By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
If you’re a beer lover, you know the importance of hops. Home beer brewers need a ready supply of the perennial vine, but it also makes an attractive trellis or arbor covering. Hops grow from a perennial crown and cuttings are made from the bines or shoots. Hops plants are hardy in USDA growing zones 3 to 8. Keeping the crown alive during the cold months requires a little protection.
Winterizing hops plants is easy and fast but the small effort will protect the roots and crown and ensure new sprouts in spring. Once you understand how to winter over hop plants, these attractive and useful vines can be yours to use and enjoy season after season.
Once temperatures get below freezing, hops plant leaves fall off and the vine dies back. In temperate zones, the roots and crown rarely receive a lethal freeze, but it’s best to be safe and protect the growth zone during the cold season. This is especially important where freezes are sustained and the winter is long.
With proper preparation, growing hops in winter are hardy to minus -20 F. (-20 C.) and will regrow in spring. The new sprouts in spring are very sensitive to frost, however, and can be killed if frozen overnight. Therefore, hops winter care should extend into spring in case of late cold snaps.
Hops have a taproot that can extend 15 feet (4.5 m.) into the ground. This part of the plant isn’t threatened by cold weather, but the peripheral feeder roots and crown of the vine can be killed. The top roots are only 8 to 12 inches (20.5 to 30.5 cm.) below the surface of the soil.
A heavy layer of organic mulch at least 5 inches (13 cm.) thick helps protect the roots from freezes. You can also simply use a plastic tarp for winterizing hops plants when the greenery has died back.
Before you mulch, cut the vines 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 next season. The vines tend to sprout easily, so don’t leave them to compost on the ground.
If you want to start another generation of hops, place cut stems around the base of the plant and then cover them with the mulch. Pull away the mulch when all danger of frost has passed. Not much activity is happening to growing hops in winter, as the plant is dormant. This easy method will help your hops plants overwinter and produce a delicious home brew.
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Golden hops are prized for their yellow-green leaves, and used as an ornamental vine that grows up fences or trellises, providing privacy and background greenery. Hops are also an ingredient in beer, making them a prized plant for home brewers. As a perennial, plant hops continue to grow and produce every year, though they die back in the winter and the old vines need removed. Plant golden hops in spring after the last expected frost date has passed.
Choose an area with full sun and well-draining soil. Place a 3 to 6 inch layer of compost over the planting area and add 2 tablespoons of general-purpose fertilizer per plant. Till the compost into the soil to aid drainage and soil nutrition.
Install a trellis behind the planting area, or plant hops along a fence. Vines require a support structure to climb.
Dig a 12-inch deep trench that is 1 inch longer than the hops rhizome, or root section that the plant grows from. Set the rhizome in the trench with the buds facing up and cover with 1 inch of soil. Space rhizomes 3 feet apart.
Lay a 2-inch layer of mulch over the planting. Mulching preserves soil moisture and prevents weed growth. Water the planting area after sowing until the soil is moist, then continue to water as necessary to maintain moisture.
Prune off all the shoots from each rhizome except the three strongest ones when they are 1 foot long. Guide the remaining shoots onto the trellis and wind them on clockwise until they begin climbing it on their own.
Cut back the vines to 2 feet in fall once they begin to die back. Bury the vines in the trench if you wish to propagate more hops, as the buried vines will produce buds.
Fertilize the following spring with additional compost and general purpose fertilizer. Add a ½ teaspoon of nitrogen fertilizer in mid-summer.
Harvest the flower cones in early autumn when they dry and feel papery. Dry them for a week before using them in beer-making.
Mature vines may reach up to 12 feet in height.
Hops are prone to some mildews and insect infestations. Provide good air circulation and prevent weeds from growing around the plants to prevent these issues.