Growing Butter Beans In Your Garden

Growing Butter Beans In Your Garden

By: Heather Rhoades

If you grew up in the southern part of the United States, you know that fresh butter beans are a staple of the Southern cuisine. Growing butter beans in your own garden is a great way to add this tasty bean to your table.

What are Butter Beans?

Chances are you have probably eaten butter beans at least once in your life. If you don’t live in areas that call them butter beans, you may be asking yourself, “What are butter beans?” Butter beans are also called lima beans, but don’t let the undeserved reputation of lima beans dissuade you from trying them. They had it right in naming them butter beans; fresh butter beans are rich and flavorful.

Varieties of Butter Beans

Butter beans come in a wide variety. Some are bush beans such as:

  • Fordhook
  • Henderson
  • Eastland
  • Thorogreen

Others are pole or climber beans such as:

  • Yellow
  • Christmas
  • King of the Garden
  • Florida

Growing Butter Beans

Growing butter beans in your garden is easy. As with any vegetable, start with good soil that has been amended with compost or has been fertilized properly.

Plant the butter beans after the last frost of the season and after the soil temperature has gotten above 55 F. (13 C.). Butter beans are very sensitive to cold soil. If you plant them before the soil is warm enough, they won’t germinate.

You may want to consider adding a pea and bean inoculant to the soil. This helps fix nitrogen to the soil.

Plant the seeds about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) deep and 6-10 inches (15-25 cm.) apart. Cover and water thoroughly. You should see sprouts in about one to two weeks.

If you’re growing butter beans that are of the pole variety, then you’ll need to provide a pole, cage, or some kind support for the butter beans to climb up.

Be sure to water evenly and make sure the beans receive 2 inches (5 cm.) of rain per week. Butter beans do not grow well in dry conditions. But also be aware that too much water will cause the bean pods to be stunted. Good drainage is also essential to healthy butter bean growth.

Harvesting Butter Beans

You should be harvesting butter beans when the pods are plump with the beans but still bright green. Fresh butter beans are supposed to be harvested somewhat immature for eating so that the butter beans tender. If you plan on growing butter beans next year from some of the seeds, allow a few pods to turn brown before harvesting and save those for next year.

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How to Grow Butterbeans

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Butterbeans, also called lima beans, are a warm-weather crop with a greater sensitivity to frost and cold ground temperatures than other beans. If you provide your butterbeans with a well-drained plot in your garden, they'll perform well with mild winters and warm summers. Start your beans about two weeks after the last expected frost, typically mid-February in San Francisco, and continue planting new rows every two weeks through July for a continuous harvest.

Place your lima beans in a bowl of room temperature water for several hours while you prepare your garden plot for planting.

Find a garden plot with full sun exposure and well-drained soil, such as on a raised bed or hill. If your soil is prone to getting dense and waterlogged, loosen the first 12 inches and incorporate a few inches of compost into the soil.

Plant the beans 1 inch deep in the soil with the eyes facing down into the ground. Space bush variety butterbeans four inches apart with 18 to 30 inches between rows. Space pole variety butterbeans four to eight inches apart with 24 to 36 inches between rows.

Water the soil to keep it moist but not waterlogged until the seeds have germinated, usually within 10 days. Thin the bean seedlings to six inches apart for bush varieties and 10 inches apart for pole varieties after germination.

Lay a layer of mulch between rows to prevent weed growth in your butterbean bed.

Water your beans regularly to maintain moist soil. Begin harvesting the beans when the pods are firm, plump and bright green.

King of the Garden

The Pole Lima Beans are vigorous plants, often growing to 10 feet or more and have larger seeds than the bush types. As a consequence they are more productive.


Beans like a warm, sunny spot. These tall plants are vulnerable to being blown over, so should be sheltered from high winds and supported on a stable and secure structure.

Beans like a warm, sunny spot. These tall plants are vulnerable to being blown over, so should be sheltered from high winds and supported on a stable and secure structure. Lima beans like an evenly moist soil that is well drained. Mulch to prevent weeds and minimize watering.

Limas need a warmer soil than snap beans. Lima Beans shouldn’t be planted out until all frost danger is past and the soil is warm (a minimum of 60˚F and preferably closer to 70 to 75˚F.) If planted in soil that is too cold they may rot, so wait until at least 4 weeks after the last frost date. If you want to plant them earlier, you could warm the soil with plastic mulch or cloches.

Lima beans need a steady supply of water and may not set pods if the soil is too dry.

Beans don't need a lot of nitrogen in the soil because they fix their own. In fact, if there is a lot in the soil they won't go to the trouble of fixing it. They do need plenty of potassium and phosphorus though.

They are sometimes planted after a crop that was heavily amended with aged manure, or after a winter cover crop.

They dislike acid soil, so add lime if necessary. Avoid using green manures or nitrogen-rich fertilizers.

Tricia shows you how to build a variety of quick and easy vegetable trellises. Garden vertically this year, trellis tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, beans, and peas.

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Q. Fertilizing

What kind of fertilizer should be used on speckled butter beans? How much and what amount? I live in northwest Florida.

I would recommend an even fertilizer, or amending the soil with compost. Keep in mind that all beans are nitrogen fixing plants, so be careful to avoid heavy nitrogen feedings, which will result in excessive vine growth and no beans. Here is an article that you may find helpful:

How to Grow Pole Beans

This article was co-authored by Katie Gohmann. Katherine Gohmann is a Professional Gardener in Texas. She has been a home gardener and professional gardener since 2008.

There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Beans are a very popular item to grow in the garden, and most varieties are great for backyard gardens, because they can be grown in a very small space. Pole beans are one such variety, as the plants grow up instead of out. These beans are also great to have in the garden because they're nutritious and are a good source of fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. Pole beans also have advantages over bush beans – each plant will yield more beans than a bush bean plant, the beans have better flavor, and the plants are more disease-resistant. [1] X Research source

How To Transparent Seedlings Outdoors In A Raised Bed Garden?

When the seedlings are about 4 to 6 inches in height and have true leaves, you can transplant them outdoors. Before transplanting them outdoors, you should harden them off.

You cannot just transplant the indoor seeds in a hurry, because the seedlings can get a sunburn in true sunlight. Here is what you can do to make them hard enough to face true sunlight:

  • First day: Keep seedlings outdoors for just one hour.
  • 2nd day: Keep them outdoors for 2 hours.
  • 3rd day: For 3 hours.
  • At the end of the week, seedlings will be ready to transplant in a raised bed garden.

Do not pull your seedlings out of the containers with just your hands as you can hurt the stem of seedlings. So use a small spoon or any other tool to pull seedlings with the root ball very carefully. You need to be very gentle with your seedlings or they can die. That is the reason why people always try to sow the seeds of beans directly in the soil of the raised bed.

Make a small hole in the soil of the bed and plant the seedlings. Push the soil a little bit around the seedlings with your fingers to fill out any air space. Give them water immediately to protect them from transplant shock.