How to grow Runner Beans

How to grow Runner Beans

For many gardeners, the summer just isn't complete without a delicious crop of tender Runner Beans. They are such a productive crop and really easy to grow.

For many gardeners, the summer just isn't complete without a delicious crop of tender Runner Beans. They are such a productive crop and really easy to grow.

How to grow Runner Beans

Don't be put off if your plot is tiny - Runner Beans are the perfect space saving crop and grow equally well in large patio pots. In fact, with their ornamental, heart shaped leaves and pretty, nectar rich blooms, they look perfectly at home in the flower border!

Read our detailed guide to learn how to grow your own Runner Beans from seed.

Where to grow Runner Beans

Grow Runner Beans in a sunny or semi shaded spot with shelter from strong winds. Runner Beans are happy in any fertile, well drained soil. It's a good idea to prepare the site in spring by digging it over and adding some well rotted organic matter, although it's best to avoid adding manure immediately before planting as this will promote lots of foliage rather than beans.

Growing Runner Beans from seed

Sowing Runner Beans indoors

From April, you can start Runner Bean seed off in small pots and transplant them later on. Simply fill a pot with seed compost and make a hole of about 5cm (2") deep. Drop in a Runner Bean seed before backfilling the hole with compost and watering the seed in.

Runner Beans will germinate in about a week and grow surprisingly quickly. You will need to harden Runner Bean plants off for 7 to 10 days before transplanting them outdoors. You can tell when to plant Runner Beans outdoors by checking that they are fully rooted in to their pots, and keeping a close eye on the weather to ensure that all risk of frost has passed. In most parts of the UK, this will be from around the end of May.

Direct runner bean sowing outdoors

runner bean seeds for direct sowing outdoors

Alternatively you can sow Runner Bean seed directly in the ground outdoors from May to July. Sow them at a depth of 5cm (2") and a distance of 30cm (12") apart in adjacent rows that are set about 45cm (18") apart.

Where space is limited, you can try planting Runner Beans against a wigwam structure - they make an eye-catching feature in your flower borders. They are perfectly happy growing in containers too, so you can even harvest a tasty crop from your patio.

It's a good idea to sow a few extra seeds at the end of each row, as spare plants for filling gaps in the row where seeds have failed to germinate. If these plants aren't needed then you can give them to your friends!

Plant supports for Runner Beans

Runner Beans require support from garden canes, strings or netting. Ideally these should be put in place at the time of planting, but they can be added after germination if necessary.

The most commonly used runner bean support is an A-frame of garden canes which spans two adjacent rows of Runner Beans. Insert a tall garden cane next to each seedling and then tie each cane to the one opposite with garden twine to create a tunnel. A supporting cane run along the top of the framework will help to hold the structure rigid. The beans will naturally twine their stems around the canes as they grow.

When growing Runner Beans in containers, a wigwam framework is preferable. This can be created from a circle of garden canes, tied together at the top.

If you are growing Runner Beans against walls and fences it is easiest to attach a piece of plastic horticultural mesh which will create a perfectly adequate support.

Runner Bean aftercare

runner bean flower with aftercare

Throughout the growing season you will need to water your beans regularly, particularly as they start to develop flowers. A lack of moisture is one of the main reasons why Runner Bean flowers can fail to set pods. A liquid feed applied every 14 days will also help to maximise your crop.

Pinch out the growing tips of the plants once the stems reach the tops of their canes to divert their energy onto producing beans rather than growing tall.

Harvesting Runner Beans

Runner Beans can be harvested from July when the pods reach 20cm (8") long. Pick beans every 2 or 3 days to ensure that they are tender and prevent them becoming stringy. The more you pick, the more pods will be produced! Don't worry if you end up with a glut of Runner Beans - they can easily be frozen and enjoyed later in the year.

Why do my runner beans fail to set pods?

Runner beans are a cool-season crop so they grow particularly well in the UK. Most people will not experience many serious problems with their Runner Beans at all. Nonetheless, gardeners do sometimes find that their crop may fail to set pods, particularly early on in the season.

  1. This may occur if temperatures are too high and there is insufficient moisture at the roots during their critical watering period (when flowers and pods appear). Regular watering and mulching with organic matter will help alleviate this problem.
  2. When night temperatures are particularly high, this can affect the production of pollen and therefore a reduction is seen in the number of pods that set. As temperatures begin to cool, this problem will resolve itself and normal production of pollen and beans should resume.
  3. Acid soils and very poor soils may also reduce crop production so it is well worth taking the time to prepare the soil properly before planting Runner Beans.
  4. In very cold and wet summers there is sometimes a lack of pollinating insects. This usually improves with a change in weather conditions.
  5. Birds can become a problem by pecking at flowers and damaging them. These can be easily discouraged by hanging bird scarers close by such as old cd's or pieces of tin foil.
  6. Finally, it is essential that you keep picking Runner Beans, even if you have too many and your freezer is full of them! Irregular picking will slow the production of new pods as the plants will focus their energies on producing seed.

Watch our 'How to grow runner beans video' for a full run-down

Varieties of Runner Bean

There are plenty of different Runner Beans to choose from and you'll find that there is something to suit almost every need. Take a look at the table below to find some of our favourite Runner Bean varieties for sale online.

VarietyKey CharacteristicPerfect for...
Runner Bean 'Hestia' Dwarf varietypatio containers and small gardens.
Runner Bean 'Benchmaster'Good exhibition beanwinning first prize on the showbench.
Runner Bean 'Scarlet Emperor'Superb flavoura well known, old fashioned variety with plenty of flavour.
Runner Bean 'Firestorm' and Runner Bean 'Snowstorm'Predominantly self settingan earlier and continual crop even during poor weather.
Runner Bean 'Celebration' and Runner Bean 'St. George'Pink flowers/ Bicolour flowersattractive and productive border plants
Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.


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