Harvesting runner beans

How to grow runner beans

Runner beans are easy to grow – find out how with the help of this practical Grow Guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sow
Sow

Do not Sow in January

Do not Sow in February

Do not Sow in March

Do Sow in April

Do Sow in May

Do Sow in June

Do Sow in July

Do not Sow in August

Do not Sow in September

Do not Sow in October

Do not Sow in November

Do not Sow in December

Plant
Plant

Do not Plant in January

Do not Plant in February

Do not Plant in March

Do not Plant in April

Do not Plant in May

Do Plant in June

Do Plant in July

Do not Plant in August

Do not Plant in September

Do not Plant in October

Do not Plant in November

Do not Plant in December

Harvest
Harvest

Do not Harvest in January

Do not Harvest in February

Do not Harvest in March

Do not Harvest in April

Do not Harvest in May

Do not Harvest in June

Do Harvest in July

Do Harvest in August

Do Harvest in September

Do Harvest in October

Do not Harvest in November

Do not Harvest in December

  • Average Yield

    6kg per 3m row

  • Spacing

    20cm apart

    60cm between rows

  • Depth

    5cm

Overview

Decorative and productive, runner beans are one of those sow-and-watch-it-grow crops. When picked young, they have great flavour, texture and succulence – so different from the stringy, ‘warped cricket bat’ beans you find in the shops. They’re also pretty enough to grow as an annual climber in the flower border.

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Decorative and productive, runner beans are one of those sow-and-watch-it-grow crops.

How to grow runner beans from seed

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Planting out runner beans grown from seed

Sowing and planting runner beans

Runner beans need a sunny spot in rich, moisture-retentive soil with plenty of well-rotted compost or manure added. Ideally you’ll have done this the previous winter, but if not, you can can get away with digging it in just before you start planting.

By sowing outdoors in April, in deep pots, you’ll get better germination and earlier harvests. The seedlings will also be out of reach of slugs. Well-developed seedlings can be planted out after the last frost, usually around late May. You can make later sowings outside in May and June, but these won’t start cropping until July or August.

If space is limited, grow runner beans in containers for an attractive and edible display – try ‘Painted Lady’, with its pretty red and white flowers. Add a wigwam of canes for support.

When growing in pots, it’s especially important to keep plants well watered. Choose as large a container as possible to help stop the compost drying out too quickly. Add a thick layer of mulch to the compost surface to hold in moisture, and on hot days move the pot out of direct sun if possible.

How to care for your runner bean crop

Runner beans need a strong support, such a wigwam. When they reach the tops of the canes, pinch out the growing tip of each plant to stop them getting overly tall. Beans are thirsty plants so water regularly, especially when in flower, and mulch the soil surface to hold in moisture.

harvesting-runner-beans-9
Harvesting the runner bean crop

Harvesting runner beans

Runner beans are ready to pick after 12 to 16 weeks. At 15-20cm long, pods will be at their most tender without being stringy. Regular picking encourages the plants to produce more young beans.

colander-full-of-fresh-runner-beans-3
Rinse runner beans before cooking

How to store runner beans

Runner beans freeze well. Top and tail them and remove any ‘string’. Slice beans into short lengths, blanch in boiling water for two minutes, drain, cool, pop into plastic bags and freeze.

How to prepare and use runner beans

See above for how best to prepare runner beans. They’re delicious lightly steamed with a knob of butter. Cold, cooked beans are good in salads. Never eat them raw.

Runner beans: problem solving

Place copper rings around the stems of young plants or cover the soil with crushed eggshells or other similar dry, gritty material to deter slugs and snails.

Make a bean wigwam

Use four or more canes, up to 3m long, and push the end of each one firmly into the soil in a circle, spacing them evenly. Tie all the tops of the canes together to form a wigwam. Then plant one runner bean at the base of each cane. As the plants grow, help them to get a good grip by tying new shoots to the canes.

Great runner beans varieties to grow

  • ‘Red Rum’ – heavy cropper, even in poor weather conditions, awarded RHS Award of Garden Merit
  • ‘Armstrong’ – heavy cropper of long string-free pods with a great flavour
  • ‘Celebration’ – the pretty pink flowers are followed by plenty of straight, tender, great-tasting pods
  • ‘Lady Di’ – a generous cropper with long, slender, stringless pods. Plants are tolerant of hot weather
  • ‘Mergoles’ – produces abundant, long, fleshy pods that taste delicious
  • ‘Painted Lady’ – an old favourite, with attractive red-and-white flowers and plentiful, well-flavoured beans. Less vigorous than many modern varieties
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Find more great varieties to grow here