How to Grow French beans (Climbing, Dwarf, Purple Pod)

French beans are half-hardy annuals which can not be sown in open till last frost date.  It is possible by succession and multiple variety sowing to have French beans over a very long period. The climbing and dwarf refers to the habit of plant growth and not the beans pod size. The traditionally french beans varieties produce flat pods but some new varieties have cylindrical pods. As name suggests the purple pod french beans have purple pods. These pods loose purple colour while cooking and they are almost stringless and remain tender longer than other types.

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French beans Soil need and preparation

This bean seems to prefer a light soil to a heavy one and can often withstand conditions of drought where most other vegetable crops would fail. Provided that the land has been well prepared it will produce a good crop even on poor soil, which it will help to enrich by means of the bacteria-produced nitrogen in the nodules on its roots.

It is a good thing to get the digging of the ground done in the autumn, incorporating well-rotted farmyard manure or compost. Before sowing an application of fish manure should be forked into the top few inches and afterwards lime should be applied to the surface depending on the acidity of the soil.

Sowing French beans seed

The first safe date for sowing French beans in the open in warmer zones is generally the last week in April, though this depends very much on the condition of the soil, and on the temperature. The enemy of the French bean seed is not the cold, but the wet, and it is no use sowing French beans if the soil is heavy, and still wet and cold. V shaped drills should be made 4 in wide and 2 in deep, and 2-4 ft. apart. Sow a double ‘staggered’ row in the drill, so that the beans are 6 in. one from the other. It pays to sow a little group of a dozen or so at the end of the row in case there are any gaps to fill. In order to ensure a succession it is much better to sow a row every three weeks until the middle of July, rather than sow all your beans in one fell swoop at the end of April or in early May.

Early French beans can be raised very successfully under continuous cloches. The seed may be sown in two rows 8 in. apart and 3 in. between the seed in Mid-March and can remain covered until the end of May. It may be necessary to water if the soil dries out under continuous cloches. Glass or cloches can also be used to cover a mid-July sowing from the end of September onwards, so that beans are available during October in spite of early frosts. When this sowing is made it should be taken into consideration that the plants will be covered at a later stage, so sow in two drills 8 in. apart the beans being spaced to 10 in. apart. This is best done by sowing three times as thickly as required and thinning the plants to the right distance when the rough leaves appear.

French beans Growing Tips

– Hoe regularly between the rows and keep the soil drawn up to the plants rather than away from them.

– In an exposed situation some of the taller varieties may need supporting to keep the beans off the ground, where they become dirty and liable to attack by slugs. Bushy twigs can be used or a cane placed at each end of the row and a string run down either side. Slugs can do a lot of damage to this crop unless kept down with slug bait.

– Train climbing varieties up a tepee of canes. Then while the plants are still small use the space beneath for a fast growing crop like garden cress or lettuce.

– Grow the variety Purple Tepee up bamboo canes to form a wigwarm shape. Pods are held above the foliage forming the shape of tepee. The pods have all excellent flavour. They are also suitable for late planting.

Harvesting/Storing/Using French beans

Never let French beans get old and coarse, but pick them when they are young and tender. Small pods that snap easily and which have no sign of the beans showing through the skin are the tastiest.

Pick regularly and see that there are no old pods with swelling seeds left on the plants. This will ensure that the plants go on cropping.

If possible pick only a short time before required for cooking. They should just be topped and tailed. Don’t boil all the taste out of them, but steam them if possible in a bowl with a little butter.

French beans can be preserved in salt in opaque jars and make quite a change during the winter months. After taking them out of the salt they should be soaked in at least three changes of water before being cooked.

End of season care

At the end of the crop, remove the visible parts of the plants and dig in the roots to provide valuable nitrogen.

French beans Popular Varieties/Cultivars

French beans are usually divided into two types, the dwarf and the climbing.


Black Prince, is a medium dwarf, with fairly straight pods.

Canadian Wonder, an old variety, large and upright with stringless pods.

Masterpiece, fairly tall, slightly stringy with good flavour. Recommended for cloche growing.

Feitham Prolific, slender, straight pods about 4 in. in length. Recommended for cloches.

Tendergreen (Stringless Greenpod), a sturdy plant, with a stringless bean of delicious flavour, about 6 in. in length.

The Prince, dwarf with long pods 7—8 in. in length, prolific.

Mont d’Or, a dwarf leafy plant, with fleshy stringless beans. This is a Wax or Golden Podded variety—a golden French bean and should not be confused with a dried butter bean.

Climbing Varieties:

Tender and True is an early bearer, with narrow long, fleshy pods of a delicate flavour.

Veitch’s Climbing, a semi-climber with flat pods about 6 in. in length.

French beans Pests

Aphids and slugs are common problems for french beans.