How To Plant And Grow Lima Beans

Last Updated on September 6, 2021 by Grow with Bovees

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 colors.

The two different gene pools were originally ‘domesticated’ into important crops in ancient Peru and Central America, 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.

Phaseolus lunatus P. limensis


South America

Optimum Soil pH 6.5-7.5

Lima beans or bush beans, are maybe not grown to the extent they merit, although they are becoming more popular.

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

Recommended Varieties of Lima Beans

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

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

The following bush varieties are some that are widely available:

Jackson Wonder Bush Beans

A later, large-seeded cultivar of good quality.

Burpee Fordhook 242

An early type with medium-sized seeds.

Hendersons Bush Beans

An early, small-seeded and extremely productive cultivar.

Soil Preparation For Growing Lima 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, manure or similar organic matter, 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 lima beans is established.

In good soil the pole type lima 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.

How To Plant Lima Beans

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

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

Best Planting Time For Sowing Lima Bean Seeds

growing butter beans vs lima beans like these

Seed for dwarf cultivars can be sown when all danger from frost has passed, 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 the pole variety 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 young lima bean 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 Lima Beans

Throughout growth the bush lima requires similar treatment as when growing green beans. 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 aged compost or manure will encourage vigorous growth. In midsummer a nitrogenous side dressing will maintain plant vigour and prolong the picking season appreciably.

Lima beans have a higher protein content than other beans, so you can use them as an alternative for soybeans or other legumes if you want more protein.

They also grow much faster than most beans. The larger variety of Lima beans are often called butter beans, and take longer to mature and need more space.

Harvesting Your Lima Beans or Butter Beans

Dwarf bush beans are usually ready for the pot 2 1/2 months after sowing, while the pole varieties generally need 3 or 4 weeks longer to mature. Unlike green beans, only the seeds of lima beans are eaten and not the bean 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.

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

Lima 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.