How to grow runner beans
Runner beans are easy to grow – find out how, in our practical Grow Guide.
Runner beans are delicious, nutritious and easy to grow. When picked young, they have great flavour, texture and succulence – so different to the stringy beans you find in the shops. They’re also pretty enough to grow as an annual climber in the flower border.
How to grow runner beans at home
To grow runner beans you need a good, moisture-retentive soil, bamboo canes or similar support, and some twine to tie the bamboo canes together. Plant seeds in pots, root-trainers or old toilet roll tubes in April for planting out in late May, or sow seed direct in the ground in May and early June.
Growing runner beans: jump links
- Sowing and planting runner beans
- Caring for runner beans
- Growing runner beans: pests and problem solving
- Harvesting runner beans
- Where to buy runner beans
- Runner bean varieties to grow
More advice on growing runner beans:
How to grow runner beans from seed
Runner beans need a sunny spot in rich, moisture-retentive soil with plenty of well-rotted compost or manure added. You can prepare the soil for planting in autumn or spring, it doesn't really matter. Dig the area thoroughly to remove weeds and add a generous amount of well-rotted garden compost or manure.
By sowing indoors in April, in deep pots, you'll get better germination and an earlier crop of beans. Sowing in pots first is also a good way to protect young plants from slugs and snails. 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.
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. 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.
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When your runner bean plants reach the tops of the canes, pinch out the growing tip of each one to encourage bushier growth. Beans are thirsty plants so water regularly, especially when in flower, and mulch the soil surface around the roots, to lock in moisture.
Growing runner beans: pests and diseases
Young runner bean plants are particularly susceptible to slugs. It's a good idea to grow more than you need, and then plant them out when they're as large as possible, to help them cope with any mollusc attacks. Use wildlife-friendly slug pellets, 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.
You may spot green shield bugs on your runner bean plants. These are harmless bugs and will not damage your crop.
Video: Why do my runner beans have white leaves?
Harvesting runner beans
Runner beans are ready to pick 12 to 16 weeks after sowing. The bean pods are at their most tender at 15-20cm long – any longer and they become stringy. Regular picking encourages the plants to produce more flowers, and therefore more young beans. Don't leave old beans on the plants as this will stop the plants flowering.
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
Runner beans are delicious lightly steamed with a knob of butter. Cold, cooked beans are good in salads. Never eat them raw.
Advice on buying runner beans
- There are lots of runner bean varieties available, flowering in either red or white, so make sure you buy the right runner bean for your plot
- Runner bean seeds are available from a wide range of garden centres and nurseries, online retailers and even supermarkets. If you want to save time you could invest in runner bean plug plants, which are available from some of the larger retailers in spring
- Check seeds for signs of mould and/or softness, and plants for signs of damage or pests. Only grow the healthiest specimens for the best crops
Where to buy runner beans online
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