Pole beans are one of our favorite vegetables. We share how to grow pole beans, our easy trellis system, favorite varieties, companion plants, and fertilizing tips.
We grow pole beans for fresh eating and preserving, plus extra to swap with the neighbors. Once the season gets rolling, our vines produce until frost. We also save some beans for seed each year.
How to Grow Pole Beans
- Grow pole beans in a garden bed or container. Full sun is best, but plants will tolerate light shade. Best soil pH is 6.5 -7.5 (neutral soil).
- Plant outside, once the soil temperature reaches 60°F (16ºC). They can be sprouted inside to get a jump start, but beans don't transplant well.
- Plant pole bean seeds 1 inch deep (2.5 cm)
- Plant spacing – For poles or pyramids, try 4 plants per hill/pole with hills around 18 inches apart. For trellises, place seeds 3″ (7.5 cm) apart.
- Space rows 3-4 feet apart so you have room for picking. Do not be fooled by the tiny size of the seeds! When properly cared for, these plants will get huge. We plant in a double row, that is, one row on each side of the trellis.
- Pole bean seeds should germinate in 7-10 days
- Watering Needs: Plant in well drained soil. Soil should be damp (but never soggy) at planting. They need about one inch of water per week during the growing season. If the plants get too dry, they'll stop making beans.
- Harvest pole beans every 2-3 days.
In the video below, my son is planting our 2014 crop of pole beans.
What's the Best Pole Bean Trellis?
I've seen many beautiful and ingenious trellises specifically built for pole beans or improvised out of materials at hand. Some bean trellis options include:
- Nylon trellis netting – our favorite
- Wire fencing – pole beans can create a nice seasonal privacy screen
- Cattle panels and recycled pallets – You can see these being used as tomato trellises here, but they also work for beans.
- Sticks or bamboo poles – use these arranged down a row or as a tepee to act as a bean supports.
- String trellis – String trellises are typically secured at top and bottom in a tepee configuration. Beans may require some encouragement to climb the strings. If you use biodegradable string, you can compost them with your bean stalks at the end of the season.
- Arbors – Who says arbors have to grow only grapes or flowers? Bean blossoms are pretty, too, plus you get tasty veggies.
- The VineSpine™ folding metal trellis – these metal grids fold flat for storage.
Whatever bean trellis you choose, make sure it is well-secured so it doesn't tip over in strong winds. The neighbor's lost their bean tepee in a storm, just when the beans were starting to mature. It was a big mess, and the beans never fully recovered.
We use nylon trellis netting supported with metal fence posts and wooden cross pieces on top.
3 Reasons I Like Trellis Netting as a Pole Bean Trellis
- Wide openings are easy to reach through for harvesting. You can harvest from both sides instead of trying to reach inside a pyramid trellis.
- Durable – My trellis has lasted for many seasons (except when I cut it with clippers – whoops). You might see some of the patches in the photos. Most of my netting is over 5 years old.
- They store in a small amount of space. The netting itself can be stuffed in a small baggie, while the support posts stack in a corner of the greenhouse.
Steps to Set Up Your Bean Trellis Netting
Place 6- 7 foot tall metal fence posts at five foot intervals along the row. Secure trellis netting to each post in at least four spots. I use strips of old sweatpants for this. You could use twine or whatever you have on hand.
To make weeding easy, we place wet newspaper between the double rows and cover it with mulch. Then we hang the trellis above the mulch. Make sure to get the trellis up while the beans are still small so they don't get tangled.
I plant the beans on each side of the trellis, so it is loaded quite heavily as the season goes on. To help support the bean plants, I tie a wooden cross support to the top of the fence posts. I use 2″x2″ or 1″x2″ pieces around 6 feet long. We tether the trellis netting to it at regular intervals.
The beans should shoot right up the trellis without much fuss. Once in a while you may need to guide them in the right direction.
Pole Bean Companion Plants
Good pole bean companion plants: Pole beans like carrots, cauliflower, chard, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, marigolds, peas, potatoes, rosemary and strawberries
Bad companion plants (avoid planting pole beans near these plants): Basil, beets, cabbage, fennel, kohlrabi, onion family, radish, sunflower
I regularly have sunflowers near my pole beans and haven't seen any problems with it. Sometimes the beans climb right up the sunflowers. Beans and radish are both commonly attacked by flea beetles, so I could see that keeping them apart would make sense.
Pole Bean Fertilizer – Yes or No?
Do I Need to Fertilize my Beans? No! Do not overfertilize your beans! Too much nitrogen (like fresh manure or high nitrogen fertilizers) will give you lush leaves and very few beans.
Beans are modest feeders, and like all legumes, they can create their own nitrogen from the air. (Nitrogen is the “N” in NPK fertilizers.) The trick is that it's not the beans that make the nitrogen, it's the bacteria that live on their roots.
Without nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil, the bacteria can't colonize the plant roots, and your beans will struggle.
If you've been successfully growing legumes in your garden, then you probably have nitrogen fixing bacteria in your soil. If you've never grown beans or haven't had success with beans, try a legume inoculant when you plant.
Legume inoculant comes as a powder. You use it coat your seeds with before planting, or add it to the planting trench. Other than that, add a little well aged compost or manure in your planting area and you should be good to go.
Bush Beans versus Pole Beans
There's nothing wrong with bush beans, but we find pole beans work better for us. I still grow some bush shell beans that I harvest once, at the end of the season, for dried beans.
For my main crop, I switched to pole beans years ago and haven't looked back. Here are 3 reasons I like pole beans better than bush beans.
- Are easier to pick. It's so nice to be able to pick beans standing upright! As I work down a row, I work up and down the plants so I get to shift positions.
- Pole beans stay cleaner. When your garden is wet, bush beans often end up with the beans covered in muck. With pole beans, the bulk of the crop is well above mud level.
- Are less bothered by pests and diseases. Since the beans grow up away from the ground, they get bothered less by ground pests, like slugs. Training plants up improves air flow, which reduces mildew and fungal diseases.
Sure, it takes some time to put up a trellis and take it down at the end of the season. To me, the benefits far outweigh the small amount of extra work.
What are the Best Pole Bean Varieties to Grow?
My personal favorite are Emerite pole beans, which are a French heirloom. These beans are great over a range of sizes. They have to be really overgrown to get tough and chewy. If a few beans are missed during one picking, odds are they will still be good at the next.
I got my seeds from my mom, who got them from my uncle, and I've been saving seeds each year.
If you want to save seeds for replanting, see “How to Save Green Bean Seeds“.
I've also read good things about Fortex and Blue Lake, but haven't tried them yet. (Kentucky Blue is a cross between Blue Lake and Kentucky Wonder.)
If you'd like to try purple pole beans, I recommend Purple Podded Pole Beans. The yield isn't quite as high as the Emerites, but they are a solid producer. The difference in color makes them easier to spot while picking.
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible recommends Gold Marie as a wax pole bean. I had pretty good yields with Sultan's Crescent Golden Green Beans.
You can use the list below to buy these bean varieties online:
These varieties are all snap bean species (Phaseolus vulgaris). Other species of beans that grow well on trellises include:
- Yard long beans (Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis)
- Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus)
You can grow these different bean species near each other and they will not cross pollinate. This makes it easy to save seed.
How Often do I Need to Pick My Beans?
Pick pole beans every 2-3 days to keep them producing. If you leave mature beans on the vine too long, the plant thinks that its job is done. It will stop setting fruit.
See “How to Store Green Beans (for Short Term or Long Term)” for tips on preserving your harvest.
Do I Need Bees to Pollinate my Pole Beans?
No. Beans are usually self-pollinating – but bees are always welcome and may increase yields.
To recap – plant pole beans in warm soil with legume inoculant. Don't use too much fertilizer. Get your trellis up while the beans are small. Water deeply, and pick beans every 2-3 days.
I hope you found this post helpful. If you have any bean growing tips or questions, leave a comment and share them below. If you found the post useful, share it with your gardening friends.
This article is written by Laurie Neverman. Laurie and her family have 35 acres in northeast Wisconsin where they grow dozens of varieties of fruiting trees, shrubs, brambles, and vines, along with an extensive annual garden. Along with her passion for growing nutrient dense food, she also enjoys ancient history, adorable ducks, and lifelong learning.
Originally published in 2014, last updated in 2023.