Hops Planting Guide

Beer brewers, you know you want to grow your own hops. Here’s your chance. Chinook, Crystal, Cascade, Nugget and our other varieties are some of the most popular hops for brewing and these plants are winter hardy to chilly zone 5 (winter temperature of -20F or warmer). Fragrant, flavorful, pretty and sturdy – the hops varieties here offer it all. Oh yes, and organically grown in sunny fields outside of Boulder, Colorado.

Plant this spring and soon you’ll be saying "Ah, yes, I brewed this Russian River Blind Pig IPA . . . from hops I grew out back.” Pride swell. And how fun to know that it's just the beginning of the pale ales to come.

Here's how to grow hops, aka humulus lupulus, plants.
 

Planting Information

Choosing a Growing Site

Planning to grow beer hops? Look for a sunny site, ideally one that receives 6-8+ hours per day. Hops will grow in light shade but won’t produce as well and the plants won’t be as robust. These perennial plants grow very tall over the season so plan accordingly. It’s not uncommon for hops vines to mature to 20-25 feet, growing up or sideways. They will need a trellis, open design fence, pergola or similar structure. If you are serious about brewing beer and plan to grow several types of hops, place the individual types in separate areas so they don’t grow together over time, making it hard to determine which cones are attached to which plants. (Our original plantings were 5 feet apart and that was too close. The bines intertwined and it was next to impossible to figure out which variety was which.)

Soil Preparation

While not fussy, hops appreciate rich, well-aerated soil with good drainage. Dig a foot deep, add some balanced fertilizer and a few handfuls of compost, and turn in. If your soil happens to still be frozen when your hops root arrives, leave it in the plastic bag it was shipped in and store in the refrigerator for a week or two until your soil thaws. We hold orders until the expected appropriate planting time in your region, based on historical temperature averages, so the timing should be close.

When to Plant Hops Rhizomes

Plant the hops rhizomes outdoors in spring when frost danger has past, soil has warmed a bit and is workable. Hops plants are winter hardy once established, but during their first spring, plant after danger of frost has past to allow the plants to settle in.

How to Plant Hops 

Place the rhizomes, or root cuttings, 4” deep with the root fibers facing downwards. Don't worry if some side roots are facing up and some down; this doesn't need to be exact and rhizomes vary a lot. Cover with soil. Pat to eliminate any air pockets and water well to settle the soil around the rhizomes. Sprouts will appear in 2 – 4 weeks depending on the soil temperature.

During the Growing Season

Hops plants grow quickly and need more than average amounts of water. In dry climates, during the heat of summer and with very well drained soil, hops plants may require daily irrigation, especially while they settle in. If foliage droops midday that's an indication that additional water is likely to be beneficial. As the stems grow, train them onto your supports. Stringing up course twine for the stems to grip is a good way to guide the fast growing shoots.

Fun fact: hop bines climb and hold fast thanks to stiff hairs along the stems. This is what distinguishes them from vines, which grip and hold with tendrils. This also means you may want to wear light gloves when working with your plants, to protect your fingers. 

At the Season’s End

Harvest in late summer when the hops cones are dry to the touch, springy, exude a very strong hops odor and leave some yellow lupulin powder on your fingers. Exact timing varies depending on hops variety, seasonal weather and where you are located in the United States. Check daily and confirm ripeness by picking a test cone. Pull open; it should be filled with thick lupulin powder if it is ripe. Cones that receive more sunlight may ripen a few days before those that are partly shaded by foliage; be aware that you may want to harvest some cones a few days later than other ones. Dry the cones in a paper bag for a week or ten days, opening and shaking gently to redistribute every few days. Store in the freezer in a plastic bag that has had the air squeezed out to prevent oxidation.

Once established - usually after just a season or two - you'll see that growing hops and harvesting from your own plants is both easy and fun. After all, fabulous flavor and aroma in your finished beer comes mostly from ultra fresh hops. And that's what you want for your brew, right?

Spent bines can be trimmed in late fall or left in place over the winter; sometimes they are useful as a visual or wind block. Cut to within a few inches of the ground in late winter before new spring growth appears. Once new season sprouts appears - often early and they are fast growing - it can be challenging to work around the fresh sprouts to snip and pull out last year's dead stems.

Insider Tips

  1. Hops can be poisonous to dogs. Do not plant where your dog might chew and ingest.
  2. Hop bines grow very tall, often over 20 feet. For landscape use where space is limited, that growth can be directed sideways to cover a chain link fence or other less-than-beautiful structure.
  3. Cut back to hops plants in late fall if you don't like the look of the dried stems and foliage. Trim stems to a few inches above the soil in late winter, before new growth emerges. Trimming out the old stems after the new have started to sprout is no fun.
  4. When you trim your hops (use gloves, these can be a bit prickly) at the end of the season, repurpose the cut stems. Twist into simple circles, tucking the ends into the body as your go. Press the sides to round out the results. These bines make pretty wreaths and lush frames around centerpieces on large dining tables. Cut hops start out bright green and age to a lovely autumnal gold.
  5. Root prune your plants to contain them. Each spring, dig a 15" circle, 12" deep into the soil around each plant. This helps to keep the plants confined and their energy focused on top growth.
  6. Iso-alpha acids are created when fresh or dried hops are added to the boiling liquid during the brewing process. These acids are what produce the hops bitter flavor associated with so many beer styles.   
shop hops
shop hops

Success Snapshot

Light: Full sun

Soil: Fertile and well drained

Depth: Plant 4" deep

Water: Generous moisture

Uses: Beer brewing and covering trellises

Tip: Choose a planting location thoughtfully; hops grow huge

GUIDE: Hops Planting Guide

They Start Out Looking Like This: