Growing hops at home is fun, easy, and rewarding—and it’s not just for homebrewers either. Hops offer both aesthetic value and a conversation piece to any backyard landscape. Whether you live in the Midwest, Northeast, or Northwest it doesn’t matter—hops can be grown in any moderate climate with proper care. But how does the process work?
Hop vines (called bines) grow from a rhizome—a piece of root taken from a mature plant. Within just a few weeks of planting, noticeable growth occurs in the form of several hop shoots peeking out of the ground. Growth can be very vigorous with bines growing up to two feet per week until mid-summer at which point growth slows and the plant enters into the flowering stage. Hop bines can reach upwards of 20 feet in height, so it is vital that space is planned for appropriately.
Hop rhizomes are available once per year, typically in March and April, and can be purchased from a variety of local stores, namely Great Fermentations in Indianapolis, or from internet retailers like Midwest Brewing or Northern Brewer for around $5 each. Most suppliers carry a good assortment of rhizomes to choose from, but I recommend starting with one of the three C’s: Cascade, Centennial, or Columbus hops.
These varieties are some of the more popular to use in brewing pale ales and IPAs and are known for their citrus characteristics which can be found in Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale or Bell’s Two Hearted IPA. When you get your rhizomes, be sure to keep them refrigerated and well ventilated until you’re ready to plant.
Hops need lots of sunlight, around six to eight hours a day. So when choosing a location to plant, a spot with southern exposure is best. Eastern or western exposure will work, but your hop cones may not be as bountiful.
Hops prefer well-aerated soil that is rich in nutrients and has good drainage. If you’re going to plant several varieties, keep them separated in your garden. Mixed varieties should be least five feet apart to prevent tangling. Identical varieties can be planted as close as three feet apart.
The rhizomes can be planted vertically or horizontally. If the rhizome is already starting to bud, plant it in a position so the buds are pointed upward. In either case, fertilize liberally, place the rhizomes about four inches deep, and cover with soil.
Hops like to climb, so planting close to a fence, trellis, pergola, or post is a good idea. Many people incorporate twine to foster growth. This can be done by fastening twine to a stake in the ground and attaching it to a secure area 20 feet above the growing area. Once the bines are about one foot in length, you will need to train the shoots by wrapping them clockwise around your twine. They will continue to grow up the twine, but will occasionally need to be trained.
First year hops are young and have not quite established full root systems. Because of this, soil should not be allowed to remain dry for long. Mulching the planted surface will help the roots by conserving moisture, aiding in drainage, and preventing weeds. However the soil does need to occasionally dry out as continual over watering can cause the rhizomes to rot. Small additions of fertilizer can also be added throughout the season to assist in growth if desired.
With that, your hops should be off to a great start and will offer a unique visual interest to your landscape throughout the growing season. Stay tuned for Hops Part 2: Harvesting and Using Your Hops this August.