Growing runner beans in pots

Runner beans add height and beauty to a small container garden. As well as lots of tasty beans.

 

Runner beans are one of the most productive and pretty crops for containers – and an excellent choice for small spaces. Growing runner beans in pots is not difficult.  They are one of the best crops for containers.

You can get runners with orange or white flowers. Mixing the two can look really pretty.

Here are some tips to grow an abundant crop.

1. Sowing

Sow once the threat of frost has passed (May or early June in most of the UK).  Start them inside in pots on a bright window sill or outside in their final pot. Tip: sow more beans than you need in case some are eaten by slugs.

2. They like lots of water

To grow and fruit well, beans need plenty of water. Use a large pot of at least 20 litres but ideally 40 – 50 litres (4 – 10 gallons). Big pots hold more water and dry out less quickly. Or use a large container with a water reservoir (like an Earthbox). Keep well watered, particularly on hot or windy days.

3. Sun

They need about five to six hours sun or more (around half a day) to grow and fruit well.  Tip:  In many small spaces there is often more light higher up – see if you can place your beans to climb up into more sun as they grow.

4. Pollination

In order for the fruits to set, they need pollinating by bees – so it can be fun and beneficial to grow some insect attracting flowers nearby. Sometimes you will find that your beans will flower but not produce beans. The possible reasons for this are summarised on the RHS website. But don’t worry too much – often the problem is temporary and resolves itself with warmer weather.

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

5. Protect from slugs

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 – or start the seeds inside.

6. Support

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. You could even grow two pots and make a runner bean arch, or grow them up netting. It’s a fun opportunity to be creative. You can find some excellent ideas on different supports on the Brussels Kitchen Garden website. 

7. Pinch out

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.

8. Pick

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).

Runner beans are tastiest when small - pick them regularly to encourage them to produce more.
Runner beans are tastiest when small – pick them regularly to encourage them to produce more.

9. Feed

To boost your crop, feed with liquid tomato food once every two or three weeks after the plant starts flowering.

Get the family involved!

Growing runner beans in pots is also an excellent project to do with kids. The seeds are large and beautiful (you can call them magic beans!) and easy to plant. And you can have fun making wigwams or other climbing structure together.

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)

These tips were first published for The Secret Seed Society’s Giant Bean Competition.

126 thoughts on “Growing runner beans in pots”

  1. Hi There, a lot of helpful information.
    I’m a complete novice gardener! and new to planting runner beans. I have planted some seeds (3) in 10cm deep pot. They have sprouted, do I need to transfer to a deeper pot? If so, what size should the depth be and will I be able to put the 3 plants in it.
    Thanking you in advance, Emma

  2. Hello! So much useful information here – thank you.
    I’m planning a runner bean fence – many individual pots of runner beans climbing up the metal bars of a fence.
    I understand the bigger the pot the better for hydration reasons: do you think the beans would do well in recycled milk cartons, drinks bottles and containers at least 1 or 2 litres in volume if watered regularly?
    Many thanks!

    1. Yes, it’s the volume that is critical. It might be possible to grow them in 2 litre pots, probably one plant per pot – but the watering would be more challenging particularly when the plants are tall (requiring more water) and in hot or windy weather. Try it and you might be able to make it work – they might need watering at least twice a day on hot days. If it was me I’d probably use those 50 litre supermarket crates and grow about 8 – 10 plants in each one.

  3. Im a new Gardener. I’ve never grown Runner Beans before & did so w/o any research in early March = a pkt of beans in a huge pot!
    Against ALL the odds in inundated with plants & given 12 away.
    A few have been attacked by, I guess Aphids. Not wanting to use Chemicals, ive given the plants a good WASH in warm water & garlic granuals … They seem fine now. Why does this work?

  4. I’m a novice vegetable gardener and have planted runner beans in small pots in the middle of last month which are now around 10 inches in height. Can someone advise me if they need putting in larger pots with support now or waiting a while and putting outside when the weather is better? I intend keeping them in large pots. Thanks.

    1. See if you can look at the roots (you might need to ease a plant of a pot). If the roots look as if they are filling the pot, it’ll be a good idea to move it into something larger. Keep them inside until the threat of frost in your area is over.

      1. Hi Judy I’m a newbie to runner beans too. I have them still in the greenhouse about 5 inches tall and I just wondered approx what size pit you’ve re planted into and if a huge pot how many to the pot (I seem to have ended up with 29 seedlings.
        Many thanks

        1. Hi Em,
          I planted my beans in a 10 inch diameter pot and put 3 plants per pot. All thriving well. Hope you have the same success.

    2. Keep them under cover if out side. Alternatively keep them inside until there is no more frost. This is normally May time.
      Good luck 👍

  5. Geraldine Cummings

    Growing from seed for container which make do you recommend and when they die back do you have to change all the soil in the container or can you add horse manure over winter then top up in spring with new compost ?
    Thank you Geraldine.

    1. Personally, with all my pot grown veg, I set the ‘old’ compost aside and use it next year, 1/3rd old to 2/3rds new or 2/3rds home compost .. this was a trial and I was surprised it works well!

  6. How many beans should I put in a large pot…this year I have put 3, last year 6 and didnt get many beans! Its now late July and they have been planted since begin June, loads of flowers but very few beans? I use tomorite once a week and water when needed mostly every day….which month do u get the biggest harvest August, September? Am I worrying too much? Have picked a few solitary beans now and then! Ty Mads x

    1. This can happen for a variety of reasons and is most common early in the season (around now). The most common causes are lack of pollinating insects (the cold and windy weather will not have helped), or not enough water (make sure to water well). They can also fail to set if the weather is very hot. However, once they get going they are normally a very prolific crop, so hopefully yours will start setting soon.

  7. Can anyone help my runner bean plants have grown well in large pots but something is eating the flower head off and this is now happening to my tomato plants

  8. My beans are growing taller than my canes, which are only about 7ft tall (couldn’t get any longer), should I cut them back

  9. The runner beans I have been growing got the mosaic disease, so I took out the infected ones and just one left. One pot is empty now, very sad. But going to see if I can buy some plants tomorrow. ( the one’s I had, were from a gardener, who had the seeds from last year} so I wonder if the seeds were infected. Anyway, I want to replenish the pot with more plants, would you recommend changing the compost. The others were doing well until they go the virus

    1. Hi Mary, I’m not expert on a plant viruses so someone else may have be able to offer more informed advice – but I’d recommend NOT growing running beans in the same compost for a year or two. However, you could probably safely use the compost for another completely different crop like courgettes or tomatoes.

  10. I have runner beans in the ground and in pots. The ones in pots are producing lots of small beans now but they already have the seeds showing inside and don’t look long and smooth like the ground ones. Assume the pots aren’t big enough?
    Can I save them by adding more soil, can’t move them as already well established. Have been well watered daily.

    1. It sounds like it is probably stress of some sort – it might be that the pots aren’t large enough, how large is the pot? Wind or compost without enough nutrients are other possiblities. I’d pick the beans, and feed with tomato feed – and keep on keeping them well watered. If you have space to add more soil to the top of the pot, that might help, too.

  11. Hi

    I have planted runner beans from seeds in pots for the first time and I also have blackfly and aphids on the fresh new shoots mainly. I have been picking them off by hand but there are new ones every day, also we have lots of ants. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Julie Sutcliffe

      Hi. I am on a veg site on facebook and its my first time planting anything. I was advised to soak crushed garlic in water for a few hours drain and add a spoon epsom salt.spray your plants. Plants love the epsom salts and the bugs hate the garlic. Hope that helps

    2. Keep doing what you are doing, Mandy – picking them off is the best way – hopefully some ladybirds or hoverfly larvae will arrrive soon to eat them. And perhaps feed the beans some liquid seaweed if you have some. Healthy plants are more resistant to aphids.

    1. Squishing them off with your finger or some kitchen paper is the best way to keep them under control – and hoping some ladybirds or hover fly larvae arrive soon to mop up the rest! Keeping the plant healthy by keeping it well watered and fed will also help the plant to fight off aphids (plants can produced natural chemicals that make them unattractive to aphids but they need strong health / access to all the nutrients they need to do this). Personally, I never use sprays, even things like washing up liquid – as any spray that kills aphids will probably damage other insects, and may also reduce the health of the plant.

  12. Hi, I purchased a runner bean plant today from a garden centre, it is in a pot with 5/6 beanstalks, shall I leave them in the pot as I don’t want to damage them or plant them in the garden by a wall.
    The pot isn’t huge.

  13. Hi, thank you for the useful information,
    Please could you tell me if adding more earth to the top of tub where compost has sunk leaving space for say 6 inches more earth/compost making ground level higher up the plant. The bean plant at moment is about 6 feet tall. Would it have adverse effect on the plant. Thanks in advance. 😱

    1. It can be a valuable way of adding more nutrients – but if the plant is growing well it may not be necessary. I often add a layer of worm compost to the top of my containers at this time of year.

  14. Hi – we have just planted two big pots of runner beans and are wondering how to protect them from squirrels and birds! Any help appreciated – we don’t want to harm anyone but we’d like to look after our beans!

    1. Are your beans being troubled by the pigeons and squirrels, Ruth? They are not normally a problem – so no preventative action is usually needed. If they become a problem, netting is the best way to protect from pigeons (or CDs as scarecrows might help a bit). Squirrels are much harder to deter… but I’m hoping they wont be a problem!

      1. Thank you Mark – so far so good and the squirrels are ignoring them! I shall dig out some old CDs in case the pigeons get interested!

  15. Hi
    I’ve just started growing runner beans for the first time in large pots with wigwams, just this last couple of days the green sprouts are coming through quite quickly so I’ve put plastic water bottles over each one. How long do I keep the bottles over them please,
    Thank you 😀

  16. I’ve grown runner beans for many years. This year I am growing some is a raised container near the house, having turned my now former vegetable garden into a wildflower meadow. Age has finally crept up on me! Space is relatively limited, so just eight canes in two wigwams. As advised I’ve always left just one plant growing up each cane, removing the weaker ones. What would I loose if I left two plants growing up some of the canes?

    1. I usually grow two plants up each cane and it seems to work well. I guess each plant is a little less productive, but as long as the pot is a decent size, they seem to grow well. I had over 10kg of runner beans from one pot (a supermarket crate) last year!

      1. Hi Mark
        Thank you so much for your informative reply. My container is the base of a now redundant wormery, so much the same size as a supermarket crate, but perhaps a bit deeper. I will follow your example and leave two strong growing plants on each cane, but removing any obvious weaklings. If I get anywhere near 10kg of beans I will be delighted.
        Regards
        Andrew

  17. Hello,

    I’m planning to make some planters for my runner beans out of old scaffold boards or pallets.

    Would planters 18cm in height be enough depth for them, or do they need to be deeper?

    Thanks in advance.

    Mark

        1. By compost, I’m guessing you mean multipurpose compost from a store? If so, yes, I’d use that. (Homemade compost is good as an additive – but sometimes harder to grow in on its own).

  18. Hi
    Some advice please
    I am planting out my runner beans in a nice large container and am planning to grow them in fresh shop bought levington compost but I wondered if it would improve the compost if I mixed in some shop bought Westland top soil. Can you advise me please.
    Rhys Price
    First time bean grower

  19. Hello again,
    I’ve planted on my runner beans but some of the leaves got torn and damaged and some of the vines bent. They look ok, but it looks like the part of the plant beyond the bent stem is wilting. There are new vines growing up so should I trim the damaged parts of the plant to avoid fungus and infections?
    Thank you very much,
    Destine

  20. Hi there,
    i have one runner bean plant in a bucket sized pot and it’s about 12″ long. the leaves are going yellowy, even the newish leaves. Any advice please?

  21. Hi,
    How many runner beans should you put in a 20cm pot and how many should you put in a pot that holds 40 litres? Also, do runner beans have long roots and will they get squashed if I put them in a smaller container? Sorry, I posted this comment again as I think I deleted it the first time.
    Thank you very much,
    Destine

    1. The number of plants depends on both surface area and volume of container. Very approximately, in average pots, I’d suggest trying 4 in a 20cm pot, and 12 in a 40 litre pot. They do have quite long roots, but they seem to grow fine in 5 – 6 inches depth of soil – as long at there is also a good volume of compost eg like in a veg crate.

  22. Hi
    I’m going to grow runner beans in spare recycling boxes.
    Should I pierce holes in the bottom, or leave as is so water doesn’t run out after watering?
    Thank you

    1. HI Tim, you need holes in the bottom – or the soil can get waterlogged which will drown the beans (the roots need air as well as water). Recycling boxes are the perfect size for beans, you should get a good crop. (Just remember runners are very sensitive to frost so don’t put outside until after the last frost).

      1. If they are too big to keep inside, move outside and try to protect them – eg put plastic drinks bottles over the top of them like mini cloches. And, if possible, bring inside if frost predicted. Alternatively, sow another batch inside – now is a good time.

  23. Pingback: How to Grow Runner Beans in a Grow Bag – Urban Backyard Farming

    1. Hi Charlotte, runners like to be kept well watered and the larger the pot, the easier it is to do this. I’d say that your pot is just large enough (a bit bigger would be better but you should be fine), and I’d put in six to eight plants – just make sure to keep it well watered particularly on warm or windy days. Unlike many fruiting crops, you can grow runners quite close together. You’d only put one tomato in this size of pot. Hope this helps and good luck.

  24. Hi Mark
    I have grown runner beans in a corner of my garden foe several years and they have cropped well. this year due to garden redesign I have planted them in a patio tub with an obelisk to climb up. They grew well initially and flowered but there are not many beans, there are just stumps where the flowers have fallen off and some tiny beans. Also the leaves have gone sparse and yellow and in some cases black. I have some photos which I could send you. Can you suggest anything that could be causing these problems.

  25. I am growing runner beans in pots i have had some success with the beans but the leaves look abit wilted and yet i water and feed them and the shape of the beans vary in shape as well, what could the problem be.

  26. I am planting Scarlet Runners in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. It tends to get quite hot here in Summer and I am not sure if they like the heat. My dad (we are originally from England) used to grow them in Ontario, Canada and was always successful. Will they withstand the heat? I plan to plant them in a more shaded area and be sure they get a lot of water! Nothing better than fresh runners!! Mmmmmm!!!

  27. I can’t get enough of scarlet runners 🙂
    I’ve planted them in egg cartons , for got about them on my window ledge… they grew into my lace curtains like crazy weed lol… needless to say the roots pushed all the dirt out & seemed to living on air … I now grown them as house plants 🙂

  28. Hi Mark,
    I am planning on starting my edible garden adventure and considering on starting with beans in pots. Do you think growing 9 pole bean plants in a 30 cm wide square pot which is about 30 L in volume a fair calculation?
    Thank you for your help 🙂

    1. Yes, that sounds fine – if you can keep it well watered you may even be able to grow a few more (perhaps try 12?) in that size. Most fruiting crops need to be well spaced, but climbing beans and peas can be grown closer than most. Good luck with it!

      1. Hi Mark,
        Thank you for your reply. I grew 8 in this pot but some seem to be struggling, hopefully with time they will pick up. Will keep you updated.
        Thanks again for your time.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

    1. Just saw my old post from last year. Here’s what I found out myself. The beans grew great by this method and I had a fab sunscreen out of it too. The harvest was good too. Runner beams with everything lol. Doing the same this year too.

  31. 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.

  32. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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!

    2. 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.

  33. 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

  34. 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.

  35. 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

    1. 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.

  36. 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”.

  37. 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.

  38. 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?

    1. 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.

  39. 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.

    1. 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

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

    1. 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 ?

    2. 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

    3. 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

      1. 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.

        1. 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

    4. 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

      1. 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!

  42. 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?

    1. 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!

  43. 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.

  44. Pingback: Self Pollinating Runner Bean 'Firestorm' dropping flowers - Page 2

  45. 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.

    1. 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!

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