Runner Beans

Why Grow Runner Beans?

Runner Beans must be the favourite fresh bean of this country, found in sheltered site climbing up poles, canes and netting from Lands End to John O’Groats.

They produce a fantastic crop, are easy to grow, although they will need a bit of care to achieve the best yield. It is possible, when looked after, for a 3 meter (10ft) double row to produce 27kg (60lb) of beans between August and Mid October, they also freeze well so any you cannot eat fresh don’t need to be wasted, or you could always share some with your friends.

Runner Beans are a native plant of tropical America, originally introduced to the UK for the beauty of their flowers.

Quick Facts
Botanical Name : Phaseolus coccineus
Sowing Time : Indoors April / May

Outdoors May / June

Harvest Time : August -Mid October
Hardiness : Not hardy – Protect From Frost
Position : Full Sun, Sheltered from strong winds
Soil Type : Not too acidic, Well fertilized.
Average Plant Height : 3m / 10ft
Spacing : 23cm / 9in
Spread : 30cm / 12in
Soil and Preparation

To get the best from your runner beans does require some effort before planting, they perform best in free draining, well fed, non acid soil.

Choose a sheltered spot which is in full sun but won’t cast a shadow over other plants that want full sun. Having a sheltered position helps protect your beans from wind damage.

Dig your bean bed in the autumn, adding plenty of compost or well-rotted manure. Lime as required in late winter if your soil is acid. A fortnight before you plant out or sow your beans into the bed rake in some general fertilizer.

Seeds and Sowing

Runner bean seeds are quite attractive, and vary in colour depending on variety. On average they take between 7 to 14 days to germinate, 12 to 14 weeks to reach maturity and start producing edible beans.

You can start Runner beans off in one of two ways, they can be sown straight into their final position once the risk of frost has past or you can sow them into seed trays/pot in a cold frame or greenhouse and plant out the seedlings when the risk of frost has past.

If sowing straight outdoors, you can sow the seeds after the risk of frost has past, usually from the middle of May to the end of June. Sow in double rows 5cm /2in deep at 23cm / 9in spacings and allow 45cm / 18in between rows, allow a bit more space between double rows so you can get between the to harvest your beans. You can also so them as a wigwam with a diameter of 1m / 39in. A handy tip is to plant a few extra seeds at the ends of the row so you can transplant the seedlings if you have any gaps or damaged plants.

To get an earlier crop you can sow into seed trays in the greenhouse from the end of April to mid May and plant out the seedlings, at the same spacings as above, from the end of May once the risk of frost has past. Make sure you water the seedlings well once planted and tie them loosely to the poles, they will then climb the rest of the way themselves.

Double rows are often the favoured method as it makes it easier to support the bean poles/canes. 2.4m / 8ft canes or poles are usually favoured for runner beans. Leaning the poles towards each other so they cross slightly at the top, push the ends of the poles into the ground about 30cm / 12in and tie the tops together using a horizontal cane at the top to help keep the structure rigid.

Caring for your Crop

Once your beans are up and going, regular hoeing will help to keep the weeds at bay, make sure the soil is kept moist and when the first flowers start to form keep them well watered.

Pinch out the growing tip when the plants reach the top of their poles, this helps encourage them to bush out and start flowering. Occasional feeding with a liquid fertilizer whilst they are cropping will aid a larger yield.


Runner beans are ready to harvest when the pods are about 15-20cm / 6-8in long, although this will depend on the variety. You should not let the beans in the pod start to swell, once this happens the plant will stop flowering and produce no more pods.

You will probably need to check your plants every two days and pick any beans that are ready. Once they start cropping you should be able to get at least 8 weeks of continued cropping, the only problem you may have is what to do with all your beans! We have some advice on storage and usage of runner beans below.


You can store runner beans in a polythene bag in the fridge for up to a week, they will also store for a few days in a basket somewhere cool. If you want to store your crop for any longer periods they will be best frozen.

To store frozen, clean, trim and cut in your preferred method. Boil them for about two minutes, drain off the water and then cool them off by running them under the cold tap. Shake off any excess water and place into freezer bags or tubs and place in the freezer.

Runner beans can store in the freezer for up to 12 months.