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How to Grow Lima Beans (Beginner’s Guide)

You might know them as lima beans or butter beans but regardless of the name you use, these legumes are worth growing in your garden. The good news is, growing lima bean plants does not take expert-level gardening skill. Instead, reading through the information in the article below will provide you with everything you need to know about planting, caring for, and harvesting the Phaseolus lunatus plant.

How to Grow Lima Beans [Beginner’s Guide]
Learn what you need to know about growing lima beans

Understand the Two Main Types of Lima Beans

The first piece of knowledge you should have before growing a lima bean is that there are two main types of lima bean plants that you are likely to come across. Those popular varieties are known as:

  • Pole lima beans
  • Bush lima beans

Overall, bush beans and pole varieties tend to have incredibly similar growth requirements. However, there are some differences worth noting here.

The most obvious distinction is that bush types grow in the form of a shrub. The plants are often smaller at maturity and produce smaller seeds. Bush beans also offer harvests sooner than pole lima beans, in most cases.

By contrast, pole beans grow in a climbing habit and can reach heights of 12 feet or more. Since these plants need to climb, you’ll need to provide them with a structurally strong support in the form of a stable pole or trellis.

Beyond those differences, pole lima beans and bush lima beans prove to be more alike than different. As you’ll soon see, these varieties generally call for similar growth conditions and garden maintenance.

Varieties of Lima Beans

There are a variety of lima beans, each with their own unique flavor and texture. Sieva beans are small and delicate, with a sweet flavor that is often described as nutty. Madagascar beans are larger and more hearty, with a rich flavor that is perfect for stews and soups. Fava beans are large and flat, with a creamy texture that makes them ideal for spreads and dips. Burma beans are small and round, with a earthy flavor that is perfect for curries and other dishes. Potato limas are the largest variety of lima bean, and have a firm texture that holds up well to cooking. No matter which variety you choose, lima beans are a delicious and versatile addition to any meal.

Ideal Growth Conditions for Lima Beans

After learning about the two major types of lima bean plants, it’s now time to consider some of the growth requirements that these plants have. In the sections below, we’ll cover the ideal sun exposure and soil conditions for a lima bean so that you can choose the perfect growing location for your plant.

Sun Exposure

Full sun, meaning six hours of direct sunlight or more per day, is ideal for lima bean development. Ample sunlight ensures that your lima bean plant will grow pods that are large and healthy by the time you harvest them. At times, partial sunlight will allow lima bean plants to survive. However, anything less than full sun may result in a lower bean output for your lima bean plant.

Soil Conditions

To find favorable soil conditions for your lima bean plant, you need to consider several different soil characteristics. Lima bean plants have specific preferences regarding the temperature, organic content, acidity, and drainage for the soil in which they grow.

Soil Temperature

Soil temperature is one of the most important of these traits. Since lima beans come from a warm climate, you need to recreate that warmth wherever you choose to grow yours. Typically, a soil temperature should be above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ideal heat range falls between 70- and 90-degrees Fahrenheit.

Lima bean plants cannot tolerate frosts or even mildly cold temperatures, which is why warm soil is a must. Without adequately warm soil, you can’t expect your lima bean plant to produce a healthy harvest or even reach the germination stage to begin its life cycle.

Christmas lima beans
Christmas lima beans

Soil Acidity

Acidity also factors into the health of your lima bean plants. Lima beans like soils that range from acidic to slightly acidic. The ideal pH range for these plants is somewhere around 6 to just below 7. Test the soil in your growing location before planting a lima bean and amend it as needed to keep a lower soil pH level.

Soil Nutrients

It is best to grow a lima bean in loamy, fertile soil that has plenty of organic matter. Organic matter will give your lima bean the optimal fuel it needs to put forth vigorous growth. Lima beans also need access to the three main plant nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with a few crucial micronutrients, including calcium and magnesium.

Soil Drainage

The soil in which a lima bean grows should be loose enough to allow for excellent drainage. At the same time, the soil needs to hold enough water to ensure consistent moisture for the roots. Again, loamy soils often perform the best as they have fantastic drainage characteristics.


The Best Way to Plant Lima Bean Seeds

If you know the growing needs of a lima bean plant, you are ready to take on the first steps involved in growing one successfully. Fortunately, planting lima bean seeds is not a challenging task. All you need to know is when to plant these seeds based on where you live and a few tips on how to get your seeds in the soil.

Jackson Wonder Bush Lima Bean
Jackson Wonder Bush Lima Bean. Credit: Amazon

When to Plant Lima Beans

Lima beans need warm soil, so you will need to time your planting accordingly based on where you live. If you live in warm climates where the soil temperatures consistently remain above 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you can plant your lima bean seeds during just about any time of year.

If you live in a colder region, as most who garden in the United States do, you’ll need to make a few more considerations about when to plant your lima bean seeds. For instance, if you want to grow your lima bean plants entirely in an outdoor setting, you’ll need to wait about a month after the last frost date before it is safe to sow your seeds.

Alternatively, you also have the option to start your seeds indoors before the outdoor temperatures are warm enough for your lima bean plants. With this approach, you should plant your seeds in a container a few weeks before the final frost date. Once the weather warms up and your seed has sprouted into a small plant, you can transplant it to the outdoors.

During planting you should also think about the way a lima bean plant delivers its harvest. Lima bean plants tend to produce all their beans at once. Because of that, it can be a smart idea to plant several sets of seeds a few weeks apart. This spacing can give you a prolonged harvest season for your lima beans.

How to Plant a Lima Bean Seed

To plant a lima bean seed, embed it in warm soil about one to two inches deep. Before planting, double check that your soil is warm and that it has good drainage.

If you are planting many lima bean seeds, you should space them carefully to give each one enough space to expand while it matures. Plant your seeds in multiple rows spaced about three to six inches apart. Each row should have about one to two feet of space between it and the rows next to it.

Also, if you plant pole lima beans in an outdoor location, you’ll need to locate your rows so that each plant has a structure on which it can support itself as it matures. If you start pole lima beans indoors, you can offer them a support structure later when you transplant them to the outdoors. On the other hand, for bush beans, you won’t need to worry about support at all.

After you plant your seeds, you will need to supply water to keep the soil consistently moist. Without that soil moisture, it’s unlikely that your seeds will germinate and become healthy lima bean plants.

Care and Maintenance for Lima Bean Plants

Let’s assume that you’ve followed the advice in the previous section and germinated your lima bean seeds. Now that you have small lima bean plants emerging from the soil, you should be ready to provide ongoing care to keep your plants healthy.

Fordhook lima bean
Fordhook Lima Bean. Credit: Burpee.com

Give Your Lima Bean Plants Plenty of Mulch

Lima beans love warm weather, but they also love consistently wet soil. At times, these two desires can be at odds with one another as hot weather can cause soil to become dry very quickly. However, there are some quick remedies you can use to prevent that problem.

Of course, you’ll need to know how to water your lima beans, which we’ll cover in the next section, but you’ll also want to give your plants plenty of mulch. A healthy layer of mulch will prevent moisture from evaporating out of the soil. It will also help regulate the temperature of your soil to prevent sudden temperature shifts.

Watering and Fertilization

Watering regularly is crucial for lima bean plants. Without enough water, your plants will struggle to develop flowers which ultimately leads to low bean pod production. After your seeds sprout into small plants, give them about an inch of water per week. At the same time, make sure that the soil has adequate drainage as standing water can cause root rot.

The fertilization needs for a lima bean plant are low and giving them too much fertilizer can limit their growth in some cases. However, a single application of compost during the growing season can be beneficial to your plant’s development. Still, doing so is not necessary and your plant should get all the nutrients it needs from the soil without any additional help.

How Do You Harvest Lima Beans?

If you adhere to the correct maintenance plan, your lima bean seeds will grow into a mature plant that is ready for harvest. There will be several physical cues from your plant when harvest time has arrived.

The first clue that your lima bean pods are ready for harvest is their length. These seed pods will be more than four inches long when they are ready for picking. The pods should also be somewhat firm and relatively thick.

Removing a pod from the plant is also easy. All you need to do is use your fingers to gently pull a pod from its branch. Take care as you remove these pods as it can be somewhat easy to damage your plant if you are not careful.

How to Dry Lima Beans

Lima beans are a type of legume that can be dried and then rehydrated for use in cooking. The process of drying lima beans is relatively simple and only requires a few hours of time. First, the beans should be sorted and rinsed to remove any dirt or debris. Next, they should be spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet or other dry surface. You can also put them in a dehydrator if you have one. If you do not have a dehydrator, you can put them in your oven on the lowest setting with the door slightly open. Let them dry until they are crisp.

Once the beans are dry, they can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months. To rehydrate the dried beans, simply soak them in water for several hours or overnight before cooking. With proper storage, dried lima beans can be a valuable addition to your pantry.

Speckled butter bean
Speckled Butter Bean

Frequently Asked Questions

Many beginner gardeners have a few questions about how to grow lima beans. As such, we’d like to address a few of those inquiries before we conclude. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked lima bean questions.

How long before you can harvest lima beans?

The time it takes to grow a lima bean plant that is ready for harvest depend on the variety you have. Bush lima beans are a bit faster and can be ready for harvest in as little as 60 days. Pole lima beans take a bit longer and could take up to 90 days to mature. However, in either case, these estimates can vary based on the individual plant you own and how well you take care of it.

What are the nutritional benefits of lima beans?

Not only are lima beans easy to grow, but they are also quite beneficial to your health as well. Lima beans offer fiber, protein, and several micronutrients. Iron, potassium, calcium, and several important vitamins are all present in lima beans. The beans are also low in fat and provide plenty of energy-giving carbohydrates.

Where does the lima bean plant come from?

The lima bean plant has grown naturally in South America and Central America for thousands of years. More specifically, lima beans may originally come from the area we know as modern-day Peru. In that region, lima beans have been under cultivation longer than nearly any other plant. Today, lima beans are widespread and grow anywhere that they can receive the warmth and moisture they need to thrive.


Growing lima beans is not a gardening project that requires deep knowledge and gardening experience. Instead, you need to know just a few tips about the best lima bean growing conditions, how to plant them, and how to care for until they are ready for harvest. If you feel lost during any of those steps, return to the information in the article above to set you back on the right track. 

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