Growing Butter Beans vs Lima Beans

People ask about growing butter beans vs lima beans, but scientifically they are one and the same, although they come in two different sizes and colours.

The two different gene pools were originally ‘domesticated’ into important crops in ancient Peru and Mesoamerica but their popularity diminished until more recent times when they became and still are an important part of any vegetarian diet.

For that reason there are now many and varied delicious recipes using them. Growing them is not particularly difficult as you will see in the video at the bottom of the page.

Pkaseolus lunatus P. Limensis


South America

Optimum pH 6.5-7.5

Butter beans, sometimes called Lima beans (although this term is often used for the bush types only), are not grown to the extent they merit. This is mainly because seed of named cultivars is extremely scarce and is only catalogued intermittently by a few seed houses.

The seeds, when young, are delicious and surpass, to my mind, even the finest broad beans in both texture and flavour.

Recommended Cultivars of Butter Beans/Lima Beans

There are both bush and pole types of this perennial bean, with the bush type usually regarded as an annual even in warm areas.

The pole type, which in clean, well-prepared soil can be treated as a perennial for 2 or 3 seasons, is usually catalogued as Pole Lima.

The following bush cultivars are the ones usually offered:

Burpee’s Bush:

A later, large-seeded cultivar of good quality.

Bush Fordhook:

An early type with medium-sized seeds.

Henderson Bush:

An early, small-seeded and extremely productive cultivar.

Soil Preparation For Growing Butter Beans

Like green beans, bush/lima beans prefer a well-improved light soil, which is retentive of moisture and yet well drained. If there is still evidence of compost and manure residues from a previous crop, 60 g per m5 of a complete fertilizer (e.g. 2:3:2) can be applied and incorporated before sowing.

Compost or decayed manure and a similar fertilizer dressing will be necessary on less fertile soils to produce sufficient vegetative growth for high yields. This applies especially when a planting of pole limas is established.

In good soil the pole type butter bean produces a dense cover of vines and leaves and therefore requires a strong support. A solid fence with a treated pole framework is ideal for the purpose, particularly as it is usually placed on the perimeter of the garden where the beans will not shade other crops.

Propagation of Lima Beans/Butter Beans

All cultivars are grown from seed usually sown where the plants are to mature.

Early plantings of pole type butter beans/lima beans can, however, be started under protection in Jiffy 7s or Jiffy Pots.

Sowing Butter Bean Seeds

growing butter beans vs lima beans like these

Seed for dwarf cultivars can be sown when all danger from frost is over and sowings can continue till early summer. The drills should be 450-600 mm apart with the seeds spaced at 100-150 mm intervals to allow the plants to develop fully.

The sowing depth can be 25-40 mm, depending on soil and weather conditions.

The seeds of pole cultivars usually encountered are large, and the seed-coats, when fresh, are white with a maroon spot at one end.

End of spring-early summer is the most favourable period for sowing in most areas, as it allows a crop to be reaped before cold weather or even frost come along to cut back the tops.

It also allows the plants to develop a strong root system before these unfavourable conditions stop growth. At the base of each support 2 or 3 seeds can be sown 100 mm apart and thinned out later to leave the two strongest plants to grow on to maturity.

The seeds should be sown at a depth of 30-50 mm.

Further Tips For Growing Butter Beans vs Lima Beans

Throughout growth the bush lima requires similar treatment to the green bean. The pole lima, which may bear satisfactorily for 3 years in fertile and nematode-free soil, needs little attention apart from the removal of dead tops and an occasional thinning, in areas experiencing a mild winter, if growth becomes too thick.

A side dressing with 2:3:2 in spring at the rate of 60 g per metre of row or a mulch with mature compost or manure will encourage vigorous growth. In midsummer a nitrogenous side dressing will maintain plant vigour and prolong the picking season appreciably.

Harvesting Your Butter Beans

Dwarf varieties are usually ready for the pot 2 1/2 months after sowing, while the pole cultivars generally need 3 or 4 weeks longer to mature. Only the seeds of lima/butter beans are eaten and not the pods, which are tough and fibrous, especially in the case of pole cultivars.

The pods should regularly be removed from the plants when seeds are fully swollen but before they turn yellow. At this stage the seeds should still be succulent and the seed-coats light green in colour.

However, as with many crops, only experience can teach the gardener when to harvest.

Butter beans/lima beans beans are shelled more easily if the pods are allowed to wilt for a day or two after picking. If they are to be kept for a few days on the vegetable rack before being used they should be stored shallowly, especially if picked when wet, for they soon heat up otherwise.

Pests and diseases

Butter beans of both types are considerably more attractive to aphids, usually grey in colour, than green beans, and severe infestations can build up within a few days during hot, dry weather.

Malathion in the form of a spray will give good control provided that a wetting agent is used and provided that another application is given after 5-7 days.

There are no recorded diseases specific to this crop.

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