Grow-your-own fans and grow-your-own wannabes, May is the month to sow French beans in your garden whether it’s dwarf or climbing varieties. French beans are fabulously tasty plus they’re easy to grow, so they’re definitely worth including in your kitchen garden.
Our favorite gardener and broadcaster Monty Don is also a French bean aficionado, so we were delighted when he shared his expertise on timing, how to sow, and French bean care. Be inspired by Monty and it won’t be long before you’re harvesting your own French bean crop.
Monty Don’s top tips on sowing and growing French beans
Monty Don gave his advice on sowing and growing French beans on his website. Now, we’re sharing his top tips along with some of our own.
1. May is the month to sow French beans outdoors, but there is a caveat. You should only plant them if your soil has warmed up, says Monty. French beans are tender, he explains, and frost won’t do them any favors. Even though they survive temperatures below around 10ºC, they won’t grow, he says, and slugs and snails will move in. We've got tips on how to get rid of slugs in our feature.
So, how to tell if the soil is sufficiently warm? Monty says feeling it with your skin is the only way to know.
2. It’s both dwarf and climbing French beans you can sow now. Dwarf varieties will grow to a height of around 45cm (around 18in), and don’t need staking.
Climbing French beans need support: bamboo canes in a double row are traditional, but in small gardens, you might prefer to put them up as a wigwam using four or five canes tied together at the top. You can even make a wigwam in a container. There's more tips in our climbing plant support ideas.
3. French beans needn’t be green. Brighten up dinner plates – and even help tempt kids to eat their veggies – by opting for those with pods in purple (like dwarf varieties ‘Purple Teepee’ or ‘Amethyst’), yellow (such as climbing French beans ‘Monte Gusto’ or ‘Golden Gate’), or even the red-splashed ‘Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco Nano’.
4. Monty recommends sowing dwarf French beans in rows with the beans 15cm apart (6in), and the rows 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in)apart.
Decided on climbing French beans instead? In that case, Monty’s advice is to sow two seeds at the base of each support, then remove the weaker of the pair when they’re established and growing vigorously.
The canes themselves should be 15cm (6in) apart in their rows with 45cm (18in) between the two rows. You’ll need to slope the canes and tie them to a cane placed horizontally near the top.
5. When it comes to the care of your French beans, Monty advises watering them well when you sow them and keeping them watered during the growing season. Our guide to watering plants has more tips.
6. French beans will be ready for harvesting when the pods are 10cm (around 4in) long after around eight weeks. Pick regularly for crops from dwarf varieties for several weeks and from climbing French beans for a period that’s even longer.
Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper.
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