Hops Growing Tips for success

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A standard hops rhizome from The Thyme Garden will have two sets of growth nodes, as pichtured here. Try to decipher which direction they are going to grow, and place the root in the ground vertically with the growth nodes facing up.

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A rooted rhizome is often much easier to tell which way is up. The white/pink growth nodes are the top, they go up, and the brown/gold roots are on the bottom and should be placed at the bottom of your hole. Water the hops well the first year, especially during the hot, dry summer.

An example of a hops rhizome planted upside down

The struggle was real for this hop, which was planted upside down and grew from the bottom of the rhizome backwards out of the soil. When in doubt, go ahead and plant your rhizome horizontally to avoid causing your new babies this trauma.

We harvest our rhizomes in February and begin shipping at the beginning of March. Pre-ordering helps to insure you get the best selection. When you receive your rhizomes you can keep them in the refrigerator in the plastic bags they came in for up to three months. Take care they don’t dry out or make them too moist and cause them to rot. Never, ever, EVER put your hops in the freezer. They WILL die.


What kind of soil do I need to grow great hops?

A well-drained, sandy loam with a ph of 6 to 7.5 is best for hops. If you have heavy clay soil you will need to add some compost to break it up. Till the soil where you intend to plant your hops so it is pretty fine and loose and free of weeds and grass. I dig a hole 18-24” in diameter and 8-10” deep where I’m going to plant the rhizome and add aged compost to the soil as I fill it back in. We plant our rhizomes 3 ½’ apart in the row with the rows 7’ apart. A common spacing for commercial growers is 7’ apart in rows and rows 7-10’ apart to allow for equipment to pass through. I would keep different varieties at least 7’ apart so they don’t grow together and get mixed. Remember they are all female so you don’t have to worry about them cross-pollinating, but be sure to label each variety and even keep a map of your field with the varieties noted as back up, as things tend to happen to labels sometimes.

How many hops should I plant?

An acre, which is 66’ by 660’,  planted in the 7x7 grid would take 950 rhizomes. An acre with the dimensions of 208’ by 208’ would take 900 so amounts will vary depending on the shape of your hop yard.

How EXACTLY should I plant my hops rhizomes?

You can either plant your rhizomes horizontally or vertically. I prefer vertical because they come with two growth rings; the advantage of planting them vertically is that if the top buds get destroyed, the bottom ones can take over. Either way, plant them with the buds about 1 ½ inches under the surface (a little less if you are going to top dress with mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.) Keep them watered the first year so they can produce a good root system. The roots can eventually go down 15 feet. Don’t expect much cone production the first year while they are establishing a root system and crown. Second year growth will begin a more serious cone production. Rooted rhizomes require a slightly different planting technique; watch a short video to see how we plant our rooted rhizomes.


How should I feed my hops plants?

In spring, feed your hops with fertilizer high in nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Add a layer of aged manure to retain moisture and reduce the amount of commercial fertilizer needed. Your second year hops won’t require much watering because they will have gone deep with their roots. To avoid spread of disease drip irrigation is recommended. 
A common practice is to cut off the first growth of bines. Three to four weeks later a new batch of healthier more vigorous bines will be produced. This also has an added benefit of eliminating vegetation during a period when downy mildew is active. Select two to three bines per string and four to five per mound. Remove the rest.

Do I need to support my hops plants with a trellis or something?

The plants will need to grow up something. Happy hops will grow 20-25 feet tall. The most common approach is to use twine for them to wind around (keep in mind they naturally twirl clockwise!) Then, in fall, when they turn yellow and die back, you can cut it all down and discard it. We have them growing on the fence that lines our driveway along our herb garden. The fence is only six feet high, so it takes a little effort to train them to grow horizontally and it’s also a bit of a pain to get the dead bines off the fence. I say a bit of a pain, because I don’t do it — Bethany does.

- Rolfe, Founder and Hops Aficionado