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How to Grow Hop Rhizomes and Plan Your Garden

Hops are a wonderful addition to any backyard or homestead. In addition to making homebrews more delicious, they are a beautiful backyard perennial bine that anyone can grow.

What are Hop Rhizomes?

Hop Rhizomes are tiny root cuttings from a mature female hop plant, and are used to grow an entire new hop plant. Hop rhizomes should be planted almost immediately, and should be kept cold and moist until planted. Growing hops at home is easy! The hop plant itself is very resilient, and grows large root structures, so just planting a piece of root in the ground will grow a brand new hop plant.

Prepping your Garden

Before you begin planting your hop rhizomes, you should plan your hop garden! Hops have a lot of needs. Those include sun, space, support, and nutrient rich soil with good drainage. 

Sun: Hops love the sun, and it’s best to plant them with southern exposure. Generally, the more sun, you can give your hops, the better off you’ll be. 

Space: Rhizomes of the same variety should be planted 3-5 feet away from each other, and rhizomes of separate varieties should be planted 5-7 feet apart. 

Good Soil: To have a very successful hop garden, you’ll want to provide your rhizomes with nutrient rich soil that has good drainage. If you do not have access to soil with good drainage, build a small mound to plant the rhizome in. The planting area should also be a pH between 6 and 8. 

Support Structures for Hops: Hops can reach 15-20 feet high if allowed. That means your plants will need plenty of support as they grow. Hop bines are great climbers, so you’ll want to be sure to have a fence or wall for them to climb. You can also train them clockwise up a piece strong twine or a long pole or stake. 

Companion Plants: Companion planting with hops can enhance crop growth and provide a decoy for pesky critters.

  • Chives planted near hops seem to keep aphids away from cones and new shoots. 
  • Coriander can repel spider mites and aphids, which often plague hops bines. 
  • Anise is another good plant. The pungent scent deters many pests and the plant is a host for predatory wasps, which will eat sap sucking aphids. 
  • Yarrow increases the vigor of plants nearby, while attracting ladybugs and beneficial wasps. The leaves of yarrow are also an excellent fertilizer when composted around hops.

Once you have your garden planned and ready to go, it’s time to plant your rhizomes.

Growing Hop Rhizomes

Follow these simple steps to grow a happy, full hop plant!

Step 1: Once your rhizomes are ordered and picked up/delivered, you should store them in the fridge until ready to plant. 

Step 2: When you’re ready to plant (after the last risk of frost), plant the rhizome 2-3 inches deep. If your rhizome comes budding or starts budding before planting, make sure to plant your bud facing upwards. If your rhizome has not budded yet, it can be planted either horizontally or vertically – they will figure it out!

Step 3: In the first year of growth, your hops’ root systems will still be small and maturing, so the soil should be kept well watered. Hops like their roots wet, but some care should be taken to not soak the leaves or keep the soil wet all of the time. This could run the risk of rotting the rhizome. Using mulch can help lock in moisture. 

Pro tip! Hop plants also love fertilizer. However, too much fertilizer can give the plant too much nitrogen. If that happens, your plant will be very robust and healthy, but the cones will have a lower alpha acid percentage. 

Step 4: As your hop plant matures, it can go a little crazy (like a teenager), sending several shoots – you should think about trimming them down to the healthiest two or three. This will ensure the new plant’s energy is focused on having a few very healthy shoots with more production than many shoots with less production. 

Pro tip! This principle can also be applied to most fruiting plants and bushes. 

Step 5: There are two stages of growth for your hops. 

The bines will begin to grow vertically until they reach their maximum height (this is usually around June). You can train the plants to run horizontally instead. Going horizontal is great if you have a fence. Let the hops climb to the top of the fence, and then train them in one direction (try not to zig zag). 

That’s it! Your hops will be ready to harvest in August or September. 

You can tell your hops are ready when they start to dry out. One indicator of ripeness is if you squeeze a cone, it will pop back out to its original shape. 

Winterizing your Hop Plant

Once you harvest your hop plant for the season, it is time to start preparing for the cold, harsh winter! 

Once temperatures get below freezing, hops plant leaves fall off and the bine dies back. Proper preparation is required in temperate climates in order to protect the roots and crown of your hop plant.

To avoid freezing and harsh conditions, a heavy layer of organic mulch at least 5 inches thick can be laid to protect the roots from freezes. Or you can simply use a plastic tarp for winterizing hops plants when the greenery has died back.

Before you mulch or tarp, cut the bines back to the crown. Wait until the first frost when you see the leaves dropping off so the plant can gather solar energy as long as possible to store in the roots for the winter season. 

Hops winter care should extend into spring in case of late cold snaps. Your plant should sprout up again when the warmer weather returns! 

Happy gardening season!