Making Spring a Growing Success – How to Grow Runner Beans By Ade Sellars

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Young French beans ready for planting out

young plants

Strong young plants with well-formed root systems

Bi-coloured runner beans

Bi-coloured runner beans in flower make a decorative feature

Across the land right now, gardeners will be constructing and assembling structures to hold this season’s crops of homegrown beans. Whether it’s runner beans or French beans, picking freshly grown pods is a job many gardeners relish.

So, why not add a real feature to your growing space this summer and grow your beans up and over a Munton’s arch. As you wander through the arch, you’ll be able to easily pick fresh beans as they hang above your head. A solid steel arch is ideal when a growing area is limited. Taking up minimal space, not only does it makes an attractive display but will provide harvest upon harvest of legumes. All you have to do is decide which variety of bean to grow.

Runner Beans

Runner beans, also known as scarlet beans due to the red flowers they originally produced, are native to the mountains of Central America. Unlike most other beans, which twine anti-clockwise, runner beans twine clockwise.

It is believed that plant collector, John Tradescant the Younger, brought the runner bean to England in the 17th century. Initially grown as an ornamental plant, it wasn’t until the 18th century that Philip Miller of the Chelsea Physic Garden discovered the pods to be edible. Of course, today we can’t get enough of these legumes, high in fibre, they’re also a good source of vitamins A, C and K.

Although there are many varieties of runner beans, they can be organised into three types:

Standard Climbing Runner Bean –a heavy cropper that grows tall and requires a support structure to help produce large pods.

Bi-colour Bean – a more ornamental bean that produces red and white flowers to attract pollinators and deter birds.

Dwarf Runner Beans – these won’t grow as tall and will produce smaller pods. They’re a good choice when there’s limited growing space.

French Beans

The French bean, also known as the string bean, is a member of the Fabaceae family, along with peas and pulses.

Despite originating from Central America thousands of years ago, French beans are now grown all over the world, including India and Africa, where they are considered a staple.

The first stringless green bean was cultivated in 1894 by Calvin Keeney in New York. 

French bean pods can be green, yellow, purple and cream-coloured. They come in two forms:

  • Climbing – growing to the height of six feet, this plant will need support to reach its potential.

  • Dwarf - half-hardy, vigorous varieties which can grow to the height of 50cm with a 30cm spread.


Make a strong framework or use an arch or obelisk to support beans

French bean

A harvest of French bean pods

As we head into April, now’s the ideal time to start growing your beans. So, here are ten easy steps on how to grow them.

  1. Sow individually into small pots, or root trainers, as beans don’t like their long roots to be disturbed. Alternatively, use the inner cardboard tube of a toilet roll. This can then be planted out along with the bean as it’s biodegradable.

  2. Fill the pot with multi-purpose compost.

  3. Make a 2cm hole in the centre, plant the seed, and cover over.

  4. Water thoroughly, and place pot in an unheated greenhouse or coldframe. Germination should occur within 7-10 days. Ensure you keep the soil moist.

  5. If plants have been growing indoors, bring them outside for a few hours, each day, to harden them off in the week before you plant out. This process will acclimatise them to their new outdoor conditions. Make sure you choose a sunny, sheltered area.

  6. When planting out into their final growing position, incorporate plenty of organic matter into your rich, well-drained soil. Plant deeply alongside a support, and water-in well.

  7. Water regularly, especially when flowers appear, and ensure the plant’s tendrils are latching onto the support, pulling them up.

  8. Once plants reach the top of their support structures, pinch out the growing tip. This will stop them growing taller and focus their energy into producing more pods. If you allow them to grow too tall, they can suffer from wind-damage.

  9. Adding a liquid feed once every fourteen days will help increase your crop.

  10. Depending on the variety, pods are good to harvest when they’re about 15cm in length. Pick every couple of days to avoid a glut, and to prevent your beans from becoming stringy.

You can also direct sow from mid-May onwards. Make sure you prepare the growing area in advance by digging-in organic matter and creating your bean structure. Otherwise, you run the risk of disturbing and damaging your seeds if you build it after planting.


Slugs and snails enjoy eating the young plants. Therefore, place beer traps near your crop to deter them. Alternatively, take an empty, plastic water bottle, cut it in half and place the top half (without the lid) over the young plant. This will stop pests and act as a mini-greenhouse. Remember to water regularly and remove during warm spells.

If aphids attack, either remove by hand or hose them off. You can also try soaking some garlic cloves in water overnight, and using the water to spray over the plants, as garlic repels pests.

Faded or damaged leaves are sometimes the result of wind damage. Although the plant won’t suffer any long-term harm, it’s worth remembering to plant you runner beans in a more sheltered area.

If flowers fall off and pods fail to set, it could be due to a lack of pollinators, high temperatures, or irregular watering.


Planting sweet peas alongside your runner beans will help attract pollinators.

Gluts are common, so consider blanching and freezing your runner beans to ensure none go to waste, enjoy them at a later date.

Growing beans is an easy and rewarding crop. So, enjoy the taste of summer this season and grow your own.

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