Tips For Growing Broad Beans

Broad beans are easy to grow and look great in any garden, especially a herbaceous border. They can be grown from seed or bought as young plants in spring and autumn.

They prefer a sunny, sheltered site with well-manured soil which isn’t too dry and is moisture retentive. Sow seeds in double rows 20cm apart.

Sow in March

The cool conditions in March make broad beans a good early spring crop but you can also sow them in October or November and even February if you live in a very mild part of the UK. They prefer light but free-draining soil and can be sown in a polytunnel or under cloches to help them get established.

Once they are up you can mulch the bed with a handful of blood fish and bone fertiliser per square metre to boost nitrogen levels. A dressing of sulphate of potash is also useful.

Broad bean plants are easy to grow and often reward you with a large harvest from a small area. They are often recommended for beginners and kids because of their low maintenance requirements. While they do not always suffer from pests or disease, they are susceptible to nematodes and a fungal disease called chocolate spot. They are also very attractive to deer and other hoofed mammals so deer fencing may be necessary.

Protect from pests

Members of the fava family (Vicia faba), also known as vetches, broad beans can be used in many different ways including as a green manure and nitrogen-fixing cover crop. They’re easy to grow, especially in a sheltered spot, and look lovely in an old-fashioned cottage garden.

If you’re growing them outside, cloches are recommended for young plants during cold weather, especially when they are direct sown. In milder areas, fleece can be used to protect them during germination.

Damage to leaves and stems can be caused by pea / bean weevil and mice, which may be an issue for early planted crops in unheated greenhouses. Infected plants have notches in the edges of their leaves and may not set flowers, although they often recover when the weather warms up. A fungal disease, chocolate spot, is also an occasional problem. It causes brown spots on the leaves, usually in damp conditions and can be prevented by good drainage and air circulation.


Broad beans are in the legume family and like their vetch relatives they are nitrogen-fixers. They can be used as green manure and provide a cover crop to improve soil quality.

Whether you’re eating them in their pods or shelling the seeds it’s important to harvest your broad beans at just the right moment. Overripe or under-ripe beans become tough and bitter. Ideally, you should pick them when the seeds are still bright green and the pods are still fairly loose.

Dwarf varieties, such as Cole’s Early Dwarf, are less vigorous and don’t need support but taller beans do need staking – place strong supports in the ground at each end of your row and string rows together to create a trellis.

Beware of cross-pollination between different varieties as this can result in ‘false flowers’ and poor pods. Where this is a problem, putting in traps to catch mice can help.


Broad beans are easy to grow in open ground or in containers given the right size of pot and a good quality compost. They are a relatively quick crop so can be sow in March or April for harvests throughout the summer. For the best yields plant them in a sheltered site and protect young plants with cloches or fleece during cold spells.

Pinch out the growing tips once the first flowers set to deter black fly and encourage more pods to form. A companion planting of the strong smelling herb, summer savory, can also help to deter black bean aphids.

To get the most from your beans, they are best steamed or poached as they ripen. If you are going to freeze them make sure that they are fully ripe and that you follow the blanching process (see below). This will give you the longest lasting beans in the freezer. It’s also a good idea to blanch beans that you are planning to use in recipes that call for dried beans.