Growing hops in your garden is easy, but a hop plant needs support.
This is contrary to the typical concerns for most green fingered gardeners, who worry about the soil, sunshine aspect or even drainage.
Hops act like monstrous weeds in the manner they snake their way up toward the light tackling all grippable obstacles along the way. Having said that, no gardener should be put off by the mention of the emotive ‘weed’ word. Hop plants make for a tremendous, lush, green cover for any fence or wall.
But how do you plant a hop in the garden?
You can start from seed or start from a cutting – more on cuttings in this separate post.
Here, we’ll talk about how easy it is growing from a rhizome / bare root or even a young plant.
Planting & growing tips:
- When to plant out?
Wintertime: Get the root (technically a rhizome) into the ground in the winter or very early springtime, whilst the plant is still dormant, its energy is still confined to the rootstock and shoots are tiny or not even started yet.
Rhizomes become available for delivery (there are plenty of online shops) from January to around March. The same timing applies if you’re planting out a root cutting, except you might get the chance to plant out even earlier, which is fine so long as it’s well after harvest once the plant has died off (stems have gone wooden and brittle rather than green).
- Where to plant?
Wherever there’s a chance for support. A hop will flourish best in good sunshine, preferably against a south facing support (for UK and northern hemisphere). At the Old Town Brewery garden we grow two of ours against south facing walls, giving great growth and healthy hop cones each year.
Other factors that will always help include:
– Rich soil – full of nutrients. Add compost wherever possible.
– Sheltered – minimal wind will help the young shoots develop stress free.
They’re pretty resilient things, so although moist soil is best the deep root system means they’re battle through dry periods without noticeable impact.
- What about digging in?
Dig a nice deep hole and plant the root so that the early shoot tips are just below, or level with, the soil surface. If you’re planted it out too high already, you can just pile up some mulch / compost around the base in order to semi-bury those shoots.
The photo above is taken after the bines have got going in springtime.
- Do I need to care for the plant?
Barely. The critical tasks for a healthy and beautiful hop plant are:
1. Support! Support! Support! – We use a simple wire system that runs from the base outward diagonally, before connecting up to the primary horizontal wires. Many people use twine / string including professional growers. However, we also have hops growing up various different other plants including grape vines, trees (one pear and a fig) and a buddleia bush. So, give them a chance and they’ll find a way to climb.
2. Training the bines – The bines (stems / shoots / vines) need a helping hand in attaching to the support. Remember to wind them around in a clockwise direction to allow them to chase the sunshine throughout the day. This simply involves you spiralling it around the wire/string as encouragement to take the direction you want. If left to its own accord the plant will opt for upwards, but we start them off running diagonally up and even horizontally to get maximum coverage of the dull wall behind.
Below is how the hops will look mid season in late July / early August and already giving a full lush coverage.
- Harvest Time!!
Come September (early/mid) the hop flowers will be maturing and ready for harvest. You’ll know when they’re ready due to a few traits:
1. Papery Cones – the leaves will become crisp, light and papery. They will have dried and start to open slightly and should spring back when you give them a squeeze.
2. Lupulin Glands – a yellow powder will start to become visible. These are sticky yellow clusters of lupulin that look like pollen. The are stored inside the hop but become more visible on the outside as the hops ripen.
3. Aroma – the classic hop smells will get stronger as the hops mature. If you cannot smell much then patience may well be the answer. Saying that, we’ve found wild hops with a subtle aroma even when they were clearly ready.
4. Colour – The cones will start to turn brown, starting at the tips or along one side. This is normal and a good signal, despite looking a bit like a burning or plant disease. The hops may also become a lighter green, generally.
It’s a little tricky to know when is the right time during your first year, but the risk in getting it wrong is very low. In fact, there is good scientific evidence that shows more benefit in harvesting a little later than too early. So we always recommend waiting if unsure.
Check out our other tips and guides pages: