Magic beans! How to grow runners successfully

Runner beans were originally grown in the UK as an ornamental - the flowers look great

 

Runner beans are one of the most productive and pretty crops for small spaces.  Here are some tips for growing them healthily (and beautifully) in containers.  Once the threat of frost has passed (now in the UK), it’s time to get your runner beans started! (These tips were first published for The Secret Seed Society’s Giant Bean Competition – check out the competition – and it’s great website for kids).

1. Runners grow best with lots of water – so use a large pot (easier to keep well watered) or a container with a water reservoir (like an Earthbox)
2. They need pollinating by bees – so it can be fun and beneficial to grow some insect attracting flowers nearby.
3. Slugs love runner bean seedlings. You can protect with small home made cloches – cut empty drink bottles in half and put one over each seedling.
4. You can buy runners with orange or white flowers. Mixing the two can look really pretty.
5. Runners need a good tall support to climb up – like a wigwam. If you can find tall branches, they can look much prettier than canes.
6. When the runners reach the top of the canes, pinch out the tops (this means cutting the very tip off). This will encourage the plant to send out more shoots – and beans – below.
7. Pick, pick, pick. It’s very important to keep picking running beans – as this encourages the plant to grow more. Pick the beans small for a delicious, tender treat (big beans look cool but can be rather tough to eat).
8. To boost your crop, feed with liquid tomato food once every two or three weeks after the plant starts flowering.

 

Harvesting runners from the balcony - accessing them via a ladder on the neighbours balcony! Over 5kgs of runners came of this one container (60cm x 60cm)

 

40 comments… add one

  • Hi,
    I start saving my loo rolls in early spring and when ready to sow my beans fill them with compost in a half tray. This gives them a good deep root system ready for them to be planted out.

    Reply
  • I’ve planted 4 tubs of runners on my patio and they are coming along nicely now. Can I link the pots with another cane to make a feature out of them or will that effect the harvest of the beans. I didn’t know you have to continually pick them so I’ve learned something today already. I’ve never grown runner beans before.

    Reply
  • Hi!
    Well 2 of my seeds have sprouted really well. The 2 initial leaves are quite huge now. 3 smaller leaves seem to be growing as well, next.
    But my question is, which part of the plant is supposed to climb onto something for support?
    I have left a wire hanging from the wall between the 2 initial leaves hopping that the plant will cling onto it. Is this enough or should I tie it by a thread or piece of cloth as well?
    How long would it take to climb?
    Secondly, do runner beans mind full sun?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Runners are good climbers (unlike most peas) so should cling on without needing further tying. Full sun is fine – make sure they are well watered and they should do great!

      Reply
  • Hi!
    Can you please tell me the recommended and necessary depth of a pot to grow runner beans in? Secondly how long can the vine grow?

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    • Hiya, thanks for your question. Runner beans are easier to grow in a large volume of soil as they like lots of water (which is easier to provide in a big pot) and don’t like drying out. I probably wouldn’t grow them in something much shallower than 10 inches (25cm) – go for the biggest pot you can. The vines can grow well over two metres (6 feet) tall – pinch out the tops when they get to the height you want – this will encourage side shoots.

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      • Hi!

        There seems to be only one problem though as of now.
        My seeds don’t seem to be sprouting, the pack said they would sprout within 7-10 days.
        Any tips on this one?

        Thanks.

        Reply
        • How long have you have been waiting? There could be several reasons, most probably they are just be being a bit slow. Lower temperatures for example will make for slower germination. Check the soil isn’t too wet – they like dampness but they also need air to germinate so don’t like it when it gets too wet (water excludes the air). Other possibilities include old or poor quality seed or an issue with the growing media… but hopefully they are up now!

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    • I have a pot whose height is 16 inches and top diameter is almost 12 inches.
      So I suppose that will do the trick.
      I don’t care even if the plant/vine goes 60 feet.
      Thanks for the info.

      Reply
  • On a site that I was looking at the other day regarding RUNNER BEANS was this
    OLD GARDINERS tip . When the plant was in bloom ( lots of flowers ) his Wife
    used to spray the blooms with SUGAR WATER !!

    ROYZIE K

    Reply
  • Start your runner beans in large fizzy drink bottles kept anywhere inside …. use compost mixed with polystyrene beads or sand … don’t over water . When the weather is suitable make suitable holes in the bottle with an old soldering iron for aeration, watering and drainage. Hang the bottles on a wall without its screw cap and arrange support for plant growth. Shade bottle from strong sunlight with black polyethene while allowing them to get warm.

    Reply
  • Hi my runner beans seem to be dying, it’s my first year growing then and I’m doing them in grow bags, they got flowers on but none of the plants look healthy I have got jokes in the bottom of the bags so water can drain out and have also fed them, help please

    Reply
    • Hi Kim, grow bags are quite shallow and can dry out quickly. Runner beans like lots of water so that could be the problem? Put your finger into the soil to see how dry it feels. They are easier to grow in a big pot as it won’t dry out so quickly. There are other possibilities – for example the quality of the compost in the grow bag as it varies from make to make.

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  • When grown in large pots, try angling the canes outwards. This way, the beans are more likely to fall straight and on the outside instead of becoming entangled in the middle of the wigwam. I call mine “wagwims”.

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  • The est and most reliable method of starting runner beans is to put a few hand fulls of damp multi purpose compost in a plastic supermarket bag warm it up on an airing cupboard tank over night while soaking the bean seeds in water over night then putting the beans in with the compost shake them up and keep on the tank for four days then they will have germinated pot these up two inches deep to grow once they grow above soil level keep in good light and plant when large enough it never fails.

    Reply
  • I have loads of flowers and beans, but there seems to be loads of leaves. Is it ok to cut them down without damaging the beans?

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    • Hi Tina, I think cutting some off is usually OK – probably not too many in one go, though. What are you feeding them? Sometimes they grow a glut of leaves when there is too much nitrogen in the soil – so its a good idea to feed with something not to high in nitrogen. Comfrey tea or tomato feed are two good options.

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  • Flowers are dropping no leaving no beans cant see any bees in garden at all

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  • I have many runner bean plants covered in red flowers but they do not seem to be pollinating. other years I have seen my plants cover in bees but this year have seen no bees at all in my garden. looks like being a bad year for runner beans in my part of Watford.

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    • Your not only having a bad bean time in Watford we have the same in Leicester think we have been getting Bees that we are not use to foreign ones I think

      Reply
      • Sometimes nectar robbing beas will make a hole in the base of the flower to nick the nectar with out pollinating – perhaps that is what your bees are doing? Tell tale signs are holes in the flowers. There are some good notes on the RHS site about the other reasons why runners fail to set: http://rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=381

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        • hello
          go for the self polinating variety like moonlight always good results

          Reply
    • Hi Ray.

      Old living near you in Hemel. Now in Canada – and guess what- Runner beans with NO BEES. Any ideas or suggestions? Thanks, Peter

      Reply
  • I still think our runners and broad beans should be looking bigger and better, so my next question is about sunlight. How much sunlight is best? Can they have too much? Ours are in direct sunlight (when we get some sun) from sunrise to about 3pm (south facing garden). We seem to be following all the other rules which I’ve read here.

    Reply
  • They are the easiest to grow, the best vegetable to eat and the best looking veg when in flower. They take very little looking after.
    I grow them successfully every year.
    What we can’t eat during the summer, we freeze and they are available until the following year.
    I cannot praise or recommend them enough!.
    Anyone wanting advice can contact me whenever they want.
    Cliff Walker.

    Reply
    • Hi Cliff,

      We removed a tall pine tree earlier this year close to our rear boundary wall and after a bit of cultivation thought I would try growing a few bits in what had been a pretty baron piece of land. (under tree) Bought some Enorma runner seeds but not a lot has happened. Out of 60 only 6 appeared and even a distribution of slug pellets didn’t stop holes appearing in the foliage. Am I wasting my time ?

      Reply
    • Hi Cliff, Glad to hear such positive comments about growing runner beans. I too, love to grow and eat them. However, this year, I’ve had a few beans that have sent up three shoots and wondered if you have any experience of this. Do you know if I should pinch out the two outer shoots (these are now thriving and strong and a few inches taller than the central stem) or should I leave well alone?
      Lauren Payne-Fraser

      Reply
    • Hi Cliff
      We love them too and with a small garden I make wigwams in large patio tubs. I sowed 25 this year but only 5 germinated Unwins Emergo. So I have bought A mixture of “Enorma” and “Painted lady” and my five “Emergo” they are uo to the top of the pole now mostly and looking very healthy. Inprevious years I have had flower fall – a lot and wonder if you can advise me of how to avoid this problem – Thanks
      Tony

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      • Hi, getting runners to germinate can be difficult but I was given this advice by a National Trust head gardener. Chit the seeds between 2 pieces of damp kitchen towel on a plate. Cover the whole lot with foil to exclude light. Within 7 to 10 days they will have sprouted and can be planted out. They usually go off like a rocket after that. Be careful not to do this too early. Wait until a week or 2 before you would normally be expecting to plant you runners out. (June in East Midlands). We did this at late as mid July last year and still go a good crop. This technique also works for Courgettes and Dwarf French beans. Give it a go. GOOD LUCK.

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        • Thanks so much for sharing that tip Jacqui – I will try that next time I grow runners.

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        • hello
          try filling a plastic bag with some compost not to wet just damp
          throw your beans seeds in hang in warm room and watch them go in about two weeks then plant on

          Reply
    • Hi Cliff

      Please can you tell me why my runner bean leaves are yellowing, is it nitrogen deficiency, if it is shall I feed them with Baby bio, or what would you suggest,

      thank you

      Reply
      • Hi Anne

        It’s Mark here, author of the blog – Cliff is another reader sharing his experience!

        Runner beans are nitrogen fixers so don’t need a lot of added nitrogen, although it can sometimes take them a little while to get going, particularly when it is cold at the beginning of the season (as it has been in some parts this year). Often this problem resolves itself as the weather warms. In the meantime, you might want to give it some liquid tomato feed, probably diluted more than usual, as this will give it a bit of nitrogen that might help it establish itself until warmer weather comes. My guess is though that it might come round anyway.

        Good luck with your beans!

        Reply
  • Please can you tell me if the soil in the pot is important. Can it be soil from the garden (clay in my case) or is a general purpose compost any better?

    Reply
    • It’s usually best not to use soil from the garden, at least straight. Sometimes mixing it 50:50 with general purpose compost can work well. All soils are different so its usually a case of experimenting a bit – you could maybe try three pots one with 100% general purpose compost, one with soil and one with a 50:50 mix and see which one does best!

      Reply
  • Your tip about the plastic bottles was brilliant, I would never have thought of it. Saves a lot of money as well instead of buying cloches. Congratulations and keep up the good work.
    Thank you
    Cliff.

    Reply
  • Great idea to feed them, I guess it is inevitable if you grow them in containers, but I will give it a go outside too as they always look battered by the time I can pick them.

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  • I do admire runner beans but never tried growing them myself. I’ll plan to do it next year as I reckon it’s too late now.

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    • Pearletta: If you live in the UK you still have time to sow and grow runner beans if you want try some this year – sow them before the end of June and you should have beans in September!

      Reply
      • Oh that’s great. I’ll definitely givie it a go. Got some plastic bottles ready for protection against slugs too. Thank you for the encouragement :)

        Reply

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