10 Great Heirloom Pole Bean Varieties

A climbing green been plant

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Heirloom beans come in many varieties, but some of the tastiest are pole beans, usually grown on trellises or other vertical supports. They come in snap varieties, which have long, rounded pods identical to those on low-growing bush beans, as well as 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 America, 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 that are increasingly popular in North American gardens. These often have a unique appearance, but the beans are known to be extremely nutritious.

Growing Heirloom Pole Beans

Most pole beans require 65–75 days to mature, and they don't grow well outdoors until the soil has warmed up to at least 60 degrees or, preferably, 70 degrees. If you don't have a lengthy growing season in your region—or if you'd prefer to harvest 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, and then plant the seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. 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 little seedlings show up. Then, keep the soil moist but not saturated 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 a runner bean and some more exotic Asian beans have been included for good measure. Many of these varieties can also be left to mature on the vine for harvesting as dried beans.

Here are 10 great heirloom pole bean varieties for your vegetable garden.

Gardening Tip

Heirloom beans are usually "open-pollinated" varieties, which means that seeds saved from the pods will "come true" and produce plants 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 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 Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Lazy Housewife')

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

    • Native Area: Mexico, Central America, South America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–11
    • Height: 8–9 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 02 of 10

    Asian Winged Bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)

    Psophocarpus tetragonolobus, Winged Bean on wood table
    Teen00000 / Getty Images

    This unique-looking bean produces 4-to-9-inch-long pods with 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. Beloved in Asia for many years, winged beans are just now becoming popular in the United States, hailed for their high protein content. This heirloom pole bean grows 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
  • 03 of 10

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

    Kentucky wonder Pole Beans(Phaseolus vulgaris)(string beans)
    insjoy / Getty Images

    This pole bean variety was originally named Texas pole in 1863. But, in 1877, it was re-introduced as Kentucky wonder and became extremely popular for home gardens in the early 1900s. It's often marketed today as old homestead. The 7-inch pods are stringless with fabulous flavor when young. The beans are ready to harvest 68–72 days after germination.

    • Native Area: Mexico, Central America, South America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–11
    • Height: 6–8 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 04 of 10

    Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)

    Red Flowers of phaseolus coccineus
    Maria Dattola Photography / Getty Images

    Known for its brilliant red flowers, the scarlet runner bean doubles as an ornamental plant in the garden. It prefers cooler temperatures than most pole beans. The young beans make excellent snap beans when harvested at 3–5 inches long (they're usually ready in 60–75 days), but the pods will eventually grow to 18 inches 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.

    • Native Area: Central America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7–11 (as a perennial); grown as an annual elsewhere
    • Height: 8–12 feet (occasionally 15 feet)
    • Sun Exposure: Full
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  • 05 of 10

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

    The Blue Lake stringless is a heritage pole bean that's 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 amounts of pods from top to bottom, which are crisp with a full-bodied flavor.

    • Native Area: Central America, South America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–11
    • Height: 6–7 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 06 of 10

    Rattlesnake Pole Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Rattlesnake Pole')

    Close-up of Rattlesnake Beans on the Vine
    GomezDavid / Getty Images

    Let's be honest: The fun name alone will have you planting the rattlesnake pole bean. But performance and personality will have you re-planting it next year. Its attractive green pods have purple stripes and grow up to 1 foot long. Harvesting of the tender 8-inch pods can begin about 65 days after germination. This drought-resistant variety is a good choice for areas with sandy soil.

    • Native Area: Central America, South America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–11
    • Height: 9–10 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 07 of 10

    Climbing French Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Climbing French')

    A historic favorite in England, the climbing French pole bean has purple flowers that produce stringless, delicious pods that measure 4–7 inches long. If left to mature, the seeds inside turn a shiny dark purple. These heirloom plants mature in 65–75 days.

    • Native Area: Central America, South America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–11
    • Height: 6–8 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 08 of 10

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

    Oriental yard-long beans go by many names: Chinese long beans, asparagus beans, pea beans, and snake beans. Whatever you call them, these vines have no trouble reaching 10 feet high and sometimes more. But it's their pods that are most unique, hanging in pairs that are an astonishing 14–30 inches long. This pole bean plant is a speedy grower in hot climates and slower to mature in cooler ones. A subspecies of the cowpea, the Oriental yard-long bean is a favorite in Asian cuisine, with a less astringent taste than common green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).

    • Native Area: Southern and southeastern Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–11
    • Height: 8–10 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
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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—but it makes for a lovely ornamental, too. The pods are 5–7 inches long and deep purple in color, hence its name. The purple-podded pole bean was discovered in an Ozarks vegetable garden in the 1930s. It's a great bean for either eating fresh or canning, and it matures in about 68 days.

    • Native Area: Central America, South America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–11
    • Height: 5–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 10 of 10

    Romano Bean, Italian Bean (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 the Romano bean, also known as the Italian bean, your own. This heirloom pole bean produces flattened green pods about 6 inches long. They can be left to mature fully to harvest and shell as dry beans.

    • Native Area: Central America, South America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–11
    • Height: 5–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full