Lima Bean Problems: What To Do When Lima Pods Are Empty

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Lima beans — seems people either love them or hate them. If you’re in the love ‘em category, you may have tried growing them. If so, you may have encountered problems growing lima beans. What causes lima pods that are empty?

Help! My Lima Pods are Empty!

Lima beans are sometimes called butter beans and are the stereotypical antithesis for kids. My mom used to get a frozen mélange of veggies that included lima beans and I would collect them all into one mouthful and swallow them without chewing, with a large glug of milk.

I’m an adult now and then some, with tastes that have changed and the realization that lima beans are extremely good for you, high in fiber, protein, and magnesium. Growing beans is usually easy, so why not give lima beans a go?

The general directions for growing lima beans are to start them indoors three to four weeks prior to the last frost date in your area. Plant seeds 1-2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) deep in transplantable paper or peat pots and keep them moist. Don’t tamp the soil down over seeds.

Put the seedlings out three weeks after the frost date or sow seeds outside at this time if the soil is at least 65 F. (18 C.). Select a sunny site and space bush beans 4-6 inches (10 to 15 cm.) apart and vining limas 8-10 inches (20.5 to 25.5 cm.) apart. Keep the limas consistently moist. Add a layer of mulch to retain water.

So the beans are in and all is well until one day you realize there’s a lima bean problem. It seems that the lima pods are empty. The plant flowered, it produced pods, but there’s nothing inside. What happened?

Reasons for Empty Lima Bean Pods

There are several pest and disease problems that create problems when growing lima beans. In fact, many fungal spores exist in the soil for two to three years, so you should always move your bean site each year. Empty pods from insects munching would be patently obvious, as there would be holes in the pods. So if it’s not that, what is it?

Did you refrain from fertilizing your limas? Like all beans, they fix nitrogen so these beans don’t need that extra dose you would normally give other garden produce. That means no fresh manure either. A surplus of nitrogen will give you lush foliage but won’t do much in the way of bean production. You can side dress with compost if you wish.

Water and heat stress can also play havoc on bean production. Hot days and hot nights dry the plant out and reduce the seed numbers or result in underdeveloped seeds (flat pods). This is more prevalent in large-seeded pole lima beans. Irrigate regularly during hot periods but beware of downy mildew. If you live in a typically warm region, start your seeds earlier in May using black plastic mulch to warm the soil and row covers to protect plants.

Lastly, immature or lack of beans in the pods could be a factor of time. Perhaps, you have not waited long enough for the beans to mature. Remember, beans and peas form pods first.

Apparently, the baby limas are easier to grow than the large bush limas like Big Six, Big Momma, etc., or even the pole types such as King of the Garden or Calico. The baby limas include:

  • Henderson’s
  • Cangreen
  • Wood’s Prolific
  • Jackson Wonder
  • Dixie Butterpeas
  • Baby Fordhook

Giant beans are really easy to grow and have the potental to reach a yard long, hence their nickname "yard-long beans."

These giant beans originated in China and can often be found for sale in the produce department of Asian Supermarkets. I got started with growing these giant beans when I bought up a whole bunch of seed packets filled with Asparagus beans in the gift shop of a Ripley's Believe it or Not museum on clearance for 5 cents each. I had much success growing these large beans, and eventually expanded to other variates of giant beans, and have been growing them ever since.

In this Instructable, I will show you the basics of how I grow my beans.

Growing Beans

In this section…


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Phaseolus spp.

“Beans, beans are good for your heart, the more you eat… etc.”. Conveniently I have forgotten the rest of that ditty but it’s true that beans are good for your heart, bones and all over “well-ness”. Growing beans is really good for your Yummy Yard because they are easy to grow and produce stacks of beans. They are a climber so are excellent where space is an issue!

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: All Year

Temperate Areas: September to January

Cool to Cold Areas: September to January

Position, Position, Position

Full sun is the order of the day for beans but provide a bit of temporary shade cover in super-hot, dry, windy weather. As most beans are climbers (unless you go for the dwarf or “bush beans”), you need to think about that before you whack them in. They need support as they get up to about 2m high. A wire trellis, fence lines, frames or similar can be used to prop them up. Why not make a tee-pee, or an A-frame walkway to grow your beans along? They look awesome, the kids will love them and they’ll add some real height and interest to your Yummy Yard.

Talking Dirty

Like my ideal partner, soil for beans should be rich, deep, pH neutral and organic. Compost is perfect (not as a partner – as a soil improver) for soil preparation. You could also use an organic, complete pelletised fertilizer at planting time. Mulching your bed is really important but ensure the mulch doesn’t touch the stems of the beans, as this can lead to bad things happening! Soil needs to be well-drained but note that beans don’t really like sandy soils very much. So improve your sandy soil with nicely aged compost.

Feed Me

Feeding beans is totally unnecessary except for a wee bit of blood and bone sprinkled around at planting time. Make sure seedligs don’t come in direct contact with the Blood and Bone. Beans have a wonderful relationship with bacteria in the soil that enables them to ‘fix’ their own nitrogen from the atmosphere. Feeding beans with a nitrogen rich fertilizer can harm these bacteria and also reduce bean production… all in all a pointless exercise. Feed with a seaweed tea at flowering time to promote higher yields of tasty beans!

What about the Water?

The biggest water issue with beans is not so much under-watering but over-watering. That’s right, people are killing their bean stalks with love! Overwatering is a significant issue if planting beans from seed or when seedlings are very young. Leaves can become really yellow if drainage is poor and the plants are getting too much water so keep an eye on this. When planting seed, whack them in a damp (not soaking) soil, then leave them for a few days! Too easy! Soaking seeds of beans in water before planting is totally unnecessary and is a deadset waste of time and water.

Are We There Yet?

Depending on the varieties of beans you have planted, expect to be chowing down on bundles of beans between 12 – 14 weeks (10 weeks if you’ve gone the dwarf varieties). Pick bean pods when they are young, tender and at their tastiest. Do this before the seeds have swollen to make the pod lumpy and they’ll taste better. It’s best to harvest manageable numbers of beans regularly as this will promote more flowering and more tasty bean pods. I collect beans every three days… this seems to work out pretty well!

Pests and the Rest

Look, beans are dead simple to grow but it doesn’t mean that they are without their issues. We’ve seen that they don’t like too much water, dislike too much fertilizer and hate being touched by mulch. There are a couple of other things to keep an eye on, like fuzzy stuff on the leaves. This is probably powdery mildew and this can be caused by humidity, water on the foliage or poor air circulation. An easy solution is when you plant your beans to give them some “personal space”. We all need room to breathe, beans included. Try to avoid watering the leaves as another good preventative measure.

Halo blight is another funky fungal issue and first appears as leaf spots with holes. Leaves will eventually progress to becoming light green with dark green veins and it will eventually kill infected plants. The best thing to do here is to remove and destroy all infected plants (but not into the compost). Plant your replacement bean seeds in a different spot.

Hot Tip

Let’s talk green manures! Green manure is essentially a crop grown in a patch (or on a farm) that acts to improve the nutrient content and organic matter in the soil. Beans, peas, clovers, lupins and alfalfa are all legumes – plants that have a relationship with nitrifying soil bacteria. So growing any of them will assist in “fixing” atmospheric nitrogen and returning it to the soil. With legumous green manures, the idea is to plant seeds of these plants (they can be bought premixed) and let them grow until they begin to flower. I then whack them with the whipper snipper, and allow the slashed plants to lie on the surface of the soil or just tilled in. Do not plant in your green manure bed for at least 6 weeks after slashing. Green manures are a top, sustainable way of improving your soil.

Good planning is key to a successful vegetable garden

Whether you are new to growing your own food or have been growing a vegetable garden for years, you will benefit from some planning each year. You will find everything you need to organize and plan your vegetable garden in my PDF eBook, Grow a Good Life Guide to Planning Your Vegetable Garden.

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Advice on buying runner beans

  • There are lots of runner bean varieties available, flowering in either red or white, so make sure you buy the right runner bean for your plot
  • Runner bean seeds are available from a wide range of garden centres and nurseries, online retailers and even supermarkets. If you want to save time you could invest in runner bean plug plants, which are available from some of the larger retailers in spring
  • Check seeds for signs of mould and/or softness, and plants for signs of damage or pests. Only grow the healthiest specimens for the best crops

Where to buy runner beans online

How to Plant Bean Seeds

One the plants flower and begin to produce beans, use 1/2 cup of fertilizer for every 10 row-feet. Fertilize between the rows, rather that directly on the plants.

Fresh beans are wonderful additions to summer or fall gardens. Beans are easy to plant and easy to grow. There are two types of beans you can plant: bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans produce more quickly, but may not produce for as long a period of time as pole beans. Pole beans tend to produce more slowly, but produce beans longer than beans grown on bushes.

Prepare your soil. Work the soil eight to 10 inches deep. Use a shovel and rake to break up any larger clumps of soil and remove any weeds or trash in the soil.

Fertilize the soil. Use two to three pounds of 10-20-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bean patch.

Plant your beans after the risk of frost has passes. Use about 1/3 pound of seeds per 100 foot bean row. If you are planting bush beans, plant the seeds one inch deep and about two or three inches apart. The rows should be two-and-a-half to three feet apart. For pole beans, plant the seeds about one inch deep and about three feet apart. Rows for pole beans should be three to four feet apart. If you are planting for a fall garden, plant the beans 10 to 12 weeks before the first expected frost.

  • Use two to three pounds of 10-20-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bean patch.
  • If you are planting bush beans, plant the seeds one inch deep and about two or three inches apart.

Water your beans once a week if the weather is dry. Be particularly careful not to let the soil dry out when the beans are in bloom, or the flowers may drop off, thus reducing your yield.

Weed your bean patch regularly, but be careful with using hoes. Beans have very shallow roots that can be damaged by aggressive hoeing.

Issue: August 19, 2006

I'm growing red runner beans and they are not setting fruit. The flowers bloom, then fall off - no beans. We enriched the soil before planting by adding compost, humate, and gypsum, and I'm still having same problem as last year. There are bees in the yard, so I don't think it's pollination. Is there anything I can do before it's too late?

I also have very tall tomato plants with very little fruit. I've given them special tomato food and I still have only a few undersized tomatoes. What do they want?

There are several potential answers to your problem. Perhaps one applies to your garden and another answer will solve someone else's problem. We'll discuss several common problems resulting in failure of beans to set fruit even when flowers are present.

Pollination failure is indeed one potential problem. Some members of the bean family are self-pollinated, but some beans do require a pollinator (honey bees or bumble bees). When there are plenty of other flowers nearby, the pollinators may avoid the beans because their nectar is lower in sugar content than flowers of other plants. As the other flowers cease flowering, the pollinators may be more attracted to the beans.

Night temperatures can also prevent fruit set. Even when pollen is transferred from one flower to another, the generative nucleus in the pollen must fertilize the ovule inside the ovary. When night temperatures are high (as they were earlier this summer when you sent your e-mail), this process fails and the seeds do not form and the pods drop.

Uneven moisture can also cause the pods to drop. If the soil dries too much between irrigations or between rains, there will be no bean pods formed. Mulch can help, but hot, windy days can dry the plants even when the soil is moist. Wind protection by taller crops upwind may be a good addition to mulch. Traditional Native American gardens solved this problem by growing beans (and other crops under corn plants). The corn shaded the beans, protected from wind, and maintained higher humidity around the bean plants. Try combining mulch and wind protection in your garden next year.

Finally, the clue you provided when you discussed your tomatoes suggests that you were too kind this spring when you prepared your soil. If the soil is too fertile, tomatoes and beans will grow vigorously but fail to set fruit. This is what you have described. I suspect that some of the things you added to your soil were unnecessary and that you may have over-applied some nitrogen containing materials (compost, manure, etc.) Collect a soil sample to send to the NMSU Soil and Water Testing Laboratory or another soil testing laboratory of your choice. You can do this now so you will have the information you need next spring as you prepare for next year's garden. Your local NMSU Cooperative Extension Service office can give you information telling how to collect the sample and can help you interpret the results.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: [email protected], office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at [email protected], or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!

Pests and Diseases Control in Green Beans

Green beans are one of the easiest potted vegetables to grow. But only if you can keep them healthy and pest free.

Some varieties of the plant, especially pole beans, are vulnerable to a number of plant diseases. It’s important to grow the varieties that are known to have the least pest problems in your area.

You can contact your local cooperative extension service for information on resistant cultivars.

Visit the U.S Department of Agriculture Website to find your closest extension service office.

The most common green bean pests and diseases are:

1. Aphids (Aphididae spp.)

These are tiny, sap-sucking insects that disfigure your plants and cause stunted growth. You are more likely to find aphids in cool, dry weather.

You can control the spread of aphids by:

  • Spraying your plants with horticultural soap
  • Spraying the leaves with strong streams of water

You can also pinch of infested tips and destroy them in milder cases.

2. Bean Leaf Beetle (Cerotoma trifurcata)

Bean leaf beetles are oval-shaped insects with red, yellow, and black markings. Adult beetles have a triangle at the top middle of their wing covers.

Bean leaf beetles feed on pods and the underside of leaves, causing tiny holes.

You can control these beetles by picking them off your plants and dropping them in soapy water.

3. Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails feed on young seedlings. You can tell you have a slug problem from the telltale trail of slime around your plants and on the leaves.

Click here for more information on how to control slugs and snails.

4. Bean Rust

Bean rust is a fungal infection caused by the Uromyces appendiculatus fungi.

The fungus thrives in humid conditions where temperatures are between 60°F and 75°F.

Bean rust causes white or yellow spots on leaves. After some time, these spots turn into red-brown pustules with yellow halos.

If you notice infection, prune the afflicted sections and apply a fungicide. In case of severe infections, remove and destroy all infected plants.

You can prevent the spread of bean rust by:

  • Ensuring proper air circulation
  • Watering at ground level to avoid splashing
  • Planting resistant varieties

5. Bean Common Mosaic Virus (BCMV)

Bean Common Mosaic Virus is predominantly seed-borne. But it can also spread through aphids.

The most effective way to prevent infection is to plant a resistant cultivar.

In case of infection, remove all infected plants, including the roots, and destroy them.

  • Mottled patterns on leaves
  • Distorted leaves
  • Yellow spotting
  • Stunted plants

Want to Learn More About Planting Green Beans in Containers?

You can grow nutritious and delicious green beans with very little cost or trouble. Here are a few websites to inspire you:

2003: The Year of the Bean has a lot of great info on planting green beans in containers.

Ventor Permaculture has a great blog post about Runner Beans in Containers. The University of Arizona College of Agriculture has lots of great container gardening info in their post, Vegetable Garden: Container Garden.



Frank Wohlgenant says

Small Patio so want to use 8″ to 10″ self watering pots. Is that okay? How many seeds in a 10″ pot? Do I plant seeds in t he middle of container or around the perimiter? How many seeds in one hole of 1″ deep? Some garddrners say its okay other say no. Need a litle help or suggestion. thanks

Frank Wohlgenant says

I am a beginner in cont ainer gardening. Grew sime tomatoes in container and they grew beauitfully wi th lots if tomatoes.
Locak florist said to ue 1/8 teaspoon Miracle Groe to our 2 quart milk container to water the plants. The plants loved it.
They really spread out like I never would have believed if I hadn’t seen it. Watered every day with this solution. Florist said to water any plant with this solution. I believe the secret of so many tomatoes is the Miracle Grow 1/8 teaspoon in a 1 quart container.

Terry Brownjeans says

So which is it 1 quart OR 2 quarts per 1/8 ” MG

Harold F says

this is my first attempt at growing a container garden. I have about 4-5 green bean plants growing in 5 gal buckets. they are the bush type,”Blue Lake”. they have been growing about 2 and a half months now look pretty good. They had a lot of white flowers on them, but never opened up. then most dried up and that was it! shouldn’t the flowers open then produce a pod? Any idea what I’m doing wrong? I do live in Phoenix, AZ and it is hot!, but I water twice daily. Thank you.

Petronius Arbiter II says

That’s not a lot of soil and won’t do a good job retaining moisture in the Phoenix heat. If these beans are like most tomatoes, you’ll get blossom drop at high temperatures regardless of how well watered. If you can get them into a semi-shaded spot w its full sunlight only for a few hours a day and filtered or bounced light the rest of the day, you might still get some beans. Or maybe an indoor location with good lighting but also good air conditioning.

Visalia Cowgirl says

What about on a porch with a sunscreen and lattace that shade it and it gets some sun, but not the hot direct sun, may work.

Bob J says

I have 7 bush bean seeds in a 3 gallon container about 3 weeks ago…is that too many?

noal says

dissolve one tablespoon of epsom salt and a cup of black coffee in a gal of water and apply.

linda kerns says

Just water the soil or the whole plant with this mix?

Pam says

Why doesn’t the owner of this site reply to questions and comments?

Watch the video: How to Grow a Lima Bean Seed

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