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Pole beans are phaseolus vulgaris, or “common bean”. The term Pole means that the plant is a climbing bean, a vine which will grow up poles, corn, fences, lazy dogs, etx – they can get vigourous under the right conditions. I’ve seen pole beans 20’ up the side of a barn. Bush beans are also phaseolus vulgaris, and will cross breed with pole beans if you really try. The difference is that Bush refers to a genetic trait which retards the climbing nature of the bean, and strengthens the stems, allowing it to stand on it’s own stem, rather than supporting it’s weight on another object. The big difference is that per square foot, pole beans are at least twice as productive as bush beans. But you need to erect something for them to grow on, or plant them next to a fence.

Runner beans are phaseolus coccineus, a different breed which will not cross pollinated with phaseolus vulgaris. AFAIK, all runner beans have the “Pole” trait, and are climbers – well, at least all of the most common garden and ornamental varieties. Runner beans are known for their “pretty flowers”, generally a scarlet or scarlet and white combination – and are commonly grown as a climbing ornamental.

As for container growing – sure thing!

Pole beans do awesome in containers. One of my five favorite container plants actually, peas, pole-beans, cucumbers, mesclun/leaf lettuce, and peppers.

Just give them something to climb. The traditional typee works, but in containers I’ve had more luck using a “T” made out a 4’ and 3’ piece of scrap lumber, with five or more (depending on container size) cords running from the T to holes drilled in the walls of the container. I used a 20 gallon flower pot that I picked up out of somebody’s trash last year. Only problem is that the beans hang inside the massive dome of leaves that you’ll get from this set up. Not as easy to pick as in the garden, but more productive per square foot I believe.
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