Fundamental Facts

ATTRIBUTES: Reddish Foliage; lilac or white dowers, red-violet pods; for trellises
SEASON OF INTEREST: Summer to frost; it is evergreen in warm-winter climates
TYPE OF VINE: Tender perennial; climbs by twining around its support
FAVORITES: 'Giganteus' for large white flowers; 'Ruby Moon' for lilac flowers
QUIRKS: Grows poorly in soggy soil and cool summers
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Marigolds, petunias, salvia, shrubs, small trees, sunflowers
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Sun in fertile, warm, moist soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Fatal root rot when grown in wet soil
RENEWING PLANTS: If evergreen, cut back in spring; otherwise reseed
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good except for rabbits
SOURCE: Bedding plants
DIMENSIONS: To 18 ft {5.5 m) long

Hyacinth Bean in the Landscape

A fast-growing vine with handsome foliage, flowers, and seedpods, hyacinth bean is grown as a food plant in India, where both the young pods and the fresh seeds are eaten. In this country, hyacinth bean is usually grown for its good looks, particularly in areas where summers are hot. 'Giganteus' is a cultivar with exceptionally large white flowers; 'Ruby Moon' has lilac-colored 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 the 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 neighbor tall enough to shoulder a vine that tops out somewhere between 10-18 ft (3-5.5 m). 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 4 in (10.2 cm) 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 2 in (5.1 cm) thick layer of compost or leaf mold. Incorporate a low-nitrogen fertilizer, such as a 5-10-10 formula, according to package directions. Set the seeds 12 in (30.5 cm) 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, rapidly twining as much as 18 ft (5.5 m) in length, so make sure the supports are already in place at planting time. Apply a 3 in (7.6 cm) thick mulch of chopped leaves or compost, and fertilize monthly with a granular, low-nitrogen fertilizer high in phosphorus and potash, such as 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, and disease problems, other than root rot when grown in soggy soil, are almost nonexistent. 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 frosts kill the vines, pull them out of the garden and compost them. In mild winter climates, where hyacinth bean lives from year to year, it will benefit from occasional pruning to manage its shape and size.

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