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Bush beans and pole beans are great crops for gardeners that love continuous harvests, but choosing between the two might be tougher than you think.
In the article below, we’ll look at how to grow bush beans and pole beans, the differences between them, and hopefully, help you to decide which type of bean plant is right for you.
What’s the difference between bush beans and pole beans?
Bush beans are faster to crop, but produce lower yields, while pole beans can take up to sixteen weeks to begin cropping, and go on cropping for longer into fall.
The main difference between bush and pole beans is height, with pole beans usually reaching at least 6ft tall, and bush beans typically standing 2-3ft tall.
What are bush beans?
Bush beans are green beans, also called French beans and string beans, that grow on plants that reach around 2-3ft tall. Bush beans are tender annual plants, which grow from seed to crop between mid-spring and early fall.
Are broad beans bush beans?
Broad beans can easily be mistaken for bush beans, but there is one very significant difference – you should never east broad bean pods. They’re not poisonous, but the texture is utterly disgusting. Broad beans typically reach 4-5ft tall in summer too, making them significantly taller than most bush beans.
If you are ever struggling with care for either though, the treatment of broad beans and bush beans is nearly identical.
Can you get bush runner beans?
Runner beans do not grow as bush beans as they are unable to support themselves. You can however find dwarf runner beans, which reach similar heights for a more controlled, compact, gardening style, where 2-3m of bamboo supports might be considered an eyesore.
What are pole beans?
Pole beans are tall, self-climbing beans that produce tendrils to grab onto bamboo or twine supports, making them incredibly low-maintenance plants. ‘Pole bean’ is a general term used to describe the growing habits of beans rather than the species or particular cultivar.
Are pole beans runner beans or green beans?
Both runner beans and green beans can be called pole beans, with runner beans producing higher crops per plant, while green beans produce sweeter crops, earlier in the season. Read our guide for more information about the difference between runner beans and green beans.
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Crop comparison: Bush beans vs pole beans
Bush beans are great for small gardens, where tall trellis, tepees, or bamboo supports can shade out other beds, limiting the crops you can grow. For larger gardens with plenty of sunlight for plants to share, pole beans are significantly more productive, and produce crops for longer in the season, putting less energy into stem and leaf production than bush beans.
|Bush beans||Pole beans|
|Germination||7-14 days||7-14 days|
|Time to harvest||10-12 weeks (avg.)||12-16 weeks (avg.)|
|Management||Self-supporting but may need props/plant supports in exposed beds||Self-climbing through trellis or up twine|
|Disease||More disease-prone, due to dense foliage||Less disease-prone, thanks to airflow|
|Yield||0.5-1lb per plant||1-2lb per plant|
Pole beans produce higher yields than bush beans when you directly compare bush and pole varieties of the same cultivar. For example, a Borlotto bush bean will produce around 0.5lb of edible pods through the growing season. Borlotto pole beans typically produce just under 1lb, almost double per plant.
Preparing the ground for bush beans and pole beans is really quite similar. Both should be planted in rows to make harvesting easier, and rotted manure or compost should be mixed through the soil before planting. There is no need to feed or fertilize bush or pole beans through the growing season.
The only significant difference in care between bush and pole beans is that bush beans should be pinched out above their lowest two leaves as seedlings, to promote branching. While pole beans should only be pinched out when they reach the top of their supports in summer to promote pod production.
Bush beans are much more prone to disease than pole beans as they grow in bushy rows, holding moisture and humidity around them. This can cause mildew, or more commonly, rust. Neither disease will have a significant impact on your crop if it happens after flowering, but infected leaves should be removed to prevent spread.
Pole beans rarely suffer from diseases but can attract aphids on new shoots. Sow pole beans indoors for the best chance of avoiding aphids, then plant them out when they reach 1ft tall. Check this article on how to get rid of aphids to learn more.
Bush bean care vs pole bean care
Bush bean care
Bush beans are hungry plants and like to take all their nutrients from the soil. Dig in plenty of compost or manure before planting in early spring to create loose, well-draining soil that still retains moisture. Because their compost is so fertile, avoid feeding them as it can shock their roots.
Bush beans are best sowed directly outdoors after the last frost, as they have good germination rates, and planting this way will produce stronger plants that don’t need hardening off.
Pole bean care
Pole beans have similar growing requirements to bush beans but have deeper roots. One way to encourage them to develop deep healthy roots is to dig a 1ft deep trench and fill it with a mix of grass clippings and kitchen waste (fruit and veg only!). Backfill the trench with compost, and plant pole beans into the compost after starting them indoors in mid-late spring.
Commonly asked questions
Can bush beans turn into pole beans?
Bush beans and pole beans are bred for their height so will never outgrow, or undergrow their intended size. Pole beans naturally want to grow upwards, and should never be pruned to limit their size. Bush beans will only ever reach a maximum of 3ft and have much stronger stems.
Can you grow bush beans and pole beans together?
It’s never ideal to plant similar plants together as they compete for nutrients, but as long as they are planted well apart from one another, planting bush and pole beans can work well. The benefit of planting bush and pole beans together is that one bed will give staggered crops.
Do bush beans need trellis?
Bush beans don’t need trellis as they grow to limited heights and are able to support their own weight. In exposed areas, it can help to push bamboos in around bush beans, and loosely twine around several plants to help support them against high winds – but give them space to rock slightly.
Can bush beans and pole beans cross-pollinate?
Bush beans and pole beans can cross-pollinate between green pole beans and green bush beans, but green bush beans can’t cross-pollinate with runner beans.
The biggest difference between bush beans and pole beans is yield. Bush beans produce fewer bean pods but are generally considered to be lower maintenance. Pole beans require pinching out when they reach the top of their supports, while bush beans are more prone to disease.
When it comes down to it, choosing between bush beans and pole beans depends on how you garden. If you like low-maintenance neat gardening, go for bush beans, but for higher-yielding, scruffy-looking climbers, you can’t beat pole beans.
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
- Grow Lights. These grow lights from Mars Hydro are super strong, yet dimmable, so they fit every stage of growth. They don’t put out too much heat and are very economical.
- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.
Browse our list of tools, fertilizers & pesticides, indoor growing products and seed shop recommendations – we hope you find our selection useful and it saves you some time!