Pole beans are a popular summer vegetable all across the country and not without good reason! As their name suggests, pole beans require the setup of a trellis or tepee of poles to cling onto, but their vertical habit means they require less space than most other types of plants and can be grown just about anywhere. If that weren’t enough, the range of colors, shapes, tastes, and sizes of pole beans available is extensive enough that any gardener can find a variety to their liking. Almost all varieties of pole beans can be harvested at any stage in the growing process as either fresh snap beans, shelling beans, or drying beans; however, some varieties are better suited to one use over another, so be sure to research the varietals before choosing which type to grow if you are using your beans for a specific purpose.
The Kentucky Blue Wonder heirloom bean is one of the most popular varieties of pole bean on the market thanks to its large yields and adaptability. The Kentucky Blue’s 9″ bean pods are tasty fresh, especially when young, and make great shell or dried beans once they have matured. This plant can grow quite large (up to 9′ tall!) and will need a pole or trellis for support. Plants will produce beans until the first frost if picked regularly throughout the growing season.
Seed Depth: 1–3″. Plant seeds deeper in drier soil.
Space Between Plants: 4–8″
Space Between Rows: 1.5–2′
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–80°F
Days for Germination: 8–21 days
Sow Indoors: Not recommended. Once roots start to form, beans don’t like to be disturbed.
Sow Outdoors: 2–3 weeks following the average last frost date. Pole beans will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 60°F, but the cooler the soil temperature, the slower the germination process will be.
Pole beans prefer warmer climates and do best in more southernly climate zones; however, they’ll still grow during the summer in other regions once temperatures reach approximately 60–70°F. Note that while beans can be grown for a fall harvest in warmer climates, growth slows as temperatures drop to 60°F or lower, so you may experience a loss of yield if planning on planting for the fall. While they do prefer lots of sun and warmth, yields will also start to decrease once temperatures surpass 90°F, so provide protection if you live in climates with extreme heat.
Natural: Full sun or partial shade in extremely hot weather.
Artificial: It’s not recommended that you start your plants indoors. However, if you do decide to grow inside, use strong lamps such as HIDs as beans require a good deal of light. Expose seedlings to light for at least 10 hours a day, keeping bulb at least 4–6″ from the tops of your plants to keep them from burning.
Soil: Prefers well-drained, nutrient-rich soil with lots of organic material. A soil pH of 6.0–8.0 will get plants growing, with an ideal range falling between 6.0–6.8.
Soilless: Seeds will germinate in nutrient-rich mixes with good drainage such as those that contain coco coir, perlite, and/or vermiculite.
Hydroponics: Will grow well in hydroponic systems that provide a good deal of support, such as an ebb and flow system, with sturdy media such as clay pellets or gravel.
Aeroponics: There’s not a great deal of data on growing pole beans aeroponically, so be sure to let us know on our contributor’s page if you have any success with growing pole beans in an aeroponic system!
Water: Requires moderate levels of water: approximately 1″ per week. Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy. This is particularly important in the early stages of growth as overwatering the seeds can cause damage and decrease your germination rates.
Nutrients: As pole beans tend to produce their own nitrogen (as long as the proper rhizobia bacteria are in the soil), they do not generally require the addition of this nutrient. Adding a light layer of compost or nutrient mix with higher levels of potassium and phosphorous, however, can benefit your plants if added prior to planting and once again when plants have reached about 6″ in height.
Foliar: Although not required, a light application of compost tea every 3–4 weeks can help your plants and the surrounding soil stay happy and healthy.
Pruning: One of the benefits of pole beans is that they produce high yields very quickly, so make sure to keep picking off your beans as they mature if you want to maximize your plant’s productivity.
Mulching: Apply a light layer of straw, reusable black landscape fabric, or wood chips around your bean plants to keep moisture and heat in your soil and suppress weed populations.
Support: Pole beans require a trellis or pole to support their growth. Plants will naturally climb, or you can help them along by twining new shoots around your support structure.
Deficiency(s): If your plant’s leaves are turning yellow and you haven’t tested your soil for rhizobia bacteria, it’s possible your plants are experiencing a nitrogen deficiency.
Rotation: While some sources suggest rotating your pole beans every year with other crops, beans can be planted in the same location for up to 3 years before relocating them. Follow your pole bean crops with members of the brassica family or lettuces.
Companions: As pole beans are a member of the Three Sisters, they will grow well with corn and squash. Also does well when planted with savory, radishes, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, and potatoes. Avoid beets, cabbage, kohlrabi, and members of the onion family.
Harvest: Beans may be harvested at any stage of the growing process depending on your need, but if harvesting at maturity for fresh eating, wait until beans appear swollen and are firm to the touch. Once your plant starts producing bean pods, you’ll likely need to harvest at least once a week.If you’re looking to shell your beans, wait until the pods are fully formed and start to lose some of their green color. For dried beans, allow the pods to dry entirely on the stalk and then remove from the plant.
Storage: Fresh pods will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Do not wash your beans until you are prepared to use them.
Fun Fact: Pole beans are a member of a group of plants that climbs by twining its new leaves and shoots around whatever support system is available. Interestingly, whether or not a plant spirals in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion is dependent on the species of plant. Most pole beans, for instance, will grow in a clockwise fashion.
Preserve: This veggie is great for preserving for future use either by pickling, drying, or freezing depending on how you want to use them. Although Kentucky Blue Wonder can be pickled or dried, they’re generally considered a good freezer bean. To freeze, first trim off stems and then blanch by boiling beans for 4 minutes before transferring to an ice water bath. Place in freezer bags and freeze until needed.
Prepare: If eating your beans raw, trim off the stem end of the pod. If beans are older and have developed a string, remove Eat raw or steam, boil, sauté, or bake as desired.
Nutritional: This veggie is a great, low fat source of nutrients that is high in vitmain(s) A, C, and K. Pole beans are also a good source of fiber and contain trace amounts of many minerals including manganese, magnesium, calcium, and iron. They’re also a good source of antioxidants.
Medicinal: As pole beans provide antioxidants to the body, some studies have suggested that they can contribute to cardiovascular health by lowering blood fat content. The vitamin K and calcium content in beans has also been linked to increased bone density and overall bone health.
For a tasty vegetarian treat, try this tasty and healthy Stewed Green Beans dish!