Plus, how to choose the best beans for your vegetable plot.

Gardeners love to grow beans. They grow fast, have beautiful flowers, and are fairly low-maintenance. There are seemingly endless varieties of beans to choose from—and beans are also some of the most important garden plants. Read on to learn how you can grow beans in your garden, and the bonus benefit they’ll provide.

Although there are dozens of plant species known as beans, the one that is top of mind in the west is Phaseolus vulgaris, the common bean. The common bean is the species that gives us green beans, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and many, many others. Along with lima beans (P. lunatus) and runner beans (P. coccineus), the common bean is a domesticated bean that was grown throughout the New World before Columbus landed.

Beans are members of the legume family. They have the unique ability to scavenge atmospheric nitrogen and fix it in the soil, boosting garden fertility for later crops. Nitrogen is the nutrient that helps plants grow lush green leaves. In a crop rotation or succession planting, beans should come after root crops and before leafy crops. (Corn and squash are the most famous companion plants to beans.)

Choose the bean variety that best fits your garden space and appetite. There are bush, pole, and half runner growth habits to pick from. Different cultivars are preferred for size, shape, color, texture, and flavor. Some are preferable to others for their use as green snap beans (think string beans or French beans, and Chinese long beans—aka, asparagus beans); shell beans (like fava beans, cranberry beans, lima beans, and butter beans); or dry beans (pinto, black, navy).

Plant bush beans for a fast crop that is ready all at once—a nice attribute for preserving. Plant pole beans for a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.

Beans need a sunny location and moist, well drained soil. Spread a 2 inch layer of compost over the bed and till or spade it in. Rake the area smooth before you sow seeds. Bush bean rows will be spaced 3 feet apart. Pole bean rows will be spaced 4 feet apart, and will require stakes or a trellis.

Beans require a warm growing season. The plants grow quickly when seeds are sown directly into the garden. Seed starting indoors is unnecessary. Plant them when the soil has warmed after the last frost date in spring, no later than 12 weeks prior to the first frost date in fall.

Plant bush bean seeds 1 inch deep every 2 inches within the row. After they sprout, thin them to one plant every 4 inches.

Pole beans require plant supports. Install 8 foot poles, spaced 2 feet apart within the rows. Mound the soil around each pole to make 6 inch mounds. Plant 4 to 6 seeds, 1 inch deep, evenly spaced around the base of each pole. When the seeds sprout, thin to 4 plants per pole.

Beans need even moisture, about 1 inch per week. Mulch them after the first set of true leaves appear to help conserve water and smother weeds.

Watch out for a few pests and diseases. The Mexican bean beetle and its larvae can be removed by hand. Aphids and spider mites can be washed off with a strong jet of water. Significant insect damage may lead to deformed beans. Remove severely damaged plants.

To minimize the likelihood of disease, plant at the proper spacing, keep weeds out of the garden, and avoid overhead watering. Remove plants that become diseased.

Green snap beans are ready to harvest as soon as the seeds inside the pod have filled out, while the bean pod is still green and tender. For shelling beans, wait until the pods turn yellow. For dry beans, wait until the pods dry out.

Both bush and pole beans provide multiple harvests, so don’t take them out after the first picking. Bush beans normally give a second and third harvest at 1 to 2 week intervals. Pole beans may continue to produce over the whole growing season.

Store fresh green beans unwashed inside a plastic bag in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper for up to 7 days. For longer storage you can clean and freeze them.

Store shelling beans in their pods in a paper bag. They will keep for about three days. For dry beans, remove the beans from the pods and allow them to air dry for a day or two. Then place them in a zipper bag or glass jar.