Thanks for taking the time to read our article on how to grow Runner beans for beginners in the UK. These are by quite a distance, the most popular bean grown in the United Kingdom. One of the main reasons for that is the massive yields that you can get from these plants.
There is however something to keep an eye on. We have read in so many places that these are very easy to grow. They do grow easily as long as you do a really good job at preparing the soil. We will cover that later in this article, but just keep in mind, with runner beans, success is all about preparing the soil.
These are mainly grown in vegetable gardens and allotments, but they can also be grown in containers. If you are using a container, you can plant them closer together. The reason for that is they will need regular watering and feeding in a container, and as such they get more nutrients for growth. You also don't have to worry about soil pests.
So the good news is that you have a few options when it comes to growing runner beans. These beans are typically planted in rows that are 18" apart, and the space between each plant should be 9". Most of them will have a red flower and a few varieties have white and pink flowers.
You should be aware of stringless runner beans as they are now the main choice that UK gardeners want to grow. Standard variety of runner beans tend to have stringy pods. Many people don't like eating these, and so the newer variety stringless beans are now very popular.
Runner Bean Varieties
Almost every runner bean will grow to around 8-10 feet high. The pods will be about 10-20" long, so these are big plants. They break down into three main varieties which are Stick runner beans, Ground runner beans and Dwarf runner beans. The dwarf varieties are a good choice for containers or for small gardens. By quite a distance, the stick runner beans remain the most popular.
- Scarlet Emperor - this is our favourite as it simply a very good all round performer. It gives long straight beans and high yields.
- Kelvedon Marvel - These are a very good early cropping bean with shorter pods but they are usually able to be harvested 14 days or so earlier than other standard varieties
- Sunset - This bean is also an early cropper. It has very pretty pink flowers and self-fertilising. It is also a good bean for freezing.
- Streamline - This is a reliable old favourite and a hugely popular choice for lots of UK gardeners. This delivers a huge yield.
- Painted Lady - These are very easy to identify with white flowers that have bright red lips. The pods are short, and in reality most gardeners grow this as it makes a very pretty screening flower
- Red Knight - This runner bean produces a red flower and is a stringless bean with very good flavour and a really good choice for freezing
- Mergoles or Desiree - Another very popular choice with many UK gardeners. This bean produces white flowers and stringless pods. They crop over a long period and are excellent for freezing.
- Achievement- These have long straight pods and are used by many gardeners in exhibitions. They are also good for freezing.
- Enorma- Used mainly for gardening exhibitions and they also have excellent flavour.
- Crusader - This is the one that many gardeners will grow just for the exhibitions. The main reason for that is the very long length of its pods.
Runner Bean Plant Facts
The French bean is grown from seed. Never plant any seeds in cold or wet soil as they simply will not grow.
Germination time of seeds
7 - 14 days
Life expectancy of seed
Seed needed to grow a 10 feet row
15 (1/2 ounce)
Expected yield from a 10 feet row
Ease of Growing
Not easy - soil preparation and constant picking are required
- Seed Sowing Time - End of May in the South of the UK and mid-June in the North
- Picking Time - Late July through to early October
Best Soil & Planting Tips for Runner Beans
As we have mentioned now a few times really good soil preparation is they key to successfully growing runner beans. These involve more work than other vegetables. You will need to dig the ground in the Autumn time and add a lot of well rotted manure or compost. Two weeks before planting you should add a general purpose fertilizer.
Runner beans will nor grow well in poorly drained soil and our advice is not to even try, if the soil does not have good drainage. They also don't like acidic soil. You can counteract that by adding lime to the soil during the winter.
Maintaining the French Bean Plant
You can buy plants from a garden centre to sow or raise your own as seedlings. Most seedlings are grown indoors in late April and can then be carefully planted out avoiding any risk of frost.
Plant your seeds about 9" apart in rows that are 18" apart. Sow to a depth of about 2" You will also need to provide supports. These will need to be about 8 feet long and be sturdy. Most gardeners use a double line of inwardly sloping crossed poles along with a horizontal holding bar along the ridge.
Once you have the supports in place, once the plants start to grow, they can be loosely tied to the supports, and they will grow up these quite quickly. We also recommend laying down slug pellets at this stage.
During the actual growing period hoe regularly to keep the weeds down. We also recommend mulching to help with moisture retention. Always water well during dry periods and as soon as the first pods have formed. We also recommend a liquid feed every 2-3 weeks during the growing period.
When the plants reach the top of the supports, remove the growing point. When the season ends, dig in the roots and stem bases.
Bean Pests and Problems
Black Bean Aphid
This is the main one to look out for when growing broad beans. Blackfly will go after broad beans in the Spring. We use Bayer Garden Provado Ultimate Fruit and Vegetable Bug Killer to control that as it is very effective.
Capsid bugs grow to 6mm long and have green bodies, long legs and long antennae. You can spot when you have a problem if you see rows of small ragged holes in the foliage. This mainly happens on newer plants. They also feed on weeds so keep your growing area as free from weeds as you can. You can blow them off seedlings. If that doesn't work then Pyrethrum is the only organic pesticide that can be used to kill capsid bugs
If you have a vegetable garden then most likely there will be cutworms. They are laid by moths, mainly the turnip moth and the larvae they lay hides in the soil during the day and feeds at night. Wilted plants that look like they have been cut off at the soil line are the sure evidence of cutworms.
You can place cutworm collars around each plant if you know there is a problem. Metal cans or plastic cups work really well for collars and are cheap. The best way is to hoe the soil regularly and the birds will make very short work of them when they are exposed.
Slugs & Snails
A slug is basically a snail without a shell. They can devour seedlings in a very short space of time. The best way of controlling these is to just pick them out of the bed and get rid of them. If you don't like the idea of that then slug pellets works really well.
Mice love beans and we have seen them clear a row of beans overnight. You can put down spiny branches along the rows as that will deter them. You can also use some type of mouse poison.
You may notice U shaped notches right at the edges of younger leaves. This can kill off seedlings but in older plants, they almost always recover. Spray with Fenitrothion and it can also be prevented by hoeing around the plants in April and May.
Video on How to Grow Runner Beans in the UK
Harvesting & Use
You can begin to pick beans when the pods are about 6-84" long. Make sure to pick before the pods show signs of swelling. Normally you get a good 8 week harvesting period. It can be a lot of picking.
Video on How to Cook Runner Beans
Hopefully we have given you enough information to be able to grow runner beans in the UK. As a beginner we would recommend trying these as long as you take the time to properly prepare your soil.