How to Grow Lima Beans

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Days to germination: 4 to 7 days
Days to harvest: 60 to 90 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Loose and fertile, with no added nitrogen
Container: Bush varieties are best


Lima beans are one of those stereotypical vegetables that kid’s are supposed to hate, but they really are extremely healthy.

Sometimes called butter beans, lima beans are extremely high in fiber, protein, and magnesium. They also contain another chemical compound that is toxic if the beans are eaten raw. Once cooked, it becomes harmless. Needless to say, no one should eat raw lima beans. Lima beans can either be cooked from fresh or after they have been dried.

Lima beans come in varieties that grow in a bush, and those that vine (also referred to as determinate and indeterminate plants). Typically the vining bean plants will take longer to mature.

Starting from Seed

Lima beans can be started indoors if you want to start your plants early, because they can only go outside well after the frost date which can mean a short growing season in some areas.

Plant your seeds in seedling pots about 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area, and keep them moist until they sprout. Seeds should be planted at least 1 to 2 inches deep in the soil. The seedlings will be a little delicate for transplanting, so you should start your seeds in paper or peat pots that can be planted without having to dislodge the plant.

Only use loose soil over the seeds to make sure they can break through the surface. They aren’t particularly strong sprouting seedlings.


It is time to put your seedlings out 3 weeks after your frost date, or you can sow your seeds out at this time if you are not using seedlings. The soil needs to be well warmed after all frost has passed (at least 65F).

Lima beans do best in sunny locations, and you will have to space your plants out depending on whether you are growing bush or vining beans. Bush beans should be 4 to 6 inches apart, and vining bean plants should be a little farther apart at 8 to 10 inches away. If you want to use a hill system for vining beans, you can plant 4 or 5 close together, but then allow at least 30 inches between each hill.

If you are putting out seeds rather than seedlings, use very loose and non-compacted soil to cover the seeds, as mentioned above.

Set up poles or a trellis for vining beans right after (or even before) you plant so that you don’t do any damage to the growing plants when they are larger. Bush beans may need cages to help keep them compact, but they shouldn’t require any more support than that.

Growing Instructions

Like with all beans, you need to stay away from nitrogen around your lima beans. That means no high-nitrogen fertilizer and no fresh manure. The extra nitrogen may seem to help because your plants will start to grow quickly but the extra growth is all leaves and no beans.

Water your beans regularly so the soil stays consistently moist. This is particularly important when the pods have formed and the beans are developing. Uneven watering can lead to split or cracked beans. Rather than water every day, add a layer of mulch to help prevent water loss from the soil.


Any type of lima bean plant will grow in a pot, but most people who do container gardening stick with bush varieties like Henderson or Fordhook. Each pot should be 8 to 10 inches across, and longer than that in depth. You’ll need several plants for a reasonable harvest if you use lima beans more than just occasionally.

Potted plants may need some fertilizer, but you should use a blend with no nitrogen to keep your plants producing beans rather than leaves.

Pests and Diseases

Various fungal spores can persist in the soil for 2 to 3 years, so you should plant your lima beans (any beans for that matter) in a different area every year to keep infections to a minimum. In particular, you need to watch for blight and anthracnose.

With anthracnose, you will see black blotches along the stems and leaves. Your seedlings may be effected right from the moment of sprouting, so make sure to start watching early. Fungicides may help but plants usually die. Pull infected plants immediately, and it may not spread.

You can buy resistant varieties of plants that will make this less of a danger, and you should also water your plants at the soil level rather than from above. Frequently wet leaves will help spread the fungus spores.

Insects are also a problem with lima beans, and can be targeted by several different species of bean beetle, caterpillar and aphids. Aphids can be washed off with water, though they are relatively harmless. Pick off beetles and caterpillars as soon as you see them, and treat your plants with a natural insecticide (ones with pyrethrins work great) to help keep them away.

Harvest and Storage

Beans are ready to pick when their pods are completely filled out. If you leave them until the pods start to dry, the beans will be tough and nearly inedible. Even if you intend to dry your beans, these are not to be left on the plant to dry. Pick them when they are ripe and still green. The pods are not edible.

Picking pods as soon as they are ready will encourage the plant to continue producing more pods. Once one or two pods pass this stage and get over-grown, the plant will usually stop blooming and stop making new pods.

Bush beans tend to ripen up all at the same time, but pole beans produce their pods over a longer period of time.

You can use your fresh lima beans right away, or dry them for longer storage. Fresh ones will last in the fridge for a few weeks, and you can also freeze them (blanche them first). For much longer storage times, dry your shelled lima beans until they are completely dried through.

Once dry, they will store in a tight-container for 8 to 10 months in a cool location.

15 Responses to “How to Grow Lima Beans”

  1. Teresa DeLeau  Says:

    Thanks for the info. I tried to grow limas this yaer and had not luck at all, not one seed came up.I live in Dover PA and we had to much rainfrom March – May. Do I still have time to get one small crop?

  2. Administrator  Says:

    Yes I think you still have time.

  3. Lizza  Says:

    This was really helpful, I am doing a Science Project, and this info was great…!

  4. Shirley  Says:

    Exactly what do I do to Dry Lima Bean and store in a container like you get in a bag at the store?
    We have never grown lima’s before so it’s all new to me. I need all the help I can get…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

  5. Cindy Shaw  Says:

    I especially liked Shirley’s question as this is the first year I have planted lima beans. My friend and I disagree on storage. He says leave on plant, I say no because they will get too hard. However, you tell us to pick them and DRY them but you do not tell us HOW to go about doing this. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks

  6. James  Says:

    I really do love the way the TickleMe Plant moves when you Tickle It

  7. Ruth O'Donnell  Says:

    I live in Deming, NM, which is in the Chihuahua desert. My 2 lima bean plants are doing well, with the vines covering about 6 feet of width on my 6′ chain link fence.

    It has been very hot this summer with very little rain, so they have been getting mostly City water.

    I’ve had many flowers and am now starting to get bean pods. But most of the pods have no beans in them. I started to water daily this week once I saw that many pods were forming, and I gave the plants a very weak fertilizer. I did give the plants a small amount of timed release fertilizer in July.

    What have I done wrong so that I have no lima beans, just pods?

  8. Natasha  Says:

    Shirley & Cindy:

    My experience with one variety of heirloom limas, the Christmas Pole Lima Bean, was that when I wanted to dry the beans, I shelled them and laid them on a towel indoors until they were dry like you find in the store. This took a few days. Most of my dried limas, though, came when I had pods that went unnoticed and dried on the plant. Those have been great to eat– no difference from indoor drying.


    It can seem like it takes forever for the limas to mature, so be patient. They will fatten up nicely and give you a nice harvest. I don’t know anything about fertilizer, though, as I am an organic gardener, but it is possible that your fertilizer affected the beans.

  9. Anita  Says:

    I have planted ford hooks, they have runners on them do I need to stake them?

  10. janice brockman  Says:

    I am container growing lima beans, we have had an abundance of rain when my plants were 7 days old, they are huge now, but the leaves are turning yellowish, they are also being eaten, but I don’t see any bugs. Any suggestions. also, do the beans develop on the stringer where there is a small bump. Sorry, this is my first experience with this.Any information would be helpful.

  11. Merit  Says:

    I planted Ford hooks and got short runners which might have been trained on tomato “baskets” but they never got long so I merely allowed them to spread across the ground.

    FOR ME: my pole bean vines go on forever! As a child, I helped a neighbor grow pole limas and he nipped the end from the vine at some point but I know neither the purpose nor the conditions that determine when to nip the tip from the runner. Can anyone help?

  12. Ben  Says:

    My son sprouted and grew a lima for a kindergarten science class. It seems happy in the pot I transplanted it in, but the teacher has no idea what kind of lima it is (bush or vine). Any suggestions on support for it (trellis, pole, nothing?) I’m not looking to get any kind of real “harvest” off of it, I just want to help my four year old take care of his plant.

  13. Alec  Says:

    I’m using this research for a pace progect and I say this is GREATTTT information to study on.

  14. Lois  Says:

    My lima bean are up and the pods are there but it seems that it’s taking a while to fill the pod. How long should it take or signs of problem.

  15. Jenni  Says:

    I love my TickleMe Plant

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