Lima Beans

Pole Lima Beans


Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus) were found oddly enough in Lima, Peru between 5000 and 6000 B.C.  There were two distinctively different types of beans eaten in Latin America back then.  The large variety are what we now call lima beans and were eaten in Peru and the smaller beans were eaten in Central America.

Hopi Lima Beans have been in the southwest since about 1000AD.  These are extremely drought tolerant lima beans.  Hopi lima beans are tolerant of salt and alkaline soils.  They are also resistant to root knot nematodes.  The   hopi lima beans are grown by Indian Communities.


There are two main types of lima beans to grow.  There are bush limas which are a short season bean.  You will have to plant them in the spring and again in the late summer.  There are also the pole type lima beans which are planted once if you plant them in the spring here in central Texas you will get one crop in the spring and then the plants will continue to grow through the summer.  When it get above 100 degrees F, it will be too hot to set fruit, but when the temperatures go below 100 they will set fruit again.  The vines may get up to 30 feet long when planted in this manner.  Don’t get alarmed, you may worry that you do not have anything that tall.  I run the vines down a fence or loop them back on the original trellis, they are not that picky.  You can still start the pole lima bean in the late summer however.

Planting Instructions  

Plant limas from March 15 – May 30 and July 15 – Sept 15.

The proper Ph is 6.0 to 7.0.  Add compost to adjust Ph if needed.

Lima’s dislike cold soil and cold air temperatures.  Make sure that the soil temperature is at least 75 degrees F.  Daytime temperature should be at least 70 to 80 degrees F.

Lima beans require at least 6 hours a day of full sun. The more sun they can get the better they like it.

Dig the soil 12 inches deep and incorporate compost into it.

Plant Limas 1 inch deep with the eye down. If you have heavy clay soil plant your lima beans 1/2 inch deep with the eye down.

Plant bush lima seed 4 inches apart and pole lima seeds 6 inches apart.

Space rows of lima beans 30 to 32 inches apart.

You can also plant the beans in hills if you are using tepees. Make sure to leave 6-8 inches between beans and 3 to 4 feet between rows.

After the seeds have reached 4 inches tall, mulch them with a 3 inch layer of mulch.  Then come back in a few weeks and add a couple of inches more of mulch depending on the season.  If it is the spring you need to add more mulch as the season is long and it will be hot.  The mulch will hold in the moisture.  If it is in the fall you can probably get by on 3 inches of mulch.  This all depends on the weather of course!

When planting limas it is important to inoculate the beans with Rhizobia bacteria.  Rhizobia bacteria forms a symbiotic relationship with the beans and supplies them with nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere. The beans supply the bacteria with carbon and energy. It is very important that you take advantage of this free form of nitrogen.

If you are planting pole lima beans you need to make a structure to hold up the mounds of beans that you are going to be eating.  You have many options.  There are trellises, tepees, rows of fencing.  Whatever you are using make sure that there is adequate room for air to circulate.  When there is not enough room for air to circulate then you run into fungal diseases and pests start entering the scene. You also need to make sure that you have you structure anchored well into the ground.  When there is a storm your wall of beans will come tumbling down if they are not secured.  You would be very sad if they would become uprooted and  all of that hard work and growing would come to a quick halt.

Pole Lima Beans companion planted with squash

Companion Planting

Pole Limas grow great with squash and corn. Tomatoes are another great crop to grow them with.  More companions are cucumbers and most other vegetables.  The dislikes of any bean are onions, leeks, shallots, garlic and gladiolas.  If you stay away from anything in the allium family you should be fine.  You do not have to go miles from your onions.  I have bunching onions that have been in the same spot forever.  One year I put beans near them as it was in rotation.  They did not do so poorly that it made me think twice. Sometimes when space is a concern and you have things that are a permanent fixture you may have to take a risk.  When it turns out to be one of those times don’t use all of your seed!


Lima beans require one inch of water each week. It is important to ensure the plants have proper moisture while blooming and during the development of the pods.  If they do not have enough moisture the pods may drop.  Knowing this you may need to water a little more during the hot spells of the summer if you have not mulched enough.  This is usually a sign that you need more mulch.

Make sure that you do not overwater the Lima beans, they do not like wet feet.

Do not get the leaves wet while watering as this can cause fungal diseases.

Insects – that are known for attacking lima beans.



Bean Weevils

Corn Earworm

Cucumber Beetles


Darkling Beetles




Lycaenid pod borers

Lygus bugs


Saltmarsh caterpillar

Seedcorn maggot


Spider mites

Stink bugs




Diseases – That lima beans are known to get.

Bean rust

Curly top

Damping off

Fusarium root rot


Powdery Mildew

White mold


Pick limas when the pods are plump and bright colored.  Try to stay on top of picking your beans or the harvest will slow down.  The end of the pod should give and feel spongy.  Put unshelled beans in the refrigerator in a cellophane bag, or plastic container.  They will keep for approximately 2 weeks.

If you want your lima beans to taste just picked, shell them as soon as you pick them so they do not turn starchy.  Blanch small limas for 1 minute, medium for 2 minutes and large limas for 3 minutes. Cool in ice bath before freezing. They will stay fresh for one year.

Seed Saving

Leave 5 feet between varieties as most are self pollinated.  Let pods dry on the vine until they are papery. Harvest the entire plant and hang to finish drying or let finish drying in the fields.  Beans are dry when you cannot press your fingernail into the bean and make an indentation.  Freeze the beans for 2 weeks to make sure that you do not have any bean weevils.   Seeds will last for 4 years if kept in a cool dry location.

Nutritional Information

Lima beans are a power house of nutrition.  They are not only filling and satisfying but full of good things your body needs.  Starting out with 188% of molybdenum, 53 % of tryptophan and 52% of dietary fiber.  Following with incredibly high levels of manganese, folate, protein, potassium, iron, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, B1 and only 216 calories in 1 cup.


There are a couple of things to be aware of when cooking limas.  First and foremost do not eat them raw.  Eating limas raw inhibits a digestive enzyme and causes red blood cells to clump together. If you soak and cook your beans it will make these compounds not active.

Lima beans have a tendency to foam when cooking so they are not candidates for pressure cookers.  Instead soak the beans over night, in the refrigerator so they do not ferment or use the quick cooking method.

NY Times 6 Recipes

Many Lima Recipes

More Lima Recipes

Lots more Limas

Vegan Lima Recipes

Vegetarian Low Fat Limas


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