Purple Hyacinth Bean Care – How To Grow A Hyacinth Bean Vine

Purple Hyacinth Bean Care – How To Grow A Hyacinth Bean Vine

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

A vigorous ornamental annual vine, purple hyacinth bean plant (Dolichos lablab or Lablab purpurea), displays beautiful pinkish-purple blossoms and interesting reddish-purple pods that grow to be about the same size as lima bean pods. The hyacinth bean plant adds loads of color and interest to any garden right through fall.

Thomas Jefferson’s favorite nurseryman Bernard McMahon sold hyacinth bean vine plants to Jefferson in 1804. Because of this, the hyacinth bean is also known as Jefferson bean. These fabulous heirloom plants are now featured at Monticello in the Colonial kitchen garden.

How to Grow a Hyacinth Bean Vine

Purple hyacinth beans are not fussy about soil type but do best when planted in full sun. These vigorous growers do require a sturdy support that is at least 10 to 15 feet (3-4.5 m.) high. Many gardeners grow this lovely vine on a sturdy trellis, fence or arbor.

Seeds can be sown directly outdoors once the threat of frost has passed. Seeds can also be started indoors several weeks before the weather warms. Transplants are best when planted on the small side.

Once planted, these low maintenance plants require very little care. Provide regular water for transplants and seedlings for best results.

When to Pick Purple Hyacinth Bean Seed Pods

Although purple hyacinth beans are used as a forage crop in some parts of the world, they are not recommended for eating, as they have to be cooked a very particular way. Instead, they are best enjoyed as an ornamental plant in the landscape. For those wanting to grow additional plants, the seed pods can be harvested. Therefore, knowing when to pick purple hyacinth bean seed pods is helpful.

Once the flower dies away, the pods begin to take on significant size. The best time to harvest the bean seedpods is just prior to your first frost. Seeds are easy to keep, and you can use them next year in the garden. Seeds can be easily removed from dried seedpods for storage.

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Starting Hyacinth Bean Seeds

Even in areas with a short growing season, you can grow the hyacinth bean vine from seeds. After starting indoors before the last frost, it will propagate and spread rapidly outdoors, reaching a length of 15 to 18 feet on supports. Here are guidelines on how to prepare hyacinth bean seeds for transplanting outdoors.

Step 1: Prepare the Seeds for Germination and Plant in Pots

Soak seeds overnight submerged in warm water above 70 degrees Fahrenheit to start the germination process. Prepare pots with moist potting soil, and set one seed per pot just under the soil surface. Set the pots in a location that gets 6 hours of sunlight per day. Keep the soil at room temperature, and water as needed to keep the soil moist.

Step 2: Prepare the Garden Bed to Plant the Strongest Seedlings

Once nights are frost-free, move the seedlings out to the garden. Have supports ready for twining the vines as they will shoot up quickly. In loosened soil mixed with sand or fine gravel for drainage, blend in compost and leaf mold to a depth of 2 inches. Add 5-10-10 low nitrogen fertilizer, and plant the seedlings 12 inches apart, with a 1/8-inch soil covering. Moisten the soil daily until the seedlings are established.

Step 3: Maintain the Vines

Water the vines as needed to prevent wilting. Each month, apply a mulch of leaves and lawn shavings, and add fertilizer at half-strength in a high-low phosphorus and nitrogen blend. Potash is also beneficial to hyacinth bean vines. Train the vine tendrils onto the supports when the vines reach 18 inches in length.

Step 4: Protect from Pests

Rabbits consider hyacinth bean plants a delicacy. To protect them, cover the seedlings with bird netting until mature leaves have formed.

Step 5: Check for Insects and Disease

The sharp wiry hairs on hyacinth bean leaves serve as ample defense against most insects and airborne disease spores. Ensure soil does not become soggy as this promotes root rot.

Step 6: Autumn Removal

Collect seeds in late summer after the flowers have faded, and start the next batch in late winter near the final weeks of ground frost. When the vines die back after frost, remove them and compost.

In warmer frost-free areas, plant the seeds directly into warm soil in late spring, and allow them to self-seed. Dig out weaker vines to prevent overcrowding.

The hyacinth bean vine adds color and scent to gardens, drawing butterflies and hummingbirds to feast on the nectar from its purple or white flowers. Elegant twining purple stems support the flowers, shaded under broad green leaves. Hyacinth bean pods are edible and can be cooked in many different ways. Raw hyacinth beans do have toxic elements, so boil them thoroughly before preparing in recipes to eat. Early seedlings can also be harvested and cooked in dishes that call for bean sprouts.

Hyacinth Bean Plant Information

Hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus), also known as Egyptian bean, Indian bean, lablab bean, mouse-ear vine and Pharoah bean, is a tropical vine that can grow up to 30 feet. Native to the tropical regions of Africa, it is a fast growing vine with sweet pea-like purple flowers. Newer hybrids may also come in white, pink, blue and reddish flowers. Hyacinth bean can be grown as a tender perennial in zones 9-11, but is usually grown as an annual elsewhere. Its midsummer blooms attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The flowers are then followed by deep red-burgundy, flat, sickle-shaped bean pods. Deer and birds are attracted to these pods.

High in protein and vitamin B complex, hyacinth beans have been eaten for centuries all around the world. Because of toxins in the mature beans, hyacinth bean must be cooked thoroughly before eating. Generally, they are boiled and eaten as a vegetable. In India, hyacinth beans are often found in curry dishes. The leaves and flowers are also edible and added to salads or soups. In addition to being an edible legume, hyacinth beans have been used throughout history to treat upset stomachs, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, food poisoning, rheumatoid arthritis, sunstroke and dehydration.

The word “lablab” is an Egyptian word for a rattle, describing how the seeds rattle in the dry pods. Hyacinth bean is also sometimes found as Jefferson Vine because it was reportedly one of his favorite beans to grow at Monticello. In Japan, hyacinth bean is often referred to as Ingen bean because the monk Ingen introduced it to Japan from China. In India, hyacinth bean may commonly be referred to as “val” in many recipes.

How to grow hyacinth bean

Before you start sowing hyacinth beans in your garden, let’s take a look at some quick facts:

  • Hyacinth bean thrives in warm climates and does not tolerate frost
  • It is a vigorous climber, and it will need a support system to grow on
  • This plant is susceptible to overwatering
  • The purple flowers are very showy, so you can also grow purple hyacinth bean as an ornamental vine.

1. When to grow hyacinth beans?

The best time to grow hyacinth beans is in mid-spring or early summer. Like most legumes, it needs warm temperatures and short days to start fruiting. As a result, you will only begin to see flowers and bean pods in late summer, or more commonly, early autumn.

Throughout summer, hyacinth bean plants develop leaves and numerous vines, and it’s not uncommon for this plant to grow as tall as 15 feet (4.5 meters). You will need to provide them with tall trellises or other support systems that they can climb on.

2. Germinating

You can either sow hyacinth bean seeds in the garden directly or start them off indoors in advance. If you plan to germinate the beans indoors, our recommendation is to avoid soaking them in advance.

Hyacinth beans are susceptible to too much water, and soaking the seeds can cause them to rot. Fill some compostable seed pots with a potting soil mix, place one bean in each pot, water regularly, and keep temperatures above 63 °F (17 °C). The seeds should germinate in about 7 days.

Once the hyacinth bean seeds have germinated, it may take up to 3 weeks to grow two or three sets of leaves. Always wait until the seedlings have at least 4 leaves each before you transplant them to the garden soil. This way, you minimize the risk of transplant shock, killing the young plants.

Do hyacinth beans need to be inoculated before sowing?

All bean varieties fix nitrogen in the soil, using small nodules that develop on the roots as the plants grow. This also means that they will need less nitrogen-based fertilizers as they grow. The part of your garden where they are growing will develop nitrogen-rich soil that’s perfect for growing other vegetables the following year.

Many gardeners recommend inoculating beans with Rhizobium before sowing, and hyacinth bean also lends itself to this practice. Rhizobia are bacteria that exist in the root nodules of legumes, and they are the ones that do all the work fixing nitrogen in the soil.

Although they naturally develop as the bean plants grow, inoculating the seeds before sowing will improve the growth of the young plants and fruit production later on. Not only that, but studies also suggest that it enhances the cookability of the beans.

So should you inoculate your hyacinth beans with Rhizobium? The answer is: it depends.

If you’re sowing hyacinth beans in a part of your garden that has held another crop of legumes in the past 1 – 2 years, inoculation will not be necessary. Also, using plenty of organic soil amendments, such as manure, will achieve similar results.

However, if your garden soil is inferior, we suggest inoculating your beans before sowing. It will improve your chances of growing strong, healthy plants, and it will also result in an abundant harvest later on.

3. How to plant hyacinth beans outdoors

When planting hyacinth beans in your garden, always wait until any chance of frost has passed. These plants are not cold hardy, and any sudden drop in temperature will kill them.

The best temperature range for hyacinth bean is between 68 °F and 82 °C (20 °C to 28 °C). If temperatures exceed 86 °F (30 °C), the plant will struggle to produce flowers and fruit. Therefore, the best time to plant outdoors is in mid or late spring.

– Location

Pick a part of your garden that gets plenty of light. Hyacinth bean thrives in full sun and will need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. It can tolerate partial shade, but, like temperatures that are too high, this can impact fruiting later on, and you may be harvesting fewer pods.

Prepare the soil by turning it to a depth of at least 1 foot (30 cm) and incorporating amendments such as compost and well-rotted manure. Proper drainage is crucial for hyacinth beans, as they are susceptible to having wet feet. If the soil is clay-heavy, you will need to add bark, leaf mold, or even sawdust to loosen it. Aim for a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8.

– Support

Another thing you need to prepare before planting hyacinth beans is setting up a support system. On average, these vining plants can grow to at least 8 feet (2.4 meters) in height. You can prune them to keep them in shape, but upright support is essential for a healthy plant. You can either use trellises, a garden wire fence, an arbor, or even a teepee made from bamboo stakes.

Hyacinth beans can also be allowed to climb on solid, wooden fences. However, this provides for insufficient air circulation, and as a result, the plants can become susceptible to fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew.

– Spacing

Once your soil is prepared, your supports are in place, and temperatures are at a cozy 64 °F (18 °C), you can start planting hyacinth beans outdoors. If you’re sowing hyacinth bean seeds, plant them 6 inches (15 cm) apart, and thin them when the young plants have 3 – 4 sets of leaves each.

Plants germinated in compostable pots and kept indoors for a couple of weeks can be planted at least 2 feet (60 cm) apart. Don’t remove them from their compostable pots —dig a small hole, and place the entire pot inside. It will decompose on its own in a month or so.

– Watering

Water your hyacinth beans well, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Like all bean varieties, they are very susceptible to root rot if they are overwatered.

Our suggestion is to regularly check the soil with your finger to a depth of around 2 inches (5 cm). Suppose the soil feels dry, water thoroughly and allow the soil to dry in between waterings. This way, you will encourage the plants to produce deeper, sturdier roots and avoid the danger of ‘drowning’ them.

– Fertilizer

Your hyacinth beans rarely need additional fertilizers. If they have been grown in soil with plenty of organic amendments, especially compost, the nitrogen they fix through their roots is more than enough to keep them going.

However, plants growing in poor garden soil will need a boost once a month after transplanting. In such cases, we recommend fertilizers that are not nitrogen-rich. A nutrient ratio of 5-10-10 should do the job.

– Maintenance

Once they become established in your garden, hyacinth beans grow very fast and will take over their trellises and other supports in just a few weeks. To keep them under control, regular pruning is encouraged. As soon as they reach the top of their trellis, cut off the tip of the vine with a pair of gardening scissors. This will cause the plant to produce lateral vines, allowing for a more even spread of leaves and vines.

Don’t worry about cutting too many vines when pruning your hyacinth beans. New ones will grow from the bottom before you know it and fill in gaps with their abundant growth. Keeping your hyacinth bean plant well-groomed encourages it to spend more energy-producing flowers and reducing the risk of pests and diseases.

Plants clustered or growing in very compact shapes are more likely to be damaged by diseases, especially fungal and viral ones. Not to mention the fact that a messy tangle of vines isn’t the prettiest sight in your garden.

– Hyacinth bean flowers

After about 4 to 6 weeks since being transplanted outdoors, you will start noticing the first hyacinth bean flowers. The blooms are very similar to bean or acacia flowers, usually deep purple, although pale lilac and even white flowers are not uncommon.

They are very showy, and many gardeners grow hyacinth bans for their abundant clusters of flowers, which look spectacular on trellises or garden arbors. Flowers are also very attractive to bees and butterflies, which help with pollination.

If you notice that your hyacinth bean plant is not blooming, there could be several reasons for that.

Lack of flowers is typically a sign of insufficient light or too much nitrogen in the soil. It’s best to refrain from overfeeding your plants, especially with nitrogen-rich fertilizers used to stimulate leaf growth. At the same time, you can encourage your hyacinth bean to produce more flowers by regularly pruning the side vines. Cut the tips and aim for 3 to 4 pairs of leaves per vine, which will prompt the plant to spend more energy on flower development.

– Hyacinth bean pods

Hyacinth beans will produce pods from late summer until mid-autumn. The pods have a unique, vivid purple color, that starts as pink and develops a slight silvery hue as the pods mature.

Just like the flowers, these iridescent bean pods have a high ornamental value. It’s best to note that if you’re growing varieties of hyacinth beans that produce white flowers, the pods will be green, similar in appearance to snow pea pods.

4. Pests and diseases

Hyacinth beans are usually reasonably resistant to pests and diseases. However, they may occasionally be bothered by the same problems as other bean varieties. The plants can become hosts for caterpillars, which will eat the leaves and Japanese beetles. Check your plants daily, and pick these insects by hand, then throw them in a bucket of soapy water.

– Managing and preventing fungal diseases

When grown too closely, in parts of your garden that get poor air circulation or not enough sunlight, hyacinth beans are also prone to fungal diseases. In such cases, a solution of water and baking soda sprayed on the leaves will be the best cure.

Preventing fungal diseases is best, which is why we recommend regular pruning, as well as trying not to pour water on the leaves and vines when watering your plants.

– Rust spots

Other diseases may be a bit more challenging to manage, especially rust. If you notice that the leaves are developing brown or reddish spots, take action immediately, as rust disease spreads very fast.

Use a pair of gardening scissors to cut the infected leaves and vines, and dip the scissors in a bleach and water solution after each cut. Burn any sections that were cut off, or throw them in your general rubbish bin. Do not add them to your compost bin, as rust will spread to other plants in your garden the next time you use it.

– Other problems

You can also use the same control method for dealing with fusarium and verticillium wilt on your hyacinth beans. Sadly, there is no effective cure for these two fungal diseases, and they can persist in your garden soil for many years after the first infection.

Once they attack the plants, regular pruning of the affected leaves and vines can help keep the plant alive. However, our recommendation is to remove the sick beanstalks and roots and burn them to avoid spreading the wilt to the rest of your garden.

5. When to pick hyacinth bean pods

Hyacinth bean pods can be harvested both when they’re young and when the pods have matured. For young pods, wait until each one has at least 3 or 4 beans growing inside, forming small lumps under the shell. You can pick them regularly throughout summer, up until early fall. Snap the stem that connects them to the vine, taking care not to damage the plant in the process.

Mature hyacinth beans should wait until the pods start to wrinkle or until they are fully dry. Usually, this means waiting until mid to late autumn for the harvest. Picking the mature pods is easy and can be done by only using a pair of gardening scissors to cut off the vine they are growing on.

Remove the shells of mature beans, as they are not edible. Inside, the beans should be dark red, brown, or even black, depending on the cultivar. They should also exhibit a white hilum.

– Storing hyacinth bean pods

Fresh hyacinth bean pods can be kept in the vegetable drawer of your fridge for 3 to 4 days, although eating them fresh is best. Mature beans will need to be shelled, and stored in a cool, dry place, preferably in an airtight container. They will keep well for at least a year, and you can either save them for eating or for sowing again next season.

– After the harvest

Hyacinth bean plants will start to wilt around mid-autumn, so once they’ve been harvested, they can be cut down. These plants are commonly grown as annuals, but they can also grow back as perennials, depending on your climate.

For example, if you live in a US hardiness zone of 8 or above, you can cover the plant’s base with mulch, and it will grow new vines in spring. Otherwise, frost is very likely to damage the roots over winter, so it’s best to remove the entire plant and sow the following year.

Hyacinth Bean King The Longest Hyacinth Bean that Can Grow Over 16cm in Length

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Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

The Bean Arbor at Monticello covered in Hyacinth Bean vines. Photo by Robert Llewellyn.

Photo by Robert Llewellyn

Photo by Robert Llewellyn

Photo by Robert Llewellyn

Description: Tropical vine grown as a garden annual rich light and deep purple flowers and burgundy seed pods lush dark green foliage tinged purple

Size: Twining stems grow 6 to 20 feet fast growing

Cultural Information: Prefers rich, well-drained soil and full sun regular feeding

Historical Notes: This ornamental vine is native to the tropical regions of Africa and is cultivated extensively in Asia and North Africa for its edible fruit pods, which, like the flowers, are highly ornamental. The hyacinth bean, also known as Egyptian and Indian bean, was introduced to European gardens by the early 1700s and was sold by American nurserymen by the early 19th century. In 1812, Thomas Jefferson recorded planting "Arbor beans white, scarlet, crimson, purple. at the trees of the level on both sides of the terrasses, and on long walk of [kitchen] garden."1 Although Jefferson does not specifically cite this species, hyacinth bean was sold by his favorite nurseryman, Bernard McMahon, in 1804, and it is possible that Jefferson's "purple" bean was the Dolichos lablab.

Visit Monticello’s Online Shop to check for seeds or plants of Hyacinth Bean.

Typical Blooming Dates: July - November
Growth Type: Annual
Color(s): Pink, Purple, White
Location at Monticello: Vegetable Garden
Planting Conditions: Full Sun

Watch the video: How to Harvest Hyacinth Beans. Gardeners World 2020 UK