Grow Your Own Microbrew! How to Grow Hops

As an ornamental gardener, I’m used to growing hops as a summer screen for chicken coops, bare walls and other elements in the garden that can be unsightly. It’s easy to grow, but needs to be sited just right, as it has an eat-your-home style of rapacious growth that can be either exactly what you need or overwhelming – depending on the spot.

Here in Humboldt, we’re known for our amazing microbrews (and have a lot of home-brewers), so when I connected the dots that this lovely garden vine was actually useful, it upped my enthusiasm for it even more. I love plants that do double-duty in the garden!

Hops, or Humulus, is a great plant for Humboldt County. It’s related to our local cash crop, and you’ll know why when you see those sticky buds forming in late summer. Yet it’s not just for Californians – it’s hardy to zone 3, so people in much harsher climates can grow it successfully.

Fern Richardson of Life on the Balcony joined me in making this video to show you how to grow your own:

You can see it’s pretty easy – here’s what you need:

  • Hops plant (either bare-root or potted)
  • Stakes or trellis (remember to put up supports the day you plant it as it will grow FAST once it gets started)
  • High quality organic amendment to create a planting mound, as hops are heavy feeders and need good drainage

how to grow hops

If you’re growing hops for home-brewing, you may want a few types. You’ll need both a bittering and an aroma hops, and maybe more just to have a variety of flavors. ‘Cascade’ is the classic aroma type, while ‘Nugget’ is the most common bittering variety.

Or if you’re like me and just appreciate the fast summer growth and lush look of the hops vine, there are some lovely ornamental varieties, including golden ones. ‘Summer Shandy’ is a new dwarf golden vine (hardy to zone 5) which is much better-suited to small sites, as it grows only 5-10′ tall and 2′ wide. While it may produce buds, it’s been bred for its looks and small stature more than for flavor. ‘Summer Shandy’ could even go into a container for vertical interest.

Of course, whatever variety of hops you choose – when you plant – don’t let Fern hold your beer!

how to grow hops (2)

Further reading:

The Homebrewer’s Garden, a great book on growing fresh microbrew ingredients at home.

Disclosure: Gardner and Bloome paid to produce this video with me, but opinions are my own (I’ve bought over $3K of their products in the last two months for my landscaping business, so you know I’m a fan of their soil and fertilizers!).

12 responses to “Grow Your Own Microbrew! How to Grow Hops”

  1. We grow the ornamental golden hops and about once a year someone strolling past asks about harvesting the flowers for beer. My understanding is that these ornamental ones aren’t so great for beer. Like many other perennial vines, our hops took a couple of years to get going, but now we have a hard time keeping the vines in check. Ours grow up the guy-wire for a power pole and I have to use an extension ladder to get the dried stems down during late winter garden cleanup. These things are vigorous, so make sure you think carefully about where you’re going to plant your hops. … And tell Fern there’s no problem with being a two-fisted beer drinker.

    • Thanks for your insights, Mark! They totally do take over the world once they’re established and happy. That can be a good thing – I have a friend with a big ugly backside of a barn on their property and they let the hops clamber up a trellis on that every year – but in the wrong spot, it could be a mess. Many people do keep them root-pruned and above-ground pruned as well to keep ’em in check, but it can be a task.
      I’m a two-fisted drinker too, but usually with me my other fist has a glass of water or kombucha!

  2. I bought two hops plants years ago for my garden in the mountains of central PA. Within three years I had baby hops spouting up everywhere!!! That year I removed the two original plants and for the next 8 years I continued to battle with weeding out the volunteer hops plants. A word of caution, beware of hops taking over. I found in my garden its behavior was like an aggressive alien species that I was never able to fully eradicate… it makes weeding out and eradicating comfrey and mint look like a picnic in comparison. If hops can be planted and not take over I am unaware of how that can be achieved.

  3. I’ve wondered about using golden hops for beer making too. Sounds like it might not be such a good idea.

  4. “don’t let Fern hold your beer” love it! I’d be interested in seeing a follow up at the end of the season with harvesting and using the hops. I’d love to grow some next year. They are beautiful.

  5. I live in the north and yes hops are very hardy, maybe too hardy. I made the mistake of planting them along my veranda and within 2 years they had taken over everything. Not easy to get rid of , 5 years later I’m still pulling out roots. The plant is very decorative though and I would plant it again in a spot farther out, like along the shed or something.

  6. I live in Canada, zone 3a I believe (just moved here!), and we have hops all along our back fence. I’m just learning and have only had to hack it back a few times – otherwise it’s trucking along on its own and clearly very hardy!

    It’s funny, I live very close to Humbolt…..Humbolt, Saskatchewan. 🙂

  7. Grew my first golden hop plant this year strictly for decorative purposes. Wondering when I can cut it down to dry for decorative purposes. Having a brat and beer party on the 24th of Oct. so am hoping to have it hanging in my dining and kitchen area at that time. Should I cut it down now and let it dry or cut it on the 24th and just hang it decoratively in the house when it is still green?

  8. I used to forage for wild hop in Italy in the spring, it makes amazing risotto. I have yet to meet someone who knows that hop shoots are a delicacy. I hope you try them.

  9. We started our own hop plant at our town home. We rent so we’re unable to plant in the ground. We did a huge container and the bines grew pretty well for a first year. But we’re in Pennsylvania, we get lots of cold and frost. We thought bringing the pot inside for the winter would be the simplest idea. It’s still by a window with lots of light. But now I have noticed our cat loves to lay in the pot. Is there any other way we can store the plant for the winter?

    • I’d maybe build a little teepee around the hop plant itself (it’s dormant, right, so is just a little nub?) and let your cat lay in there. Or you can put rocks into the top of the pot to discourage lounging, or plastic forks stuck into the soil, tines facing up, to make sleeping uncomfortable.