How to Grow Runner Beans

Runner beans are a great starting point to growing your own veg because they are among the easiest crops to grow. They have large seeds which are easy to handle and quick to germinate, (within about 5-7 days of sowing) fast growing.  Runner Beans will crop for most of the summer in most conditions, and are almost pest and disease free. When growing Runner Beans it is worth growing  them from seed because they germinate so easily and this makes the crop much cheaper.

As with all beans, Runner Beans have long roots so need a deep, not shallow container. Sow Runner Beans into toilet roll holders or specially purchased root trainers (image above far left) in the same way as Broad Beans fill the container with good compost, damp and firm down to  eliminate any air pockets and place the bean 5cms from top. Sprinkle with compost and place in a light, warm place and germination will be swift, a matter of days. Germinate indoors in Feb/March/April and seed out doors late April best in May.

Different types of beans, runner, broad, french and broad beans plus peas all have slightly different growing requirements. There is a short video about how to plant beans illustrating their different requirements.

Some Runner beans have attractive flowers, the image above right is a heritage variety called "Sunset"

Green wheel barrow means easy to grow

Runner Beans are a Green Wheelbarrow crop being very easy to germinate and grow

How to plant Runner Beans

Runner beans growing up teepee

Unlike Broad beans, Runner Beans will climb and climb high. They naturally twine and climb and the traditional way of growing Runner Beans is up a teepee made out of canes or twigs as shown in the image left. However you can also plant in double rows 60 cms apart, 5cms deep and place a plant or seed every 15cms.  Because Runner Beans grow so tall, when growing Runner Beans it is essential to provide Runner Beans with tall stakes to grow up, see illustration left. You can use bamboo canes, which sink firmly into the ground and angle inwards together, and tie securely at the top. Place another cane horizontally along the top and tie this cane in as well which will give strength to the structure to prevent the Runner Beans from being blown over.

You can also use small sapling, branches and twigs in the place of bamboo canes which is purely aesthetic in that they look more attractive in the veg plot.  As illustrated top center eas, Runner and Broad Beans look good with companion planting and benefit in terms of pollinators from the Calendula planted alongside. A bright zingy orange, and flowering for a long time, Calendula, the English Pot Marigold, will bring in some extra pollinators. An added benefit is that the slugs do not seem very interested in Calendula, as compared with French Marigolds which are often reduced to slimy sticks in my garden so Calendula are an easier alternative if you battle with slugs.

Runner beans grow much taller than Broad beans and will need to be pinched out when they reach the top of the poles otherwise they just keep on growing. By pinching out the runner beans you are diverting the plant's energies into making flowers, which become the beans, rather than miles of growth.

Growing Runner Beans really is as easy as that.  Usually they crop prolifically although Runner Beans can be affected by a poor summer. If it is cool and wet there will be a lack of pollinators which can reduce yields but generally speaking they are very easy. Do not plant too many plants unless you want to eat a lot of beans, as each plant will yield many beans. To try and avoid gluts, sow or plant out successively, every fortnight, plant out a few more plants/seeds so that they plants fruit at different times.

Runner beans will fruit for a long period of time right up to the first frosts. In a good summer with a  mild autumn, such as 2014, beans were picked up to November. 

What can go wrong when growing Runner Beans

 No to very much. Runner beans are tender and so a chilly spring (and summer,) can affect them. It is best not to sow directly unless the soil has reached 12C. Poor germination will occur if the soil is not warm enough, in which circumstances it is best to start in pots under glass, transport out into the veg plot in late May or early June when it is warm, after hardening off. Young plants will struggle if in a cold or exposed area, so if the weather does decline, protect the plants. Runner beans also need regular watering if dry spell. Slugs and snails can be a problem attacking the tender new growth as it emerges. When the plants are first emerging or freshly planted it is best to protect from slugs and snails. 

Best Runner beans to grow

A quality mark for any plant, veg or shrub is the RHS garden merit award.   This is an award from the Royal Horticultural Society which follows trials to judge the plants performance under growing conditions in the UK. A plant or veg with this award will be a reliable performer and it is a good guide when choosing which varieties to grow to look for those plants with RHS award.  In 2013 the RHS undertook a growing trial in respect of runner beans looking at taste, colour, pod qualities, (as in straightness, length and lack of stringiness) resistance to pests and yields.

The runner beans which performed best in the trials and have the RHS award: St George, Snowstorm, Moonlight, Wisley Magic, Stardust,  Firestorm and Firelight.