- Painted Lady Bean
- Grow and Save Runner Bean Seeds
- How to Grow Runner Beans
- How to Save Runner Bean Seeds
- TOP VARIETIES OF RUNNER BEANS
- VARIETIES OF CLIMBING RUNNER BEANS WE RECOMMEND
- VARIETIES OF DWARF RUNNER BEANS WE RECOMMEND
Painted Lady Bean
Plant 2 inches deep on slight hills around poles or teepees spaced at 16 inches apart. Grow 4-8 seeds on each hill. Space 3 inches apart if growing on a fence. Sow after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm (18 degrees C).
Choose an area with full sun and a rich, deeply worked soil with a pH level of 6.5. Pole Beans are light feeders. The poles, teepees or a trellis should be erected after 2-4 leaves have developed. Hoe to kill weeds. A mulch of compost or straw is beneficial to control weeds and hold moisture. Keep the plants well-watered in dry weather, especially if they are grown on an upright trellis or poles against a shed or house where soil tends to dry out.
Pick young, full size pods when smooth and crisp. Pods are over mature once the beans start to form. Harvest regularly for a constant supply. Scarlet Runner Pole Beans will produce abundant, gorgeous red flowers if the beans are continually picked.
Companions: Carrot, corn, chard, pea, potato, eggplant. Avoid cabbage & onion families.
Grow and Save Runner Bean Seeds
How to Grow Runner Beans
These plants are often grown as ornamentals, owing to their large and often bright red flowers, as well as for their edible seeds.
Time of Planting
Direct-sow seeds into warm soil once the danger of frost has passed.
Plant bean seeds ½” deep and 2-3″ apart. Space rows at least 24” apart.
Common Pests and Diseases
Runner beans can be affected by a number of diseases, including anthracnose, bacterial brown spot, and bacterial wilt. Some of these diseases can remain in the soil for several years, so grow your beans in different areas of the garden each year. To prevent the spread of fungal and bacterial diseases among plants, avoid working in your bean patch when the foliage is wet.
When and How to Harvest
Runner beans are ready for harvest when the pods are dry and brittle and the seeds inside are hard.
Runner beans must be soaked and boiled before eating.
Dry runner bean seeds can be stored for months or years. If you think insects might be present in your stored beans, freeze them in an airtight container and then store the beans thawed.
How to Save Runner Bean Seeds
Recommended Isolation Distance
When saving seeds from runner beans, separate varieties by 160-500 feet.
Recommended Population Sizes
A single runner bean plant will produce viable seeds. To maintain a variety over time, save seeds from between 10-25 plants.
Assessing Seed Maturity
Harvest the runner bean seeds when they are very hard and their pods are dry and brittle.
If your runner bean pods are not completely dry before the first frost, pull the plants up and dry them further indoors.
Cleaning and Processing
When the runner bean pods are completely dry, break them open to release the seeds. Separate the seeds from the chaff. If you are saving a large number of runner bean seeds, you can thresh and winnow the pods to separate the seeds and chaff.
Storage and Viability
Store runner beans in a cool, dark, and dry place in an airtight container to keep out moisture and humidity. Under these conditions, runner bean seeds will remain viable for 3-4 years.
Have we been needlessly pigeonholing multi-purpose plants? We label plants like astilbe and daylilies for shade when they are perfectly happy in the sun. We call beets and turnips root crops, even though their leaves are delicious. And so many of us grow runner beans for their flowers, ignoring the “bean” in their name. They are in the same genus as our snap beans, but a different species: Phaseolus coccineus (pronounced fay-see-OH-lus koh-SIN-ee-us.)
Runner beans are indeed edible. More than that, they are quite delicious. They were commonly eaten in early American colonies and in Britain and they are having a comeback. They are even called Oregon lima beans, where they are becoming popular as an alternative to the long season limas. The seeds are shaped like lima beans and are usually black with speckles of red or purple.
Runner beans are native to Central and South America, but they will grow well in just about any climate. In fact, they germinate better in cool spring soil than more traditional green beans. And they may even over-winter, in areas where the ground does not freeze.
The pole varieties are favored when growing them as ornamentals, but there are also bush runner beans, which begin producing pods quicker. However, it is harder to find seed for the bush beans.
Runner beans make a good choice for edible landscaping. They are undeniably attractive with plenty of flowers, especially if you keep picking the beans. The red varieties are popular with hummingbirds.
It’s time to think of planting a garden this summer! But what varieties? Above are the “runner beans” planted by my sister in the States. I was there at harvest time and took these pics of the bean pods (left, curved, 5-7 inches in length) with the beans clearly showing, and the black* and white beans that had already been shelled. The beans were productive, but they were not the runner beans I know from England.
English runner beans are long (ca. 10 inches), straight, and bean-less. It’s the pods that are eaten: boiled or steamed al dente, the pods are absolutely delicious – one of our most favourite vegetables and available only in the winter after harvest.
Curious about the difference, I first investigated the English runners: I went to Homebase to see what they were selling for planting this spring: runner bean varieties Armstrong, Polestar, Prizewinner, White Lady and Scarlet Emperor. Then I went to the UK Suttons Seeds website and found that their catalog has 41 entries under “runner beans”, and most of the pictures look like the English version, whatever the variety.
So why are American runner beans different? What is their variety? All runner beans here and there are of the species Phaseolus coccineus, so the variety is really important. How can the English varieties be bought there? So sad to think that most Americans might not have tasted the most exquisite vegetable of England.
The American Burpee Seed catalog DOES have the runner bean variety Painted Lady in their Heirlooms category, but they market it as an ornamental. If you let the pods mature, it says they have “pinkish-brown streaked beans” – nothing like the blackish and white beans shown above. In the corner of the Suttons Painted Lady marketing picture, you can see a serving suggestion of the cut pods and unformed beans. So Painted Lady must be the best choice for having English runner beans in America. Order from Burpees!
* actually dark lavender with black mottles
TOP VARIETIES OF RUNNER BEANS
VARIETIES OF CLIMBING RUNNER BEANS WE RECOMMEND
A personal favourite of ours which we have grown for many years. If you just can’t stand even a small amount of “stringiness” to your runner beans then this is the one for you. Even if you let them reach past maturity they still remain stringless. In these circumstances the whole pod will eventually get a fibrous quality to it but definitely no string!
As with all runner beans, Lady Di is no exception, harvest it early and it is delicious, leave it too long on the plant and it will deteriorate. But with Lady Di, if you use it in casseroles or soups its stringless qualities make it tasty at any stage of its development.
This variety produces edible pods slightly earlier in the year than some others we have tried and the red flowers are very attractive. Awarded an RHS AGM in 2006.
An improved version of the old runner bean favourite Achievement. Awarded an AGM in 2006 this variety is stringless if picked when young. Attractive red flowers which produce a slightly later than normal crop of tasty beans. Good for exhibiting in the “longest runner bean” competitions.
Runner Bean Achievement Merit
Not one of the commonest varieties, Achievement Merit can be bought at Thompson Morgan here.
A firm favourite of many gardeners for years. Produces a reliable crop of largish beans with red flowers. The beans are stringless and they set well in most weather conditions. This particular variety shows significant differences between the various seed merchants so bargain priced seeds may be the result of a poor breeding program and not produce the best that this variety is capable of.
The same as Snowstorm below but with orange-red flowers – see here.
POLESTAR RUNNER BEANS
A favourite variety for many years this is stringless and produces lots of red flowers. The pods are fleshy, straight and very tasty. A reliable cropper which produces beans a week or two earlier than average, expect to be harvesting 13 to 14 weeks after sowing. It continues to produce runner beans up till the first frosts.
This variety is easy to find in garden centres and from online seed merchants, it’s also sometimes found at discount prices from the large supermarkets and discount store. Our preferred supplier is Victoriana Nursery where you will be given an automatic 10% discount at the checkout on everything if you click this .
Red Rum was awarded an AGM by the RHS in 2006 and this means that it has a lot going for it. Some silly claims have been made by one of the seed companies that it produces a crop within 40 days, take it from us, it does not. But it does produce larger crops earlier in the season compared to most other varieties because it sets bean pods very reliably from its attractive red flowers.
Runner Bean plants often fail to set pods from their flowers because the night time temperature is to high, they are rather picky plants in this respect. However Red Rum is well known to set pods more reliably than most.
Runner Bean Red Rum
The pods grow straight and are stringless although we still recommend harvesting your crop when the pods reach about 18cm / 7in long for the best taste. To sum up, Red Rum is a tasty stringless variety which is one of the most reliable croppers in the UK climate. Has some (but not huge) resistance to Halo Blight. As far as we know this variety has some genetic elements of French Beans incorporated into it.
A new variety from Tozer Seeds which is really an improved version of the variety Painted Lady. The flowers are red and white making it the most attractive of all the runner beans. It’s a strong grower producing crisp, stringless pods. Awarded an RHS AGM in 2006 it’s now one of our firm favourites.
One of the oldest varieties of runner beans which is still commonly sold. This variety produces decent beans however they are by no means stringless so need to be picked when young. More modern varieties have better disease resistance and grow better beans but if you want a slice of history then this bean will not disappoint.
Another variety which has been bred to include French Beans in its genetic makeup. Snowdrift was introduced in 2016 by Mr Fothergill’s to enable this variety to self-pollinate without the intervention of bees.
Snowdrift Runner Beans
The flowers, as the name suggests are white and the beans are straight, tasty and stringless. A relatively new variety well worth trying.
Another variety from Tozer Seeds which has been bred using some of the genes from French bean varieties. The result is that Snowstorm sets beans much more easily compared to most other varieties and is not so dependent on the activity of bees and other insects. This is not only a valuable characteristic if the bee population in your area is low but it also helps in windy situations where insects are not able to adequately pollinate plants.
The name Snowstorm was given because of the pure white flowers which are very attractive against the dark green foliage. The pods are ideal when picked at about 30cm, making tasty and straight runner beans.
A classic runner bean variety which is grown in many parts of the world purely for its display of white flowers. The beans themselves are produced mid-season and are one of the tastiest of all. Pick them young and they are completely stringless with a juicy non-fibrous texture. A reliable cropper and awarded an RHS AGM.
WISLEY MAGIC RUNNER BEANS
Some of the seed merchants appear to be selling this variety as a new one in 2014 / 15 but in fact it was available from as far back as 1999 when the RHS awarded it an Award of Garden Merit (reconfirmed in 2013). This is a strong growing variety which is well mentioned frequently in gardening forums, always a good sign. You can expect to be harvesting Wisley Magic during late July to late October in most parts of the UK.
The prolific and attractive, deep red flowers appear in early July and produce runner bean pods which are full-flavoured. Pick them before they get too long and they are stringless. The pods are mid-green, straight-growing and of regular shape. The plants grow well in almost all conditions and freeze perfectly. They produce a large crop even in over-warm conditions.
VARIETIES OF DWARF RUNNER BEANS WE RECOMMEND
A new variety of dwarf runner bean which is proving a great success. The red and white flowers alone are enough reason to give this plant space in your garden. At the same time however it will produce a good crop of stringless and tasty runner beans. This is not a “novelty” variety, it really does the job.
This makes an ideal container plant, it just needs to be watered regularly in summer. When it grows several stems often appear and that’s quite normal. We have found that a few canes about a foot long greatly help to support this variety even though it is a dwarf runner bean. If birds have been a problem in previous years with your runner beans then Hestia can easily be netted to keep them off.
A traditional dwarf runner bean variety which stood the test of time and proved its worth. Masses of orange flowers appear in late spring followed by an excellent crop of stringless beans.
Pickwick Dwarf Runner Bean
The plants grow to a full height of about 60cm / 2ft and spread 1m / 3ft. Although dwarf they are not -self-supporting but three 60cm canes per plant will be enough to support them . Can easily be grown in containers.
NEXT PAGE – PESTS AND DISEASES OF RUNNER BEANS
Download: Scarlet Runner Beans Growing Guide
Sometimes simply called “scarlet runners,” these plants have so many diverse benefits that they should be on must-have plant lists at every school, community, and home garden that has room for the vigorous vines!
Scarlet runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus, are in the same genus as garden beans, Phaseolus vulgaris. The species name coccineus is derived from Latin word for red and refers to the plant’s brilliant flowers. (The species name for garden beans, vulgaris, is Latin for “common.”) (Want to know more about botanical classification? Check out What’s In a Name?)
About Scarlet Runner Beans
In the U.S. scarlet runner beans are most often grown as ornamentals and are thus usually found in the flower section of catalogs and websites. In the U.K., however, the plants are prized for their edible harvest and are listed alongside green beans.
The plant is native to the mountains of Mexico and Central America and has been domesticated for more than 2000 years by the native peoples there. They consume most parts of the plant, including the starchy, tuberous roots.
When you observe most bean seeds germinate, you’ll see the stem rise from the soil, carrying with it the seed leaves (cotyledons). Then the first true leaves emerge from between them. The cotyledons of scarlet runner beans remain underground.
Scarlet runner beans produce vigorous vines that can reach up to 15’ and require a very sturdy support structure. Their vines twine clockwise around a support when viewed from above. Most other kinds of beans twine counterclockwise as they climb.
The abundance of red flowers makes the vines magnets for hummingbirds and bees. This prolific blooming also hints at the plants’ potential for yielding a generous, season-long harvest of edible beans. Scarlet runners are considered by some to be one of the highest-yielding types of beans.
Runners, Half-Runners, and Pole Beans
Are runner beans the same as pole beans? Although both produce long vines, the term “runner bean” refers exclusively to the species Phaseolus coccineus. (Oddly, the term “half-runner bean” most often refers to pole bean varieties, Phaseolus vulgaris, with relatively short vines. One might wonder why they aren’t called “half-pole” beans.)
Scarlet runner beans are used in many cuisines worldwide. Harvested as green beans, they’re a popular side vegetable in British cuisine. And specific varieties are grown for drying and prepared in signature dishes in Spain and Greece.
Plant parts are edible at nearly all stages of growth:
- The striking scarlet flowers are edible, with a mild, sweet, somewhat “beany” flavor. Use in salads and to garnish soup and other dishes.
- Immature pods can be harvested before they become fibrous, and then steamed and eaten as you would any green bean. The pods have a rougher surface texture than we’re accustomed to.
- Let the pods grow a bit longer so the light pink seeds plump up inside them. Then shell them, cook, and eat as you would lima beans.
- Allow the seeds to fully mature and dry inside the pods, then shell them and store them for use in winter soups.
Convinced to give them a try?
Step-by-Step Planting Instructions
- Choose a spot in full sun with rich, moist soil that has been amended with compost.
- Although the seeds will germinate in soil that’s slightly cooler than many other types of beans (50 degrees F.), the foliage won’t tolerate frost. Wait until after your average last spring frost date has passed and the weather has settled.
- Erect a sturdy support for the plants.
- Direct-sow the seeds around the support, placing the seeds 2–3” deep in the soil and spacing them 4–6” apart. Seeds should germinate in one to two weeks.
- Plants grow vigorously and require regular watering, especially once they begin flowering. A layer of organic mulch, such as straw, shredded leaves, or pine straw, will help retain moisture. Keep the mulch an inch away from plant stems to prevent rot.
- Begin harvesting at any stage, described above. The plant’s flower and bean production may slow in the heat of midsummer, but will pick up again as the weather cools.
- At the end of the season you have several options, depending on your climate and preferences.
- Save seed for replanting. Leave some pods on the plant until they’re completely dry and the seeds rattle inside. However, if a hard frost threatens, bring the pods indoors to finish drying. Then store in a cool, dry, dark place. Dig up and compost the rest of the plant remains.
- Dig up the tuberous roots for replanting. Similar to dahlias, you can dig up the roots and store them in damp sand in a place that stays cool but not freezing. The plants will re-grow quickly once the roots are replanted in spring.
- Leave tuberous roots in the ground. In regions with moderate winters, cut back the vines and mulch over the roots to protect them from freezing.
Wild pollinators find food in runner blossoms
The girl looks puzzled when I give her a beige, dry pod that’s longer than her hand. Her eyes widen as she opens the pod and grins. “I’ve got magic beans,” she squeals to the other elementary students. Soon all the kids want runner beans to plant (and some to stash in their pockets). The beans are perfect for the school garden—the big seeds are easy for little fingers to plant, and later in the summer, the kids can hide in the green, flower—adorned teepees.
I love growing runner beans. The plants provide so much food and beauty that I feel my garden would be incomplete without them. Yet, runner beans aren’t ubiquitous in gardens, particularly market gardens. To share the joy, I’ll describe the many benefits of growing runners and provide tips on how to grow and harvest the plants. I’ll also let you know the results of my variety trial for SFC. I had the great fortune of comparing eleven (yes, eleven!) varieties of runners. Scarlet Runner is just one of several varieties of these amazing legumes.
First, a brief introduction: Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) is a separate species of bean, different from ‘regular’ green, string, wax or dry beans (P. vulgaris). It is technically a perennial but is usually grown as an annual crop. You can however, dig up the roots in the fall, overwinter them inside and plant them out the following spring. I’ve tried this but never found it as successful as just planting the beans each spring.
Runners are the ultimate multi-purpose plant. From the roots to the flowers, they help improve the soil, provide habitat for hummingbirds and other pollinators, and add beauty to your garden. All parts of the plant are edible from the starchy roots to the leaves, from the flowers to the beans. (Disclaimer: I’ve never tried the leaves or roots and don’t know if those are simply edible or actually worth eating).
Why grow runners?
Here are several reasons to grow this crop—starting from the roots and going up.
Nitrogen-fixation. As with other legumes such as peas and clover, runner beans fix nitrogen. When you harvest the beans, you are, in a sense, removing much of this nitrogen, but there is still an advantage in that you don’t need to give the crop N (as fertilizer or organic soil amendment). It will fix enough N from the air to meet its own needs.
Ease of cultivation. Runners tolerate cool soil better than the more common beans. I plant them later than peas but before I plant common beans. Soaking them for a couple hours before planting will speed up germination but if you do this, keep the soil moist until they emerge.
Vining. The word ‘Runner’ in the crop’s name comes from the fact that it grows rapidly. Runners are vigorous climbers and can reach more than ten feet tall. If you don’t provide structures early enough, they will wrap around each other forming cords of twisted stems. This growth habit can be used to cover fences and provide shade and wind protection for other crops, such as summer and fall plantings of salad greens.
I make bean teepees by pushing saplings (8-12 feet tall) in the soil all around my runner bed. I tie the tops together with jute or cotton twine. This structure is cheap (free), simple and can withstand gale-force winds. The beans often outgrow it and form a fringe over the top, but that isn’t a problem. Once the season is over and the beans are harvested, the biodegradable teepee can be put on the brush or compost pile.
Flowers. The colour of the gorgeous blossoms ranges from scarlet to salmon to white; they are definitely one of the most spectacular garden flowers. They’re also edible. What makes the flowers even more beautiful is how they attract hummingbirds. When I work in the garden near the runner beans, I constantly see and hear hummingbirds buzzing about. You play an important ecological role by planting runners. The flowers provide food for many wild pollinators, including bumblebees and hoverflies (which consume aphids and other garden pests).
Beans. The beans can be used at three stages. Young pods can be eaten like green beans. If they’re large (i.e., 8-12 inches long), take the time to remove the strings at the sides of the pods. As soon as you notice the beans starting to swell the pods, these will be too tough. Then it’s time to wait for the beans.
Once the beans fill out the pods, you can shell them (like peas) and use the fresh beans. Cook these and use them in bean salads or any recipe that calls for beans. Whatever you don’t use in the summer can be left to dry on the vine. With 7-10 large beans in a pod, it takes only a few minutes to shell enough for a meal. Dried runners are great for winter soups, chilis and stews. I treat them like other dried beans by soaking overnight, changing the water in the morning, bringing to a boil and then simmering until tender.
Compared to common beans, there are not many varieties of runner beans. Many seed companies will just sell one or two types (and one will likely be Scarlet Runner). It’s worth searching for other varieties to bring more colour into your garden. I compared 11 varieties of runner beans for Small Farm Canada that were available from Canadian seed companies. If you want to find more runners and more modern varieties (bred to be productive and stringless), check out British seed companies. To find Canadian sources of the following (and other runners), visit the Seeds of Diversity’s seed finder (seeds.ca/seedfinder), search for Runner bean (under ‘R’ not under ‘B’ for beans).
Ranked from my favourite to (shall we say) least appreciated:
Sadie’s Horse Bean had high yields of tasty beans. Both the beans and the flowers have a range of colours and patterns. It is a highly productive variety, said to have been saved by a family in North Carolina for more than 100 years. If you try to find seed for this, be sure you’re planting a runner bean. There is a variety of common bean with the same name and, just to confuse things, the term ‘horse beans’ usually refers to fava (broad) beans.
Black Coat dates back to at least 1654. It has deep red flowers and is a bit shorter than most of the others. This variety matures before all the other contenders in the trial–a particularly valuable trait if you want dry beans and have either a short season or wet falls. Black Coat has smaller pods with fewer beans per pod. Nonetheless it produces a heavy crop of delicious black beans.
Celebration is an extremely high-yielding variety with tender green beans. It has salmon-coloured blossoms.
Aintree is a modern variety with stringless pods. The flowers and beans look like those of Scarlet Runner but, compared to Scarlet Runner, Aintree’s pods (i.e., eaten like string beans) are more tender and the yields of pods and dry beans are higher.
Scarlet Runners are tall, productive heirloom plants. The beans are purple with black markings and the flowers are, you guessed it, scarlet.
Scarlet Emperors are very similar to Scarlet Runners. This traditional plant also has red blossoms and purplish-black beans.
Sunset has beautiful salmon or peachy-pink flowers with moderate yields of beans.
Painted Lady is another heirloom. It has multi-coloured flowers with red sections, white parts and
Heirloom variety Painted Lady scored well on beauty but not so well on production.
sometimes salmon or pink sections as well. The beans are tan with dark markings. I found this to be slightly shorter than most other varieties and the least productive of the full-size types.
White Half Runner is a shorter variety that is said to have white seeds and flowers. The seed I bought, however, seemed to have crossed with another runner. I had some plants with long runners reaching to six-feet tall whereas other plants were short and had almost a bush-type growth habit. Also, the ones I grew had both red and white flowers. It was also low-yielding.
Pickwick Dwarf and Dwarf Bees were similar and I’m ranking them the same. The idea of a dwarf runner bean sounded like a good idea. The plants won’t shade anything else in the garden and a teepee or trellis is not needed. These two varieties are highly productive given their small size (e.g., 2 feet tall). They are both covered with red blossoms early in the season and later have many beans. The problem was that the beans were almost as long as those of full-sized plants. As a result, most pods touched the soil or mulch. The plants produced many beans that then rotted or were eaten by slugs. I have since heard that these varieties do very well in pots.
It is incredibly easy to save seed from runner beans—just let the beans dry on the trellis or teepee and shell them. It is, however, very difficult to save true seed if you are growing more than one variety (or if your neighbour is growing a different type). Runner beans are pollinated by hummingbirds, bumblebees and insects that can carry pollen a long way. If you want to save seed that breed true the following year, you should ensure there is no other variety grown within a quarter mile.
Another option is to let them cross. I didn’t save seed the year I conducted the trial because I didn’t want to have any of the dwarf beans contribute to the gene pool. The following year, I planted out a number of my leftover seeds from my favourite five varieties. I had a beautiful mix of red, white and salmon-coloured flowers. I let them cross and saved the colourful seed (for both winter stews and spring planting). From now on, I’ll keep saving seed from my mixture of plants and selecting for the characteristics I care about, including earliness, high productivity, great flavour and tender texture.
— Janet Wallace