How to Plant, Grow and Care For Pinto Bean Plants
We all know the tasty seeds of the pinto bean plant, but many haven't grown them. Our guide reveals everything you need to grow pinto beans!
The pinto bean plant is one of the most popular kinds of beans grown in the US. They’re most commonly used in refried beans, in Mexican beans, or cooked in a slow cooker and served over cornbread or rice. If you love pinto beans in every way they’re served, you may want to consider growing pinto beans!
You’re probably most familiar with pinto beans having a smooth, light brown surface when they’re cooked, but they’re beautiful on the plant! Dry beans typically have a light brown or tan base with a pink or purple pattern on them.
“Pinto bean” literally translates to “painted bean,” and your garden will certainly look more artistic when you’re growing pinto beans.
If you know how to grow beans, know that pinto beans grow similarly to other beans, so you won’t have to change many things if you’re growing multiple kinds of beans at once. Let’s get into the details so you can get one step closer to growing pinto beans to make your own pot of beans!
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Pinto bean|
|Scientific Name||Phaseolus vuglaris Pinto Group|
|Days to Harvest||90-150 days|
|Light||6+ hours of full sun|
|Water||1 inch per week|
|Soil||Well-draining, pH of 6.0-7.0|
|Fertilizer||Low nitrogen like 5-10-10, but typically unnecessary|
|Pests||Aphids, leafhoppers, Mexican bean beetles, spider mites|
|Diseases||Bacterial blight, bean common mosaic virus, white mold, fusarium root rot|
All About Pinto Bean Plants
Pinto beans are part of the common bean group scientifically known as Phaseolus vulgaris. Other beans in this category include green beans, butter beans, lima beans, and kidney beans. The pinto bean is believed to have come from Peru in the Peruvian highlands and was widely distributed throughout Central America and South America.
There are several different cultivars of pinto beans that grow a little differently, but they all produce the same tasty bean. Othello is the most popular because of its high yield and flexibility to grow in different environments. Burke is derived from Othello and was bred to be resistant to diseases, produce even more beans, and have a stronger root system.
If you’ve had tough luck with beans before, Burke might help you out! The Santa Fe pinto bean is ideal if you want to preserve your beans through canning, and Quincy is great when you have poor soil in an area that’s prone to drought.
The Maverick pinto matures quickly and produces more beans than Othello. The Lariat, derived from the Maverick, has bigger beans with more seeds in each pod. There are many different varieties, so dig around and find out what will work best for your garden. Now let’s discuss how you can grow your own pinto beans.
Planting Pinto Beans
Pinto beans don’t like to be transplanted, so directly plant seeds outside after the danger of frost has passed. If you have a short growing season or want to get a head start, you can grow pinto beans in containers indoors so you can move the entire container as needed to keep the roots intact.
At planting time, direct sow your beans in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight, but the more, the better! The area also needs to drain well and shouldn’t be a site that has had beans growing in it within the last 3 years since diseases can stay in the soil and infect the newly planted beans.
When it’s time to plant, plant with the bean eye facing downward no more than 1 ½ inches deep. Beans within a row should be planted 4-6 inches apart and rows should be 2 feet apart. Pole beans will need a fence, trellis, or other support systems to climb.
Keep the soil moist while the beans germinate in 8-14 days. Once they’re a few inches tall, thin them so they’re 6 inches apart. Once the beans are established, you can allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
Bush pinto beans mature in 90 to 150 days. They can usually be harvested all at once, while pole beans only have a few ready at a time. Staggered planting will allow you to have a steady supply and to grow pinto beans all season long. Two weeks between plantings is usually enough time.
Pinto Bean Care
Now that you know how to put the beans in the ground, let’s look at how to keep them alive! Beans are pretty easy to grow, so even beginner gardeners can get started.
Sun and Temperature
Pinto beans love sunshine and warm weather, so be sure you can give them plenty of both! They need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, so avoid planting them in shady areas. At least six hours of full sun exposure is one of the most important parts of growing these beans.
You can grow pinto beans in zones 2-11, but those in colder zones with short growing seasons will need to provide frost protection or consider growing in containers. Don’t plant the beans until the soil is at least 60°F. To plant earlier, lay black plastic in the garden to help the soil warm, leaving the planting holes bare and exposed to the light. If you’d rather not use plastic, mulch on either side of the planting hole can provide extra warmth too.
If you live in a hot climate with warm summers, you may need to give them shade protection in the hottest hours of the day to prevent the plants from reaching over 93°F, as the plants won’t set bean pods in scorching temperatures! Many types of shade cloth are available, and you shouldn’t need anything that provides more than 40% shade. Ideally aiming for one between 20% and 40% shade coverage is perfect.
Water and Humidity
Young plants need consistently moist soil or damp soil, but once their shallow roots are established, you can reduce their watering schedule to when the soil is dry.
The plants will need at least 1 inch of water per week, but this can vary based on many factors like rain, temperatures, and how much sunlight your plants receive. If you’re not sure, feel the soil. If the 1-2 inches are dry, it’s time to water!
Giving your plants one deep drink rather than several shallow drinks is best to encourage the plant to grow a deep root system.
Water at the base of the plant until the top several inches of the soil are moist. Avoid overhead watering or getting the leaves wet to prevent diseases, and water in the morning so the leaves will have plenty of time to dry out.
Grow pinto beans in fairly fertile soil with a slightly acidic pH of 6.0-7.0. A well-draining soil like a silty loam is ideal, so water can drain out and prevent the roots from being too wet.
If you start your seeds in soil with plenty of organic matter or a side-dressing of compost prior to planting, you may not need to use fertilizer at all.
Fertilizing Pinto Beans
Pinto beans are nitrogen-fixers, meaning they absorb nitrogen from the air and fix it into nodules that form on their roots. This lovely benefit of many legumes means that many successful growers will chop off the plant at the end of the season, leaving the roots in the ground to decompose and fertilize the next season’s crops!
Since they provide their own nitrogen source, if you fertilize your beans, choose something with low nitrogen levels, such as a general-purpose fertilizer with an NPK of 5-10-10 or an organic general-purpose with a ratio of 3-5-5. You can also choose to give your plants a fresh layer of compost once or twice during the growing season rather than fertilizing them.
Note that most composts are inconsistent in terms of nutrients (this is a scenario where what goes in is definitely what comes out in the soil), so you may want to monitor your plants for any possible nutrient deficiencies, although they would be unlikely. Beans are pretty tolerant plants all told!
Pruning & Training
Pruning pinto beans isn’t necessary. Some people suggest pinching the tops of pole beans, but this actually might stunt your plants or cause them to focus on growing leaves rather than beans!
The best way to prune your beans for better production, both pole and bush varieties, is to pick beans as soon as they’re ready. Like other legumes, pinto bean plants will produce even more once you start picking beans.
You can prune bush beans if they look too bushy, but this shouldn’t affect their output unless you’re removing lots of flowers.
Pole beans will need a trellis. You can use any kind of trellis or a fence like a chain link or lattice. Try out different methods to see what works best for you.
Bush beans won’t need this kind of support, but you can still attach them to a short trellis to improve airflow at the ground level if you need to. For most bush beans, a single stake with plant ties is more than enough to provide support.
The best way to propagate beans is by the seeds they grow in their pods. Beans germinate quickly and are easy to care for, so you really don’t need another method. Allow beans to dry out completely on the plant before harvesting, as this ensures that the bean seed has fully matured in the pod. Before storing beans to plant next year, shell the beans from their pod and allow your beans to dry even longer until they are fully hardened. It’s best to let them dry in a cool, dark location with ample airflow and low humidity.
Harvesting and Storing
After a long 90-150 days, there’s been adequate pod development, and it’s time to harvest your pinto beans! Even though you’re probably eager to eat them the day you pick them, we’ll go ahead and cover storage methods, too.
How To Harvest Pinto Beans
Most gardeners don’t start harvesting pinto beans until they’re dry, but they can be harvested earlier. You can harvest them at any time after they’re at least 4 inches long—even if they’re green! The green bean version should be 4-6 inches in length and plump. You can eat them right away or store them for later.
If you want to harvest dry beans, allow them to dry completely on the vine (if possible) before harvesting them, which can take up to 150 days. You can either start by gently pulling the dried beans off one by one or remove the entire plant once all the pods are dry and extract each dry bean afterward.
If it rains, remove the entire plant and hang it upside down in a dry area to allow the beans to dry out completely.
Now it’s time to shell the beans free from their pods. There are many ways to do this: you can lay the pods on a tarp and whack them, put them in a pillowcase and shake them, or gather some kiddos or friends and make an afternoon of it. Discard all of the pods (they make great compost!), as all you need to store are the beans.
Storing Pinto Beans
If you harvest your pintos early as a green snap bean, they’re best eaten right away, but you can store them in a freezer bag for a few months. Be sure to remove excess moisture from the green beans before storing them so they don’t become ice blocks!
Shelled dry beans can be stored in an airtight container like a mason jar for up to a year as long as moisture doesn’t get inside. The beans need to be completely dried before shelling, and the pod should be removed before storing them.
Pintos that were cooked after being dried can be stored in freezer bags or by pressure canning and can last several months. It’s best to store them only 1-2 cups per container at a time. When you’re cooking dried pintos, remember to soak the beans overnight in water before boiling them.
You might come across problems, specifically fungal diseases, while you’re trying to grow pintos. Some of them can be fixed, while others need to be prevented. Let’s look at what issues you might have.
Pinto beans won’t set fruit if the temperatures are too cold or hot. A soil temperature below 60°F and above 93°F will cause beans to stop setting fruit.
These temperatures are for both soil and the overall weather, so be sure to check the soil conditions, too. You can correct the problems by providing a shade cloth or row covers to add extra warmth or shade as needed.
If your pinto beans didn’t sprout, it’s likely because the soil isn’t the right temperature. Planting too early in the spring means the soil is too cold, and too early in late summer means the soil is too hot. If you’d like to plant early, lay black plastic around the plant and help the soil warm.
If your beans have an abundance of leaves but no beans, you may have overfertilized with nitrogen early on. While this will generally balance out over time, it’s better to stick with lower-nitrogen, higher phosphorus and potassium fertilizers if you fertilize at all.
You may be able to use up some of the extra nitrogen with companion plantings of leafy greens nearby. Many herbs are also a great candidate around the base of your beans, as they’ll consume some of the excess. Nitrogen will benefit them, you’ll have crops that taste great, and you’ll get some good food out of the deal, too!
The pests that bother pintos can affect other beans, so check everything if you notice the pinto beans have a problem!
They can be prone to sap-sucking critters like aphids, spider mites, and leafhoppers. These bugs usually gather underneath leaves and drink juices from the leaves and sometimes stems, resulting in curled and yellowing leaves or speckling on leaves and stems.
Neem oil can suffocate eggs and larvae, and then you can rinse them off with water. While the area is dry, you can use diatomaceous earth to reduce the adult population. If the natural methods don’t work for you, look for insecticides made specifically for the pests you have.
They’re also prone to Mexican bean beetles, which eat leaves until they have so many holes that they look like lace. Be forewarned that Mexican bean beetles look a lot like ladybugs, so you may easily mistake one for the other! Neem oil sprayed on all leaf surfaces will slow down feeding on the leaves. For severe infestations of Mexican bean beetle, you may wish to consider using pyrethrin, a very strong organic insecticide, at least to reduce their numbers to a manageable level.
Bacterial blight is caused by wet leaves and can be prevented by providing airflow between plants. Make sure your plants are spaced out properly and avoid getting the leaves wet when you water them.
The bean common mosaic virus has discolored leaves and is a virus passed to the plants through pests. Prevent pests with companion plants like sweet alyssum or hand-picking them off as soon as you see them.
White mold is a fungus that will affect damp plants in cool weather. Keep an eye on moisture levels and airflow, and consider using a fungicide to prevent the plants from getting infected.
The roots may rot in cool, damp soil, where fusarium root rot is likely to take residence. This can occur if you plant them too early, or if you water them too much. Most of the time you can prevent root rot by watering less, and the disease risk should lessen as temperatures warm.
Remove infected or seriously-damaged plants to prevent the spread of fungal root rot through the soil. Damaged roots aren’t fixable, and removing the plants and starting new ones is the easiest solution for this situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long does it take for a pinto bean plant to grow?
A: Pinto beans usually take 90-150 days for dry beans but can be harvested sooner for a green snap bean.
Q: Are pinto beans a bush or vine?
A: Pinto beans are available in both bush and pole cultivars.
Q: Are pinto bean plants easy to grow?
A: Pinto bean plants are usually easy to grow when they have enough sunlight and water.
Q: How tall do pinto bean plants grow?
A: Bush beans begin producing when they typically grow up to 2 feet tall, while pole varieties have the potential to grow even taller if they have the room to climb.
Q: What month do you plant pinto beans?
A: Pinto beans should be sown after the last frost. This is usually between April and June, depending on where you live.
Q: How many beans will one plant produce?
A: Pinto bean plants usually produce 1-2 pounds per plant.
Q: Do pinto beans grow back every year?
A: Pinto beans don’t grow back every year because they’re annuals that complete their life cycle in one growing season.
Q: Can you eat pinto beans off the plant?
A: Yes, you can eat the beans while they’re green and 4-6 inches long.