Beans are a major part of many people’s gardens. Few crops give as much “bang for the buck” as beans. New gardeners, though, are sometimes not sure what kind of bean to grow. They encounter the terms “bush” and “pole,” and may not be completely sure what they mean. Then, once they get what they mean, they are often not sure about the advantages and disadvantages of each. In a couple of months, most gardeners will be deciding on what to plant next season. Let’s take a few minutes to discuss the distinction between pole beans and bush beans.
“Bush” and “Pole” refer to growth habit, not the quality or usage of the pods.
“Bush” means that the variety of bean doesn’t require external support, in order to produce a nice crop. Some bush beans are really short and stocky, standing up on their own, others may flop over, and even throw off some twiners (longer limbs), yet they will produce okay, even without support.
A “pole” bean requires support for good production. If one plants pole beans without external support, they will produce a tangled mess and very few beans. The term “pole” refers to just one form of external support, a pole of some kind. The pole is secured in the ground, next to the pole bean plant, and the plant will wrap around it and climb. There are other ways to provide support which also work well.
Why would one chose to grow pole beans?
Generally speaking, pole beans are easier to pick. One can often pick a nice mess of pole beans without stooping over. Also, most, but not all pole beans will produce for a longer period of time than bush beans. Additionally, most pole beans will produce more per square foot of garden space, than will bush beans.
Why would one chose to grow bush beans?
Generally speaking, bush beans often produce a crop in fewer days, than do pole beans. Their crop is also generally more concentrated in a shorter period of time. Many times, a bush bean is the way to go if one wants to do a lot of canning. They’ll produce a ton of pods for a short time. The gardener about drops over with fatigue, after canning all those beans and is then kind of happy to see the plants nearly slow to a stop in production. Whew! Bush beans can be planted in succession, meaning, one can plant a patch, wait a couple weeks and plant another, etc. This way there is a constant torrent of beans coming from the garden. Bush beans don’t require extra support, which saves on labor for the gardener, both at planting time and in fall clean up.
There are exceptions to most of these generalizations.
About the only rule, here, which doesn’t have an exception, is that one has to stoop over to pick bush beans, and pole beans tend to be easier to pick. I’ve known some pole beans to produce a quick flush of beans and then dry/die down really fast. This, is not the norm with commonly available pole bean varieties. I’ve grown two varieties of bush bean which will produce until killed by frost or drought. Some pole varieties are extremely heavy producers and will fill your canner without a problem.
Generally speaking the growth habit of the plant makes little difference in the eating quality of the pods or seeds.
There are differences between varieties, whether they be bush or pole, but if you are served beans to eat, you will almost certainly not be able to distinguish whether they came from bush type plants or pole type plants. So which is better? Well, that depends on your preferences, and the specific varieties you try.