Bean, Bush Bean

Phaseolus vulgaris et al

Bush beans are determinate, warm-season, tender annuals that are intolerant of both cold and heat. They belong to the legume family, Fabaceae, the third largest of all plant families with about 650 genera and more than 18,500 species, and one of the most important today and in the history of civilization for human food and many other uses. Beans are related to peas, peanuts, alfalfa, clover, and lentils.

Bush beans are low growing plants that are generally 1-2 feet in height. Colors, size, and shapes of bush beans vary widely; shapes include round and flat and common pod colors include green, yellow, purple, and mottled with various color combinations.

Bush beans are a unique 3-in-1 vegetable with distinct options for cooking and eating at each of 3 main growth stages:

1) immature pods before beans fully form, often called strings beans, green beans, or snap beans, used for cooking, salads, and fresh eating;

2) partially-mature-to-fully-formed beans that are still soft, often called green shell or shelling beans, which are removed from pods that have toughened and are generally no longer edible, for cooking in chili, as baked beans, for sautéing, and for braising.

3) fully mature beans grown until seed pods are brown and dry, often called dry beans, for cooking, often in soups or stews, and for long-term storage.

Sun/Shade Needs (5)
Watering Needs once Established (4)
Heat Tolerance (2)
Frost (1)
Price (1)

Recommended Varieties/Cultivars

Though many varieties of bush beans can be eaten as snap, shelling, or dry, varieties are often bred and selected to have superior traits at a particular stage of maturity. Bush beans have several shapes: some have classic round pods, while others have broad flat pods, such as Romano or Italian flat beans.

Bush beans with round pods are commonly eaten as snap beans. For an extravagantly flavored, tender, fillet bean, look no farther than Bush Bean Fillet French. GardenZeus recommends Provider as a classic snap bean variety that will germinate in cool soil and develop a strong root system even in tough clay soils. Contender is a particularly early variety with excellent flavor. Jade is a classic snap bush bean recommended for its sweet flavor, quality production and tolerance for both heat and cold. Snap beans also come in yellow and purple varieties. Try Royal Burgundy for its eye-catching deep purple color. Bush beans with thicker skins are categorized as wax beans and are especially crunchy and popular for pickling. Try Gold Rush for a yellow wax bush bean.

Romano or Italian flat beans are known for being meaty and richly flavored and are usually eaten as snap beans or shell beans; some varieties can be grown for dry beans. Roma II is a reliable Romano type.

Dragon's Tongue is a high yielding Dutch heirloom that produces beautiful yellow beans streaked with purple that can be eaten as either snap or shell beans.

For a shelling bean, try Tongue of Fire, a South American variety that can also be eaten as snap bean.

Dry beans often take more significant heat than shelling or snap beans to produce. Popular varieties of dry bean types include cannellini, barlotto, kidney, and black. Grow Black Turtle Beans and make your own baked beans. Arikara yellow bush beans, an heirloom variety that comes from the indigenous Arikara people of North Dakota, is often used as a dry bean and is highly recommended for both drought tolerance and productivity.

Buying/Selection Tips

Purchase seeds, not seedlings. Beans are sensitive to root disturbance and transplanting, and should generally be seeded directly outdoors. GardenZeus recommends against growing or purchasing bean starts for transplant, as bean transplants of any age are prone to shock, poor yield, diseases, pests, and other problems.

Soil Needs/Tip

For best germination, health, and yields, beans require reasonable soil fertility, good soil structure with moderate organic matter, moist soil with good drainage, low salinity, and slight-to-moderate acidity, ideally with pH levels between 6.0 and 6.5. Beans can thrive in a range of soil types and textures; some types tolerate slight-to-moderate alkalinity up to a pH of about 7.5.

Bean plants tend to have shallow, spread-out root systems so it's important that upper soil layers are kept moist and fertile until deeper root systems can develop as a result of less-frequent, deeper watering.

Careful attention and management may be necessary to ensure adequate drainage and aeration when growing beans in heavy or clay soils. Bean seedlings require ample soil oxygen for healthy root growth. Oxygen is displaced and quickly depleted in wet soils, which also creates conditions that encourage common bean diseases.

Beans are intolerant of highly acidic soils, high alkalinity, high salinity, compaction, and wet soils; and may become chlorotic, be slow-growing, develop yellowing or discolored leaves, produce minimal-to-no harvest, and otherwise underperform under these conditions.

Beans are light-to-moderate feeders, and are recommended for seasonal or annual rotation with heavier feeders such as tomatoes and squash. Avoid planting beans in the same soil or beds more often than once every 2 to 3 years to reduce concentrations of pests and diseases.


Suitable Microclimate

Pole beans grow best in full sun with warm-but-not-hot daytime temperatures of about 65° to 85°F, when soil is warm and without risk of frost, and in areas or beds with good drainage. Optimal soil temperature for pole-bean-seed germination is 75° to 95°F.

Avoid planting beans in areas or at times where cold air and soil moisture tend to gather, such as at the bottoms of slopes or in depressions. Be cautions with planting beans at times of year when they will be exposed to excessive cold air, wind, or wet soil.

Getting Started

Close up of inoculated bean seeds
Bean seeds with inoculant


Pole snap beans can be slightly tricky seasonally in some areas because they are intolerant of cold temperatures in the 30s and low 40s; and also of hot temperatures above about 85°F.

Bush snap beans have some certain advantages over pole snap bean. They do not require a trellis or fence for support and individual plants tend to be fairly compact. Bush snap beans are harvested over a fairly concentrated period of time: this is ideal when growing beans for a single event, for preserving or for harvesting as dried beans. And bush snap beans typically have a shorter time to harvest. Further, many desirable bean varieties are bush beans; the delicate French fillet beans and black beans and kidney beans are typically grown on bush bean plants. However, bush snap beans also have disadvantages. The typical bush snap bean plant has less overall yield than the typical pole bean plant. And for gardeners who desire a constant supply of beans over a period of time, pole snap beans are usually the better choice. When space allows, GardenZeus recommends growing pole snap beans rather than bush snap beans; check to be certain which type of snap-bean seed you are purchasing and planting, or refer to links in the “Recommended Varieties/Cultivars” section above for varieties.

Yield with bush snap beans varies widely based on many factors, including soil fertility, sunlight, other growing conditions, and bean variety. Generally 2 to 3 bush bean plants per person, should be sufficient for light consumption of beans, while 5 to 15 or more plants may be needed per person to satisfy bean lovers, especially if harvests are wanted at 2 or all 3 stages of bean development, or dry beans are desired for long-term storage.

When planting beans in new or uncultivated soil, or in soils where beans haven't been grown for a few years, consider inoculating your seeds before planting. Legume inoculants are powders containing Rhizobium bacteria that help legumes to fix nitrogen from the air into root nodules. Pay close attention when purchasing an inoculant to be sure that it is labeled for your intended legume variety(s).

When the simple-but-important conditions are met for bean health, including no root disturbance, well-drained soil, loose soil with good structure, and a warm sunny location, beans can be an easy and rewarding garden vegetable. Under these conditions they tend to be relatively low maintenance and less prone to disease to many other garden vegetables.

Watering Tips

Bush snap beans need consistent, sufficient watering and soil moisture from germination to pod production, especially when flowering and setting pods. When bean plants are healthy in suitable environmental conditions, they often grow rapidly, placing high demand on soil water. Bean plants tend to have shallow, spread-out root systems so it's important to maintain moisture in the upper soil, especially while plants are establishing, and until deeper root systems can develop as a result of less-frequent, deeper watering. While soil moisture is critical for beans, it is also important to have sufficient soil oxygen for beans to form healthy roots and to discourage soilborne diseases.

Most bean varieties will need about 1 inch of water per week from late seedling stage or early maturity through harvest. As bean plants establish, shift to deeper and less-frequent watering to encourage deep root systems. The best method of watering beans is generally drip irrigation, which allows for slow penetration of water into soil and encourages healthy root systems.

Other than a rinse every 2 to 4 weeks during dry weather to remove dust and pollutants, leaves of bean plants should be kept dry to discourage the spread of foliar diseases.

When growing bush snap beans to fully mature dry beans, water normally until the pods are filled out, then reduce watering. When the pods begin to turn brown, reduce irrigation to the minimum needed to prevent wilting, which will help beans to dry in the pods before harvest.

Planting Method/Tips

Start seeds directly outdoors during periods without frost and with at least 2-to-3-months' growing season before summer temperatures above 85°F are likely. Optimal soil temperature for pole-bean-seed germination is 75° to 95°F. Seeds may germinate poorly or rot, and seedlings may grow slowly during cold weather.

Beans are sensitive to root disturbance and generally should not be transplanted.

Loosen soil to at least several inches or double dig beds, and add compost prior to sowing bean seeds. Keep soil moist but not wet for germinating bean seeds.

As determinate plants, bush beans have a limited crop per plant. GardenZeus recommends planting bush snap beans successively every 2-3 weeks to create a longer harvest window for fresh snap or shelling beans.

See "Getting Started" in the GardenZeus section "Getting Started" for information about bean inoculant. Beans that are not treated with inoculant may still thrive and produce large yields if soil nitrogen or supplemental nitrogen is sufficient.


Spacing

Plant bean seeds about 1 inch deep. In light, sandy, and dry soils, beans can be planted up to 1.5 inches deep, while in heavier soils beans should be planted 1/2 to 1 inch deep.

Bush beans can be planted 2 inches apart in row, and thinned to 4-6 inches apart. Rows should be 2-3 feet apart.

It's best to leave enough space between rows or groups of beans so you can walk between them during harvest.

Timelines

8 to 10 days or longer to seed germination. Germination may take 2 weeks or longer, or seeds may rot if soil temperatures are below 60° F.

50 to 65 days from germination to harvest of most varieties, depending upon variety and growing conditions. 70-76 days from germination to harvest of shell beans and 80-104 days from germination to harvest of dry beans

Pollination Needs/Tips

Bean blossom
Bean blossom

Bean flowers are perfect and self-fertile. Adequate pollination is required to produce bean pods. Self-fertilization may be variable and many bean varieties benefit from pollination by bees or other insects.

Pollination in beans is negatively affected by cold or hot temperatures, which may also cause flowers to drop, or already-pollinated bean pods to be aborted.

Interplanting/Companion Planting

Bush beans are compact plants with relatively low nutrient requirements; beans can be successfully interplanted with other garden vegetables that have similar cultural needs. Do not plant beans where their shallow roots may be disturbed when harvesting adjacent plants, or next to other plants with shallow roots competing for nutrients.

Some sources recommend planting beans or other legumes with plants that need a lot of nitrogen, but this advice may be misguided. Beans and other legumes that are grown to harvest use most or all of the nitrogen they fix in their roots. If roots, or better yet, entire legume plants, are left in soil or tilled under, or beans are tilled under when young before they produce pods and seeds, this may provide additional soil nitrogen to the crop that follows, but plants near actively growing beans and other legumes may obtain little to no nitrogen from the soil-fixing of legumes. If your legumes are fixing nitrogen (which you can determine by checking a few mature roots for nodules that appear pinkish or reddish on the outside or inside), consider rotating in a crop after the legumes that needs significant amounts of nitrogen, such as corn, tomatoes, potatoes, or squash.

Nutrient/Amendment/Fertilization Needs/Tips

Beans can be successfully cultivated after a heavy-feeding crop, such as onions or cabbage. Work compost, composted manures, or well-rotted organic matter into soils before planting.

Beans are able to provide some of their own nitrogen by fixing atmospheric nitrogen through symbiosis with rhizobium bacteria, especially when seeds are properly inoculated or when beans are grown over years in the same beds or garden. When grown in new beds or not inoculated, beans may benefit from supplemental nitrogen every 2 to 5 weeks while actively growing and producing pods, preferably from low-salt sources such as fresh compost or well-composted manures. Beans are sensitive to salinity; be cautious about using amendments that may create excessively saline conditions, such as fresh manures, urea, or chemical fertilizers. Manures may have high levels of salts, depending on the type or source. Too much soil nitrogen may prevent beans from setting pods.

Mulching

Mulch soil to retain moisture, minimize weeds, and keep soils cool during spring and summer and warm over winter for increased yield.

Pruning/Cutting Back/Pinching/Separating

GardenZeus does not recommend cutting back or pinching bean pods or leaves. Once plants start producing beans, harvest regularly to maintain plant productivity.

Propagating

From seed. GardenZeus recommends open-pollinated, untreated, organically grown seeds.

Container Gardening

Bush beans are not typically recommended for growing in containers; the small yields do no warrant the effort and expense.

Pole beans are a more effective choice for growing in a container, and can produce worthwhile yields in a small space (See Garden Zeus plant profile on Beans, Pole).

Seasonal Care

Cultivating pole snap beans can be tricky in in some areas because they are fussy about transplanting and generally need to be seeded directly, while also being intolerant of temperature extremes. Timing of direct seeding is critical to avoid poor yields as a result of frost or cold temperatures and also of hot temperatures above 85°F.

Bush beans are usually grown as annuals. Water regularly, from start of pod to set. Water on sunny days so foliage will not remain soaked. Weed diligently and use shallow cultivation to prevent disturbing the root systems. Do not handle beans when they are wet; this may spread fungus spores. Rotate beans to plots where lettuce, squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, or collards have grown in the past year or two.

How to Harvest

Snap beans and shell beans should be gently plucked from the plant by hand, or snipped with garden scissors. Use two hands, holding the bean pod in one, and point where the pod connects to the plant in the other. Pulling on a bean pod with one hand to harvest may break stems or even uproot the plant.

Harvesting Tips

Avoid harvesting beans when plants are wet. Harvest aggressively before heat waves above 85°F, and before cold snaps or frost.

Beans typically mature 2-3 weeks after the bean flowers. Snap beans are generally harvested over a few weeks, and should be picked every few days to ensure pods do not become over-mature. Allowing mature snap beans to remain on the plant will also reduce productivity. Monitor filet beans carefully; filet beans become too large in only a few days. Avoid bruising tender skins.

Shell beans have a relatively short harvest window of about 10 to 18 days before they begin to mature into dry beans.

When growing to fully mature dry beans, water normally until the pods fill out, then reduce watering. When the pods begin to turn brown, reduce irrigation to the minimum needed to prevent wilting, which will help beans to dry while hardening before harvest.

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