Care-free vines: hyacinth bean

A fast-growing vine with handsome foliage, flowers and seedpods, hyacinth bean is a great addition to your garden. Here's a guide to growing these vines:

Care-free vines:  hyacinth bean

The benefits of hyacinth bean vines

Hyacinth beans are grown as a food plant in India, where both the young pods and fresh seeds are eaten. In this country, hyacinth bean is usually grown for its good looks, particularly in areas where summers are hot. They look beautiful and are self-sustaining once they have been planted.

  • 'Giganteus' is a cultivar with exceptionally large white flowers.
  • 'Ruby Moon' has lilac-coloured flowers.
  • This energetic climber is clad in large, segmented reddish leaves that make an attractive display throughout the growing season.
  • By midsummer, the ornamental leaves are accented by clusters of fragrant purple or white flowers resembling those of sweet pea.
  • After blossoms fade, they are followed by large, flat, red-violet seedpods as shiny as patent leather.
  • New flowers open, and beans form until summer's end.
  • Hyacinth bean is a vigorous vine that is able to climb several different types of trellises. The twining vines will wind themselves through chain-link fencing, scramble over a tripod of poles or turn strings or bird netting into a lush green screen.
  • They can even climb up the stalks of tall sunflowers or any other sturdy neighbour tall enough to shoulder a vine that tops out somewhere between 3 and 5.5 metres (10 and 18 feet).
  • Shrubs and small trees are particularly suitable for the job.

Growing hyacinth bean

Hyacinth bean is easy to raise from seed.

  • Where the growing season is short, start seeds indoors a month before the last frost.
  • Soak the seeds overnight in warm water.
  • Plant one seed to each 10 centimetre (four inch) pot of moistened potting soil, barely covering the seeds with soil.
  • Place the pots on a sunny windowsill and keep the soil moist and at room temperature until the seedlings are sturdy and it is warm enough to plant them outdoors in the garden.
  • Seeds can also be sown directly in the garden when the soil warms.
  • Loosen the soil and dig in a five-centimetre-thick (two-inch-thick) layer of compost or leaf mould.
  • Incorporate a granular, low-nitrogen fertilizer high in phosphorus and potash, such as a 5-10-10 formula, according to package directions.
  • Set the seeds 30 centimetres (12 inches) apart and barely cover them with soil.
  • Keep the soil constantly moist until the seedlings are sturdy.
  • When grown in warm temperatures and provided with water as needed to prevent wilting, hyacinth bean grows with lightning speed, so make sure the supports are already in place at planting time.
  • Apply an eight-centimetre-thick (three-inch-thick) layer of mulch, such as chopped leaves or compost, and fertilize monthly with 5-10-10, applied at half strength, to promote vigorous growth.
  • Care-free hyacinth beans have tiny sharp hairs on their leaves that effectively defend them from most insect pests.
  • Disease problems, other than root rot when grown in soggy soil, are almost non-existent.
  • Rabbits may nibble young plants. If so, cover seedlings with pest-excluding floating row cover, a non-woven fabric, or bird netting until mature leaves form.
  • After fall frost kills the vines, pull them out of the garden and compost them. In mild winter climates, where hyacinth bean may live from year to year, it will benefit from occasional pruning to manage its shape and size.

Versatile and attractive, hyacinth bean is a great way to take advantage of vertical space in your garden -- especially trees and sturdy flowers. Not only that, but they are almost completely self-sufficient. Once you establish a solid growth, these vines take care of themselves!

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