"Hops" is a popular word these days, especially here in Colorado. As well as being at the forefront of the craft beer industry, Humulus lupulus also makes an excellent vine for the garden trellis or pergola.
Historically, hop flowers were used as a sedative and in elixirs. It wasn't until the ninth century that hops was used in beer, originally for its preservation properties and then for flavor and the foamy head. It lends the classic bitterness to beer that is so well loved by craft beer enthusiasts.
This hardy, cold-tolerant perennial climber has been bred for the various flavors of flowers and each variety is beautiful as a vine. Plants either have male or female flower cones and it is the female cone that is used in beer. Male plants and female plants perform equally well as an ornamental climber, privacy screen, or fence covering. The leaves are coarsely toothed and may cause a skin irritation in a small percentage of people so it would be wise to wear gardening gloves when pruning or harvesting.
Hops grow happily in part-sun and fertile, well-drained soil. You'll have your best crop in full sun but if you are growing them as a privacy screen or decorative wall vine then part-sun is just fine. Always amend your soil and water regularly until your new plant is established.
We encourage you to prune your hops during the early growing season to help with air circulation and minimize pests and disease. When the plant starts to come up in the spring, cut back all but 2 or 3 of the healthiest canes. To prevent massive tangling, keep cutting new shoots as they pop up during the summer. If you are planting hops for privacy then there is no need to prune so drastically.
The two main health problems your hop plant could run into are aphids and powdery mildew. Preventative measures involve keeping good airflow, through pruning, and using caution not to overwater.
Backyard brewers and home gardeners do not need the scale of trellising that a commercial hops grower does. A trellis, pergola, or arch will work nicely for several plants. You can also train hops to run up your wall or a fence by using eye hooks and small twine to create a discrete trellis. Hops can grow a foot a day so providing structure during the summer is important. At the end of fall, the plant dies back to a rhizome and goes dormant until spring.
Technically, hops are bines not vines. While vines send out tendrils from their vertical stems to grab a support, bines use the sharp hairs on their twisted stems to climb. Examples of vines are grapes, sweet peas, and clematis. Examples of bines are hops, honeysuckle, and runner beans. Or you could just remember:
"Beer takes bines and wine takes vines"
If you are going to be harvesting your hops you'll want to wait until mid-August or September. It's better to pick overripe hop cones than under-ripe. You can read more about the harvesting and storing process here.
Did you know hops are great for chickens? They contain bitter acids known to be potent antimicrobials. These control pathogenic bacteria in the intestines of chickens.
*Please be cautious with your hops harvest around cats and dogs as it can cause high fever and even death.
Some varieties we grow at Gulley Greenhouse:
- Mt. Hood