How to grow French beans
All you need to about growing delicious French beans, in our practical Grow Guide.
French beans give you two crops for the price of one: enjoy the pods when they're young and tender, or leave them to dry on the plant for use as haricot beans. Easy to grow and heavy cropping, French beans are available as dwarf types that are suitable for growing in pots, or as climbers that will crop reliably during hot weather, unlike runner beans.
More advice on growing French beans:
- Fact File: French beans
- How to plant out French beans
- How to sow dwarf beans in pots
- French bean and lettuce container display
How to grow French beans from seed
Planting young French bean plants from pots into the ground beside supporting canes
Sowing and planting French beans
French beans need sun, shelter and a fertile, moisture-retentive soil. They don’t do well on heavy clay, so dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost, before planting.
As a tender crop, French beans need to be sown indoors from April, then planted outside after the last frost, usually in late May or early June. For a supply of beans through to autumn, keep sowing every three weeks until early summer. Later sowings can be made outdoors, but seedlings need to be covered with a cloche to keep them warm.
Dwarf French beans planted 15cm apart won’t need any staking. Climbing French beans look particularly attractive grown with sweet peas on a wigwam of canes in the flower border.
Looking after French bean plants
For a good crop of beans, water plants regularly, especially while they’re flowering. Maintain the moisture in the soil around the roots by applying a mulch of garden compost.
Harvesting French beans
For delicious, tender French beans, pick them as soon as they are large enough to eat (after about eight weeks). Snip them off with scissors. Regular picking encourages the plant to produce more beans.
Storing French beans
If you don’t want to eat the whole crop straight away, blanch beans in boiling water for two minutes and freeze.
Preparing and using French beans
Never eat raw pods. To prepare, top and tail the beans, then lightly steam and serve with a knob of butter. You can also add cooked beans to salads. Dried beans must be soaked for at least five hours, then briskly boiled for 10 minutes and simmered for an hour or so before being added to soups and casseroles.
French beans: pests and diseases
Watch out for slugs, which love to eat young plants. Deter them with crushed eggshells or apply nematodes.
You may spot green shield bugs on your runner bean plants. These are harmless bugs and will not damage your crop.
How to dry French beans
Leave the pods on the plant to dry naturally. Or, if the weather turns damp, dig up the whole plant and hang it upside down in a warm, airy place to dry. Empty the pods and store the beans in jars in a cool, dark place.
Great French bean varieties to grow
- 'Borlotto' – colourful mature pods that are ideal for drying. Beans have a pleasant texture and flavour
- 'Purple Teepee' – abundant harvests of eye-catching purple pods up to 15cm long
- 'Sonesta' – stringless, pretty yellow beans that grow up to 13cm long
- 'Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco Nano' – an Italian variety with spectacular pods splashed with red
- 'Hunter' – large crops of stringless, flat pods up to 20cm long and good disease resistance
- ‘Sansoucy’ - produces beans held high above the foliage. 45cm heigh, 30cm long
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