Pole Beans: A Journey to the Top

Growing pole beans can be a snap with the suitable type of bean for your area and proper gardening techniques. This article outlines the process, from planting pole beans to making the perfect bean trellis.
By The American Horticultural Society
September 25, 2012
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"The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques" by the American Horticultural Society provides an in-depth look into gardening.  This book contains detailed instructions on planting pole beans along with many other vegetables.
Cover Courtesy of Mitchell Beazley

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Plant problems can be prevented with appropriate preparation and attention.  The American Horticultural Society’s New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques (Mitchell Beazley, 2009) gives instructions on planting from preparation to harvest.  This excerpt discusses growing pole beans and is taken from Chapter 4, "Growing Vegetables & Herbs." 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The New Encyclopedia of Garden Techniques. 

Pole beans

Any vigorous bean that twines around poles or other supports as it grows is referred to as a pole bean. Local climate has a significant impact on which kinds of pole bean you will be able to grow—lima beans require much warmer conditions than runner beans. Sowing time and whether seed needs to be sown under protection will also depend on your local climate; seek local advice.

All pole beans thrive in full sun or in a little shade and in soil with a pH above 6. A sheltered position is essential as strong winds will topple these tall plants, damage developing pods, and impair pollination. Success also depends on lush growth, which can only be achieved with plenty of moisture. Before planting, dig plenty of well-rotted compost into the soil. In addition, apply an all-purpose fertilizer at the rate on the package.


Sow pole beans outdoors in late spring or early summer after all danger of frost has passed. In mild areas, you can make a second sowing in mid- to late summer for a fall crop. Plants can be raised indoors in small pots of all-purpose mix from midspring; this is essential where the soil is cold, heavy clay.  

By late spring the roots will be binding the growing mix and in mild districts the plants can be set out beneath a temporary row cover or under cloches. In colder areas, delay planting out until early summer.  

Types of Bean

The naming of beans can be confusing. 

Bush beans:  Kidney, lima, and snap beans, which grow as low bushes. 

Butter beans:  see lima beans. 

Fava beans:  Cool-climate beans usually making tall, upright bushes, grown for their immature seeds. 

Filet beans:  Pencil-podded snap beans, bush or pole. 

Kidney beans:  Bush beans grown for their dried seeds. 

Lima beans:  Warm-climate bush or pole beans grown for their immature seeds. 

Pinto beans:  A kidney bean with speckled seeds. 

Pole beans:  Any vigorous vining bean, which twines around poles or other supports as it grows. 

Runner beans:  Easy-to-grow pole beans cultivated for their flat, fleshy pods. 

Snap beans:  Bush beans whose pods are eaten whole. 

Soy beans:  Bush beans grown for their high-protein seeds, eaten fresh or dry. 

Yard-long beans:  Pole beans with unusually long, slim pods that are eaten fresh. 

Supporting pole beans

A variety of supports can be used for pole beans. In some gardens, an existing fence can provide an ideal support. For a double row of beans, make two parallel drills, 24in. apart and 23⁄4in. deep. Space the seeds 6in. apart, thinning plants when they emerge to one every 12in. Push a 6–8ft. cane beside each plant, crossing and tying the poles at the top, then join them all together by tying a horizontal cane along the ridge (see below). Allow 4ft. between double rows.

Cultivation & harvesting

When the young plants are thinned, add an all-purpose fertilizer, at the rate recommended on the package, to the pole bean site, unless growth is very green and lush.

Hoe between plants to remove weeds, and if the shoots need encouragement to climb their supports gently twine them against the canes or tie them in until they are self supporting. When the plants reach the top of the canes, pinch back their growing tips.

When the plants are flowering, never let the soil dry out as this results in a poor yield of pods. You may need to water as often as every three days. Harvest the pods when they reach their mature length according to variety.

Common problems

Most pole beans are free of significant pests, although bean beetles cause problems in some areas. Delayed planting and sanitation can reduce bean beetle damage. Several biological controls are effective or consult your extension service for recommended pesticides. Most diseases are best controlled by using certified disease-free seed, selecting resistant varieties, and by crop rotation.

A paperback edition of The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques will be released in April 2013. 

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques by the American Horticultural Society, published by Mitchell Beazley, 2009. 

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M. Widmer
4/6/2013 9:00:53 PM
Two years ago I tried pole beans, and the Japanese beetles ate all the leaves. Any suggestions for how to effectively control the beetles?

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