Pole and Climbing Beans

A row of green vines growing up clearly handmade trellis

Pole beans climbing creative, homemade trellises. Credit: UF/IFAS

Climbing beans like pole beans, winged beans, and long beans, are popular plants in Florida vegetable gardens. They're easy to grow, even in poor soil. And, as the name implies, these beans love to climb. You can trellis the lovely vines in your vegetable garden or plant them along an existing fence to create a foodscape.

Because they grow vertically, pole bean yields per square foot are significantly higher than most bush bean varieties. A ten-foot row of pole beans can produce 8 pounds of beans in a single season. The estimated yield for bush beans in the same space is only 4.5 pounds. If space is limited, pole beans are the plants for you.

Pick Florida-Friendly Varieties

There are dozens of different species of pole beans. ‘McCaslan’, ‘Kentucky Wonder’, ‘Rattlesnake’, and ‘Blue Lake’ are some great varieties for Florida gardens. If you choose pole beans not on this list, look for options that are rust-resistant, a must in Florida’s humid climate.

Other species of climbing beans include long and yard-long beans (Vigna unguiculata subs. Sesquipedalis), winged beans (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus), and some varieties of broad bean (Vicia faba). Scarlet runner (Phaseolus coccineus) and hyacinth beans (Lablab purpureus) are both so beautiful that they are often planted as ornamentals. The seeds of these species are less commonly sold, but many gardeners agree that they are well worth the search.

Planting and Care

Pale purple flower of the winged bean

Climbing bean blooms, like the winged bean flower pictured above, bring beauty to your vegetable garden. Credit: Ko Ko Maung, Bugwood.org

Deciding when to plant your pole beans will depend on your location. In Florida, beans are a warm season crop and can be planted twice a year. Take a look at the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide to determine when to plant in your area.

Because bean plants have weak root systems, sow your pole bean seed directly into your garden. Transplanting them could damage their roots. For the same reason install the trellis or support structure before you plant. And don’t be afraid to get creative! Artistic trellises add beauty to the vegetable garden. Likewise, climbing beans can add temporary greenery to a bare expanse of wall or fence. For more information on training and supporting climbing plants, please see our article, "Versatile Vines."

Since ancient times, one common support structure for climbing beans has been corn stalks. Corn, beans, and squash are called the Three Sisters,” a winning combination discovered by Mesoamerican peoples thousands of years ago. The corn provides support for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen to fertilize the soil, and the squash leaves’ shade suppresses weeds. If you’d like to mix a little history in with your gardening, who not give the "sisters" a try using Florida-Friendly varieties?

Crop row of vining bean plants

Long beans growing on a trellis. Credit: Qingren Wang, UF/IFAS

However you decide to plant them, sow pole bean seeds deep, about 1 inch into the soil and about 3–5 inches apart. If you plant multiple rows, space them at least 36 inches apart. For other climbing bean varieties follow the directions of the grower.

As with all new plants, irrigation is critically important to climbing beans. Keep the soil consistently moist until your seeds sprout. After they have a set of true leaves, water whenever you notice the soil surface has dried out. Be especially careful not to disturb the soil deeply when you weed.

Pole beans will grow well in your garden or a container; just make sure they're in a location where they will receive at least six to eight hours of full sun every day. Fertilize pole beans at half the rate used for other vegetables. Avoid applying excessive nitrogen; this will increase foliage but decrease yields.

Harvesting Your Pole Beans

Pole beans should be ready for harvest after about 50–70 days. Other climbing bean species may take a little more or less time to mature; check the links below for details.

Depending on the variety you plant, climbing beans can be harvested green (for immediate use) or dry. If you’re interested in green beans, or “snap” beans, harvest them as soon as they’re big enough to eat.

Bundles of very thin, long, green beans

Yard-long beans live up to their name! Credit: UF/IFAS

Harvest mature beans regularly to keep your plants producing. You can leave them to dry on the plant or pull whole vines off to dry indoors; wait until the leaves have turned yellow. The seed pods will start to split open as they dry and the seeds can be easily removed.

Beans are among the easiest seeds to save; keep some of your harvest properly stored and you can replant them next season. For more on collecting and storing seed, see our article on seed saving.

For more information on growing climbing beans, contact your county Extension office.

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