Pinched Pole Bean Tips
(Image credit: rootstocks)

In my mind, fresh picked beans are the epitome of summer. Depending upon your preference and garden size, the decision to plant pole beans or bush beans is the primary question. Many gardeners feel that pole beans have better flavor and, of course, their habitat is vertical and are, therefore, a better choice for those of us with limited vegetable garden space. They are also much easier to harvest. Pole beans can be planted in rows and allowed to grow up frames, fences, or pretty much anything, even in teepee like A-frames amongst other plants or flower gardens. Pole beans also yield two to three times as many beans from the same amount of space as bush beans. To maximize your fresh bean haul from the pole beans, the question is, “Can you prune pole beans or pinch them to encourage additional fruiting?” There is some debate over pole bean pinching and its benefits to harvest.

Can You Prune Pole Beans?

The easy answer is, sure, but why do you pinch bean tips; what is the advantage? Why do you pinch bean tips, or the tips of most any plant? Generally, pinching back the foliage allows the plant to do a couple of things. It encourages the plant to become bushier and, in some cases, directs the energy of the plant to flower, hence fruit in greater abundance. In the case of pole beans, does pinching pole beans' foliage back result in a greater harvest or does it result in stunting pole bean growth? Certainly if aggressively cutting back or pinching the pole beans, you'll indeed temporarily stunt the pole bean growth. However, given the nature of the plant, this is generally short lived. Healthy pole beans are prolific growers and reach for the sun rapidly, so will just continue to do so regardless. Pole bean pinching for the purpose of stunting pole bean growth is generally an exercise in futility. So, does pole bean pinching result in a more copious crop? This is unlikely. More probably pole bean pinching will encourage growth to stems and leaves and away from the beans….at least during the beginning and middle of the growing season. To increase the number of beans in a harvest, continue to pick beans frequently, which pushes the plant to produce abundantly.

To Pinch Back Pole Bean or Not; That is the Question

There is, after all of the above, a reason to pinch back pole beans other than to temporarily reduce their height. Pinching pole beans at the end of the growing season can promote the rapid ripening of existing pods before a turn in the weather kills off the entire plant. Prior to pruning or pinching the pole beans at the end of the growing season (late fall), make sure it has set pods and then use sharp scissors or shears to cut the main stem back to the desired height. Do not cut lower than set pods and cut back any of the pole bean that is taller than its support. Cut off all the side shoots not actively bearing to encourage the set pods to ripen and allow you to harvest one last glorious bean bonanza before the long, cold months of winter.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.