Beans to Perfection

Green beans have graced tables around the world for decades. Especially popular during the holiday seasons, green beans are available year-round and are a wonderful fresh treat straight from your garden. Green beans contain natural toxins produced by the plant to defend against predators or threats, such as bacteria or fungi.34

However, the type of toxin is different from other beans and not as dangerous, especially in small amounts in your salad or as a quick snack.35 Most green bean recipes start out with cleaning and preparing the beans for cooking. What's Cooking America offers these ideas on washing and preparing your beans:

First, wash them thoroughly with clear, cool water to rid them of any dirt or garden debris. And then rinse again. Break off both ends as you wash them and then either leave them whole or cut them into your desired length.36 They can be cut crosswise, diagonally or French cut.

You'll get the sweetest-tasting crisp beans when you cut them as little as possible. Beans can be boiled, steamed or sautéed. Cooking as little as possible in the smallest amount of water is the best way to preserve nutrients.

Some green bean recipes call for blanching the beans, where they are first added to boiling water for a few seconds to one minute and then immediately removed and placed in an ice bath. This sets the color and keeps the texture. Green beans can also be steamed using a steamer basket that keeps your green beans over boiling water, but not in it.37

Green beans may also be sautéed by first boiling or steaming for one to two minutes, tossed with coconut oil or avocado oil and garlic powder and then added to a skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Salt and pepper the beans to taste and enjoy!