About Hop Growing Zones
Planting, growing, and harvesting hops is just as easy as growing tomatoes. In addition to flavoring your home-brewed beer, your crop can also serve as a decorative landscape element. Imagine your sunny porch shaded by 15-foot vines and their bright green leaves.
Hops are deciduous, perennial vines that grow 15 to 25 feet tall and will climb a trellis, arbor or other structure. The lush foliage creates a quick visual barrier during the growing season and the green papery flowers attract butterflies to the garden in late summer. Hops are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8.
In the hardiness range for hops, in USDA zones 3 through 8, winter temperatures regularly drop well below freezing. In winter, the foliage dies back to the ground while the roots remain alive under the soil. Dormant roots are hardy to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but new growth is susceptible to frost. Planted too early in the growing season, a late frost could kill your hop plants.
During the growing season, hops thrive in a temperature range between 40 and 70 F. The plants tolerate a wide range of precipitation levels, thriving in areas that get as little as 12 inches and as much as 53 inches of rain per year. Generally drought-tolerant, hops have a deep root system that will tap underground water tables 5 feet below the soil. In areas with deeper water tables and limited precipitation, you will need to monitor and regularly water the hops.
Planting and Growing Hops
Plant hops in full sun for best growth and flowering within the growing zone. You can grow hops successfully in areas warmer than the climate zone range by providing some summer shade. In areas where summer temperatures regularly rise above 70 F, plant hops in part shade, two to four hours of sun per day, to provide protection for the foliage and prevent sun scorch on the leaves and flowers.
Root System and Water
In areas where the water table is lower than 5 feet, water hops when the top 1 to 2 inches of the soil feels dry to the touch. Water slowly and deeply to allow water to seep down around the roots. Hops have both deep roots and lateral growing shallow roots. Your fresh plants are grown from rhizomes, short segments of roots harvested off older plants. You can mail-order dormant rhizomes ready for planting in the early spring. Local home-brew-supply stores stock the rhizomes or offer potted 2-year-old hop plants.
Hops can be grown in just about any moderate climate in the U.S., but do best in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9. Some varieties are more heat-resistant and others resistant to molds, diseases and pests. But once they are established, hops are hardy plants. Insect pests like aphids sometimes attack hops, but those can be controlled easily by introducing ladybugs that dine on aphids or by spraying your plants with a mild insecticidal soap solution available at garden stores.
Hops are perennial, producing vines that grow up to 25 feet each year. Provide a sturdy trellis to support the vines in a sunny part of your yard or garden. The plants need six to eight hours of full sun to produce well. Planting the vines along a tall fence or against the side of your porch or garage is also an option.
How to Plant
Once you’ve chosen your spot, till the soil thoroughly and add compost to provide good drainage. Hops plants don’t like their roots too wet. Plant your rhizomes in early spring after the danger of frost has passed.
Mound each rhizome in dirt, spaced 3 to 5 feet apart and horizontally about 1 to 2 inches deep with the small buds pointing up. Within a week, you could see your first shoots emerge. Then step back. Hops can grow as much as a foot per day during the first few months.
Your plants will appreciate a supplemental feeding of compost, manure, or fertilizer during the first few months. Mulching your crop will help conserve moisture and cut down on weeds.
You can let your imagination go wild when constructing your trellis. Others keep it simple by running a single strong support wire from one side of a building’s eave to the other and attaching strong twine to the top wire, extending vertically to each plant. The plants are then trained to wind around the vertical twine in a clockwise direction. Gently get the vines started when they are about a foot tall. They will climb to the top wire in short order.
You may not see many cones in year one. The plant is concentrating on producing its root system. But by year two, you’ll be rewarded with your first harvest, up to a pound or more per plant. In late July and August, pinch a cone. If it feels papery, it’s ready to pick. If you break the cone open, you’ll see small, yellow particles inside. This is lupulin, the magic ingredient that gives beer its distinctive bitterness and aroma.
CAUTION: Never allow your dog to eat the cones, before or after brewing with them. The cones, both fresh and dried, are toxic to dogs, causing panting, high body temperatures, seizures, and even death.
Drying Your Harvest
After they’re picked, the cones need to be dried. In an electric food dehydrator, spread your cones evenly and set at its lowest setting (90 to 100 degrees F, and never over 140 degrees.) Your cones are dry and ready when the stems are brittle. You can add them to your brew right after drying, or vacuum seal and store them in the freezer. Advanced home brewers use fresh cones right off the vines without drying for a particularly fresh tasting brew.
Hop Growing Zones Article
Buy Bulk Hops from our friends at Michigan Hop Alliance