Broad beans

Broad beans are easy to grow and low maintenance, providing crops from May onwards. Picked fresh, young beans taste sensational – sweet, tender and succulent. If you’re short on space, there are even dwarf varieties that can be grown in containers.

Jobs to do now

  • Sow outdoors
  • Add supports as necessary
  • Weed regularly
  • Water if dry

Month by month

Sow

Sow
Broad beans are straightforward to grow from seed, usually sown in late winter (indoors or outdoors with protection) or spring (outdoors), although in mild regions they can also be sown in late autumn. There are many varieties to choose from, cropping at different times, growing to various sizes, and with different flower colours or pod sizes. In particular, look for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials, so should grow and crop reliably; see our list of AGM fruit and veg.

Sowing indoors

Broad beans can be sown in pots under cover from February onwards, for planting out in spring. This method is especially useful where soils are wet or rich in clay (which can lead to seeds rotting in the ground), or if mice are a problem in your garden, as they tend to eat direct-sown seeds.
Sow the large seeds individually into small pots or modular trays filled with seed compost, inserting them 5cm (2in) deep. Water well and keep in good light.

Sowing outside

Broad beans are easy to sow direct into the ground in March, April and even early May, for harvests throughout the summer. Sowing in November or February is also possible in milder parts of the UK or very sheltered sites, especially those with well-drained soil. Use a hardy variety and protect young plants with fleece or cloches during cold spells.

Choose a sunny, sheltered growing site with well-drained soil. Weed thoroughly, then fork in plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure, and water well.

Sow seeds 5–7.5cm (2–3in) deep and 15–23cm (6–9in) apart, depending on the cultivar. In open ground, sow in single rows 45cm (18in) apart or double rows 23cm (9in) apart with 60cm (2ft) between each double row. In raised beds, where space is not needed to walk between rows for picking, all rows can be spaced 23cm (9in) apart.

It is also worth sowing a few extra seeds at the end of the rows to produce extra plants that can be lifted and moved to fill any gaps left by seeds that fail to germinate.

Dwarf varieties can also be sown in large containers filled with multi-purpose or loam-based compost and positioned in a sunny, sheltered spot.

Grow

Grow

Watering

Unless rainfall has been high, soak plants well at the start of flowering and again two weeks later. Regular watering may be needed on light, free-draining soil.

Dwarf plants in containers require regular watering throughout the growing season, as they dry out more quickly than plants in the ground.

Supporting plants

Tall cultivars may need staking – insert sturdy stakes at each corner of the rows and every 1.2m (4ft) along the rows. Run string around the stakes at 30cm (1ft) intervals from the ground. Smaller cultivars usually support each other, especially when planted in double rows.

Pinching out shoot tips

When the lowest truss of flowers has formed small pods, pinch out the plant’s shoot tips to encourage fruiting and reduce problems with blackfly (see Common problems, below). These tips are delicious steamed or stir-fried.

Weeding

Hoe regularly to remove weeds as soon as they appear.

Harvesting

Harvesting

Broad beans can be ready to pick from late spring to mid-summer, depending on the sowing time and variety.

You can pick young immature pods when they are 7.5cm (3in) long and cook them whole.

When picking pods to shell, wait until the beans are visible through the pod. But don’t leave them too long – the scar on the bean should still be white or green, not black, as the beans will become tough at this stage. Small beans are sweeter and more tender that large ones. Regular picking encourages further pods to form.
Check plants regularly, as pods can ripen fast. Pods lower down the plant will mature first.

Recommended Varieties

Common problems

Several pests, diseases and disorders can affect broad beans, but these robust plants are rarely severely damaged and usually still produce a good crop. 

Mice
Mice

These rodents will eat the seeds where planted

Remedy

Trapping can be effective for mice in a garden situation, although voles can be harder to control. Break-back traps of the type used against house mice can be effective when set in places where damage is occurring. Pieces of carrot or dessert apple are effective baits for voles, and peanut butter for mice. When using traps or baits out of doors, they must be placed under covers to reduce the risk of other animals interfering with them. Birds are particularly vulnerable to accidental trapping.

Black bean aphid
Black bean aphid

Sap-sucking aphids will disfigure plants and cause stunting to leaves and stems.

Remedy

In the case of broad beans, pinch out infested tips. On other beans, catch populations when small and squash.

Chocolate spot
Chocolate spot

Common on overwintering plants or in damp, humid weather, this fungal disease causes brown spots on leaves and brown streaks on stems and pods.

Remedy

Ensure there is good air flow around plants by spacing them correctly and keeping the ground weed free.

Pea and bean weevil
Pea and bean weevil

This tiny insect bites tiny U-shaped holes from around the outside of the leaf, resulting in a distinctive scalloped appearance.

Remedy

Although unsightly, damage is unlikely to have an impact on the harvest. Covering with fleece will boost growth and exclude the weevils.

Recipes

Nigel Slater uses young broad beans to make a delicious light lunch of broad beans in their pods with dill and yoghurt.

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.