Lima beans are tender annuals grown for their flat, crescent-oval-shaped seeds. There are two types of lima beans: bush and pole or vine varieties. Bush types grow to about 2 feet tall (.6m) and tend to have smaller seeds; they bear more quickly than pole lima bean varieties. Pole lima beans have large seeds and can grow 10 to 12 feet (3-3.6m) high.
Small-seeded limas, usually bush types, are also called butter beans, sieva beans, Burma beans, Madagascar beans, Carolina beans, and “baby limas.” Large-seeded lima beans are sometimes called potato limas. Large-seeded limas are often sold as dry beans.
Lima Bean Quick Growing Tips
- Sow lima beans in the garden 3 to 4 weeks after the average date of the last frost in spring when the soil temperature has warmed to 65°F (18°C) or more for at least 5 days and daytime temperatures are consistently warm.
- Start lima beans indoors as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting into the garden.
- Lima beans require 60 to more than 90 warm, frost-free days to reach harvest depending upon type and variety.
Where to Plant Lima Beans
- Grow lima beans in full sun; they will grow in partial shade but the harvest will not be full.
- Lima beans prefer loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter.
- Beans prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
- Prepare planting beds in advance by working in plenty of aged compost.
- Avoid planting beans where soil nitrogen is high or where green manure crops have just grown; these beans will produce green foliage but few beans.
Lima Bean Planting Time
- Lima beans are a tender annual that grows best in air temperatures between 60° and 70°F (15-21°C).
- Sow lima beans in the garden 3 to 4 weeks after the average date of the last frost in spring when the soil temperature has warmed to 65°F (18°C) or more for at least 5 days.
- Start lima beans indoors as early as 2 or 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting into the garden 3 or 4 weeks after the last frost. Start beans indoors in a biodegradable peat or paper pot that can be set whole into the garden so as not to disturb plant roots.
- For continuous harvest through the growing season, sow succession crop bush lima beans every two weeks or follow bush lima beans with long-maturing pole lima beans.
- Lima beans can continue in the garden until the first frost in fall.
- Pole lima beans require a long growing period and are not a good choice where the season is short.
- Lima beans will not set pods in temperatures above 80°F (26°C) or in cold or wet weather. Time your plantings to avoid hot weather.
- In mild-winter regions, lima beans can be sown in autumn for winter harvest.
Planting and Spacing Lima Beans
- Sow lima beans 1½ to 2 inches (4-5cm) deep.
- Plant bush lima beans 3 to 6 inches (7-15cm) apart; set rows 24 to 30 inches (61-76cm) apart.
- Plant pole lima beans 6 to 10 inches (15-25cm) apart; set rows 30 to 36 inches (76-91cm) apart. Set poles, stakes, or supports in place at planting time.
- Pole beans also can be planted in inverted hills–5 or 6 seeds to a hill; space hills 40 inches (101cm) apart.
- Thin strong seedlings from 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) apart. Remove weaker seedlings by cutting them off at soil level with scissors being careful not to disturb the roots of other seedlings.
- Lima beans can be crowded; they will use each other for support.
- Lima bean yield: grow 4 to 8 lima bean plants per household member.
Lima Bean Companion Plants
- Grow Bush lima beans with bush beans, cucumbers, corn, cucumbers, celery, potatoes, and summer savory.
- Grow pole lima beans with corn, scarlet runner beans, summer savory, and sunflowers.
- Do not plant beans with onions, beets, or kohlrabi.
Container Growing Lima Beans
- Bush lima beans can be grown in containers, but you may need several containers for a practical harvest.
- Lima beans will grow in 8-inch containers.
Watering and Feeding Lima Beans
- Grow lima beans in soil that is evenly moist and well-drained. Bean seeds may crack and germinate poorly if the soil moisture is too high at sowing.
- Do not soak seeds in advance of planting or they may crack; do not over-water after sowing.
- Keep the soil evenly moist during flowering and pod formation.
- Rain or overhead irrigation during flowering can cause flowers and small pods to fall off.
- Once the soil temperature averages greater than 60°F (16°C), mulch to conserve moisture.
- Beans are best fertilized with aged garden compost; they do not require extra nitrogen. Beans set up a mutual exchange with soil microorganisms called nitrogen-fixing bacteria that produce the soil nitrogen beans require.
- Avoid using green manures or nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
Lima Bean Care and Maintenance
- Large lima bean seeds may have trouble pushing through soil that has not been well worked; at sowing, cover the seeds with sand, vermiculite, or a peat moss-vermiculite mix instead.
- Cultivate around beans carefully to avoid disturbing the shallow root system.
- Do not handle beans when they are wet; this may spread fungus spores.
- Set poles, stakes, or trellises in place before planting pole beans. Select supports that are tall enough for the variety being grown.
- Rotate beans to plots where lettuce, squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, or collards have grown in the past year or two.
Lima Bean Pests
- Lima beans can be attacked by aphids, bean beetles, flea beetles, leafhoppers, and mites.
- Aphids, leafhoppers, and mites can be sprayed away with a blast of water from the hose or controlled with insecticidal soap. Look for eggs and infestations and crush them between your fingers and thumb. Pinch out and remove large infestations.
- Aphids can spread the bean mosaic virus.
- Keep the garden clean and free of debris so that pests can not harbor or over-winter in the garden.
Lima Bean Diseases
- Lima beans are susceptible to blight, mosaic, and anthracnose. Plant disease-resistant varieties.
- Keep the garden clean and free of debris.
- Avoid handling plants when they are wet so as not to spread fungal spores.
- Remove diseased plants; put them in a paper bag and throw them away.
- Beans are susceptible to many soil-borne diseases; rotating beans so that they do not grow in the same location more than every three years will reduce soil-borne diseases.
How to Harvest Lima Beans
- Bush lima beans will be ready for harvest 60 to 80 after sowing; pole beans will be ready for harvest 85 to 90 days after sowing seed.
- Pick lima beans when pods are plump and firm. Continue to pick pods as soon as they become plump to extend flowering and the production of new pods. When seeds mature, the plant will die.
- Pods left too long will result in seeds that are tough and mealy.
- Bush lima beans should produce 2 or 3 pickings in a season.
Storing and Preserving Lima Beans
- Unshelled lima beans will keep in the refrigerator for one week.
- Shelled lima beans can be blanched and frozen for up to 3 months.
- Dried shelled limas can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months.
Lima Bean Varieties to Grow
- Pole lima beans: ‘Aubrey Deane’ (87 days); ‘Carolina’ (79 days); ‘Christmas’ (88 days); ‘Florida Butter’ (85 days); ‘Illinois Giant’ (86 days); ‘King of the Garden’ (90 days); ‘Prizetaker’ (90 days).
- Bush lima beans (plump seeded): ‘Excel Northern Fresh’ (72 days); ‘Fordhook Improved’ (75 days); ‘Potato Lima’ (75 days).
- Bush lima beans (small-seeded): ‘Baby Bush’ (67 days); ‘Henderson Bush’ (65 days); ‘Jackson Wonder’ (65 days), ‘Willow-Leaf White’ (86 days).
About Lima Beans
- Lima beans have pale green pods that vary from 3 to 4 inches (7-10cm) long to 5 to 8 inches (12-20cm) long depending upon the variety. Lima bean seeds are eaten, not the pods. Leaves are commonly composed of three leaflets and the flowers are white. Bush lima bean varieties are ready for harvest from 60 to 80 days from sowing; pole bean varieties are ready for harvest in 85 to 90 days.
- Common name. Bean, lima bean, butter bean, sieva bean
- Botanical name. Phaseolus lunatus
- Origin. South Mexico, Central America