10 Great Varieties of Heirloom Pole Beans

A climbing green been plant

Woodley Wonderworks

Heirloom beans come in many varieties, but some of the tastiest are pole beans, usually grown on trellises or other vertical supports. Heirloom pole beans come in snap varieties, which have long, rounded pods identical to those on low-growing bush beans, and also runner beans, which are identified by their flattened pods. Heirloom pole beans are generally cultivars of Phaseolus vulgaris, while runner beans are cultivars of Phaseolus coccineus. Both species are native to Mexico, Central American, and South America, though they have been cultivated for so long that the various heirloom varieties are now closely associated with the regions in which they were developed.

There are also entirely different species of Asian climbing beans which are increasingly popular for North American gardens. These often have a very unique appearance, but the beans are known to be extremely healthful.

Growing Heirloom Beans

Most pole beans require 65 to 75 days to mature, and they do not grow well in the outdoor garden until the soil has warmed up to at least 60 degrees, and preferably 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a lengthy growing season in your region—or if you'd prefer to be harvesting your beans earlier—you can start seeds indoors several weeks before the last frost of late winter or spring.

If you choose to plant seeds directly in the outdoor garden, wait until soil temps have reached at least 60 degrees, then plant the seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart, then thin them to 4 inches apart as they grow. Beans like a fairly decent soil, so offer a little nutritional boost by adding plenty of compost. Water beans lightly until the little seedlings show up. At that point, you'll want to keep the soil moist but not saturated for the growing plants—until the plants start to flower, at which point you should water more thoroughly and continue to do so until all the beans have been harvested for the season.

Most of the beans described here are traditional snap beans but also included is a runner bean and some more exotic Asian beans. Many of these varieties can also be left to mature on the vine for harvesting as dried beans. Here are 10 great heirloom varieties to choose from.

Gardening Tip

Heirloom beans are usually "open-pollinated" varieties, which means that seeds saved from the pods will "come true" and produce plants that are identical to the parents. This is quite unlike hybrid beans, which often produce seeds that revert to parent species and lose whatever advantages the hybrids displayed. If you choose to save some seeds from your heirloom pole beans, simply leave some pods to ripen fully on the vine, then save the dried beans inside to use as seeds for next year's planting.

  • 01 of 10

    'Lazy Housewife' Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Lazy Housewife')

    This old heirloom variety of the the standard P. vulgaris snap bean has been around since about 1810 and was first offered commercially by Burpee in 1885. It claims to be the first stringless green bean; it can be eaten as a snap bean or the pods can be allowed to ripen to harvest the inner seeds for dried beans. 'Lazy Housewife' is a very prolific variety; it matures in 80 to 90 days.

    Native Area: Mexico, Central and South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 8–9 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 02 of 10

    'Asian Winged' Beans (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)

    This unique-looking bean produces 4- to 9-inch-long pods that have four "winged" edges. They're beautiful in the garden and delicious on the table. Even the nut-flavored roots are edible, as are the leaves. Popular in Asia for many years, winged beans are just now becoming popular in the U.S., hailed for their high protein content. Asian winged beans grow best in regions with high heat and humidity during the summer months. 

    Native Area: Southeast Asia

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 10–13 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 03 of 10

    Kentucky Wonder/ Old Homestead (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Kentucky Wonder')

    Originally, this variety was named 'Texas Pole' in 1863. But in 1877 it was re-introduced as 'Kentucky Wonder' and became extremely popular for the home garden in the early 1900s. It is often marketed today as 'Old Homestead'. The 7-inch pods are stringless with fabulous flavor when young. . The beans are ready to harvest 68 to 72 days after germination.

    Native Area: Mexico, Central and South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 6–8 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 04 of 10

    Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)

    Known for its brilliant red flowers, scarlet runner bean doubles as an ornamental in the veggie garden. It prefers cooler temperatures than most pole beans. The young beans make excellent snap beans when harvested at 3 to 5 inches long, but the pods will eventually grow to 18 inches long if you want them to fully mature for the beans inside. This plant is a short-lived perennial in warmer zones, but is more often grown as an annual. Young snap beans are ready to harvest in 60 to 75 days.

    Native Area: Central America

    USDA Growing Zones: Perennial in zones 7–11; grown as an annual elsewhere

    Height: 8–12 feet; occasionally to 15 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

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  • 05 of 10

    'Blue Lake Stringless' Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Blue Lake Stringless')

    'Bue Lake Stringless' is a heritage pole bean that has been around since about 1885. The pods are about 5 1/2 inches long and are best as young snap beans, which can be harvested about 62 days after germination. 'Blue Lake' is always a great performer, with copious numbers of pods from top to bottom. The pods are crisp with a full-bodied, bean-y flavor.

    Native Area: Central and South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 6–7 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 06 of 10

    'Rattlesnake Pole' Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Rattlesnake Pole')

    Let's be honest: the name alone will have you planting it. But performance and personality will have you re-planting it again next year. Rattlesnake pole beans attractive green pods with purple stripes, growing up to 1 foot long . It's a drought-resistant variety and a good choice for those with sandy soils. Harvest of tender 8-inch pods can begin about 65 days after germination.

    Native Area: Central and South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 9–10 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 07 of 10

    'Climbing French' Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Climbing French')

    A historic favorite in England, 'Climbing French' has purple flowers that produce stringless, delicious pods that are 4 to 7 inches long. Left to mature, the seeds inside the pods turn a shiny dark purple. Plants mature in 65 to 75 days.

    Native Area: Central and South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 6–8 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full Sun

  • 08 of 10

    Oriental Yard-Long Beans (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis)

    Oriental yard-long beans go by many names: Chinese long beans, asparagus beans, pea beans, and snake beans. What ever you call them, these vines have no trouble reaching 10 feet and sometimes more. But it's their pods that are most unique—hanging in pairs that are 14 to 30 inches long! The plant is a speedy grower in a hot climate and slower to mature in cooler ones.

    This plant is a subspecies of the cowpea and is a favorite in Asian cuisine, with a less astringent taste that common green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).

    Native Area: Southern and southeastern Asia

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 8–10 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

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  • 09 of 10

    'Purple Podded Pole' (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Purple Podded Pole')

    This high-yielding bean is not only dependable, stringless, and tender—it makes for a lovely ornamental, as well. The pods are 5 to 7 inches long and deep purple. Purple-podded pole bean was discovered in an Ozarks vegetable garden in the 1930s. It is a great bean for either eating fresh or for canning. It matures in about 68 days.

    Native Area: Central and South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 10 of 10

    'Romano/Italian' Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Romano')

    This gourmet bean is flat, stringless, thick, and tender. Toss in resistance to mosaic virus and you have five great reasons to call it your own. This heirloom bean produces flattened medium-green pods about 6 inches long. They can be left to mature fully to harvest and shell as dry beans.

    Native Area: Central and South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–11

    Height: 5–6 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun