You can enjoy this vegetable fresh or dried, but it tastes best when homegrown.
If its name sets off less-than-pleasant childhood memories for you, you'll develop a new appreciation for this nutrient-rich vegetable when you grow it yourself. A close relative of snap beans, this warm-season crop is easy to start from seed planted right in the garden. Plus, it’s a good producer. Enjoy lima beans fresh by picking pods when they are full and bright green, or allow beans to dry on the plant and harvest dried beans for use during the cooler months.
Compact Versus Climbing
Lima beans grow as bush-type plants or climbing plants. Often considered easier to harvest, bush-type lima beans form pods on compact plants that are 1 to 2 feet tall and wide.
Climbing plants (commonly called pole lima bean) require a strong support in the form of a sturdy trellis, fence, or tepee. Great for small spaces, climbing lima beans will scramble up instead of out, making great use of a raised bed or container vegetable garden. Plan for bush-type varieties to be ready for harvest 60 to 80 days after sowing. Pole lima bean varieties can be harvested in 85 to 90 days.
Lima Bean Care Must-Knows
Lima beans grow best in full sun and moist, loose, well-drained soil. Like most vegetables, lima beans require at least 8 hours of bright sunlight a day. If your planting area is made of heavy soil or slow-draining clay, plant lima beans in a raised bed filled with rich top soil. If space is a challenge, plant a climbing variety of lima bean in a large container filled with quality potting soil. Plant a sturdy tepee in the container for the beans to climb.
Lima beans require exceptionally warm soil (at least 65 degrees F) to germinate, unlike snap beans—which will thrive when planted any time after the frost-free date. Therefore, plant lima beans in the garden about 2 weeks after the average frost-free date in your area. Plant seeds 1 to 1 ½ inches deep and spaced 2 to 4 inches apart within the row. After germination, thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches between plants.
Lima beans grow best when temperatures are between 70 and 80 degrees F and they get 1 inch of water per week either from rain or irrigation. Hot, dry conditions during flowering may cause the flowers to drop off without setting pods. Lima beans may flower again when temperatures drop. There is no need to fertilize plants. In fact, excessive nitrogen fertilizer can prevent pods from forming even though it also promotes lush growth.
Related: Slow Cooker Ham and Lima Soup
If you want to serve fresh beans, harvest lima beans when the pods are well-filled and bright green. It's better to harvest fresh lima beans a few days too soon, rather than a few days too late. When in doubt, harvest them. For dry beans, let the pods dry on the plants. Keep a close eye on their progress and harvest beans before the pods shatter.