Hops are best known for being an essential ingredient in brewing beer, but did you know that it has also been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years to treat anxiety and sleep disorders?
Hops grow as a perennial vine and appeal to herbalists, home brew-masters, and gardeners alike with their beautiful flower cones and fragrant foliage. These vines grow vigorously, able to eventually reach over 20 feet tall if allowed the space to do so.
Growing hops in a container would not be recommended for beginner gardeners, as it is moderately difficult. It requires constant care and upkeep in order to control these extremely fast growing plants and have a successful hops harvest.
If you’re feeling up to the challenge, growing hops in a small space is an extremely rewarding process.
Here is a quick guide to growing hops in a container:
Hops are a beautiful and rewarding plant to grow, even when being grown in a small space like a balcony or tiny backyard. With patients, careful attention, and tender care, you will eventually have an abundant and beautiful hops harvest.
1. Select the Perfect Location
When it comes to growing hops, location in everything. Hops require ample space to climb upward in a sunny spot, where they will receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Any less sunlight and you can expect a very small cone harvest, or none at all.
You will need at least 8 feet of clearance to build a trellis for your hops to climb. Luckily, this is even attainable on an apartment balcony, provided the balcony faces south and will receive enough direct sunlight.
2. Use a Large Container
When looking for a container to grow your hops in, be sure to choose one that has a diameter and depth of at least 20 inches. Hops have robust root systems, so you can get away with planting a maximum of two rhizomes per container of this size.
Drainage is a very important factor when growing hops. Ensure that your container has sufficient drainage. If there are no drainage holes already, you will have to use a drill to make some.
3. Provide Ideal Soil Conditions
Hops require extremely well draining soil. The ideal mix would consist of 4 parts fresh potting soil, 1 part perlite. Do not firm or compact the soil, since this will hinder its drainage ability. Add some additional soil if needed after watering.
Hops also prefer their soil conditions to be slightly more acidic than normal. A simple pH testing kit can be used to tell if amending the soil will be required to create more acidity.
You can easily lower the pH of the soil naturally, by adding used green tea leaves or used coffee grounds. If you would rather purchase a product from a store, Aluminum Sulfate and Sulfur are common for decreasing soil pH. Both of these products can be found at a local garden centre.
4. Build a Sturdy Trellis
Hops are an incredible plant with a very impressive growth rate. They can climb over 20 feet tall if given the space, sometimes even as much as 12 inches in a single day. This is why having a strong, sturdy trellis ready from the time of initial planting is so important.
The ideal design for a trellis to grow hops in a small space is actually fairly easy to create. All you need are some screws, two 8 foot stakes, and some strong twine.
First, push the stakes as deep into the soil as you can, about 5 inches apart from each other. Install a small screw at the top of each stake, then tie a very long piece of twine to each screw. Wind the twine in a criss-cross fashion between the two stakes, cutting it at the bottom and tying the ends together.
Because of the criss-crossing, the hops will grow on an angle. This allows for almost 20 feet worth of actual surface area for growing, while only actually reaching 8 feet tall.
5. Acquiring Rhizomes
Hops plants are a dioecious species. This means that they have the male and female reproductive structures on separate plants. Only female hops plants are able to produce the beautiful flowers, called cones.
So, if you were to buy a packet of seeds from the store and plant them all, you would only have a 50% chance of receiving a cone harvest at the end of the season. This is why rhizomes are used to grow hops, instead of seeds.
A rhizome is a small chunk of root which has been cut from the root system of a mother plant. When replanted, a fully functioning female hops plant who is a genetic twin of the mother plant will sprout. This is how you can guarantee a female plant.
However, there is one downside to using rhizomes. Since they are genetically identical to their mother plant, it is very important to purchase your rhizomes from a trusted source. Since there are many genetic diseases which can infect hops, a rhizome cut from an unhealthy plant can doom your future plant as well.
6. Planting Hop Rhizomes In Pots
Deciding when to plant your rhizomes will vary depending on where you live. As a general rule, it is safe to plant your rhizomes when the danger of the last frost has passed.
Dig a 2 to 3 inch hole at the base of each stake, and plant a rhizome vertically in each, making sure that the buds are facing upwards towards the surface of the soil. Cover with potting soil and water deeply.
Continue to water the hops rhizomes whenever the top 2 inches of soil feels dry. You should expect to see them sprout within the first 2-3 weeks.
Begin to increase water when the sprouts emerge. At this point, you should be watering deeply, so that water begins to drain from the drainage holes. But always allow the top 3 inches of soil to dry before watering again.
7. Caring for Your Hops
Hops are relatively high maintenance plants. They require lots of water and regular feeding to grow as vigorously as they do. You should water your hops daily when its hot. Always water enough so that water is running from the containers drainage holes.
Feed your container grown hops with a liquid soluble fertilizer diluted to 1/4 strength. Hops roots are susceptible to burning from fertilizer that is too strong.
Remember to keep on top of the weeds in your hops container. Hops do not like to compete with weeds for water and nutrients.
8. Trellis and Pruning
As your hops vines grow, especially in the early stages, they will need help establishing themselves on the angled trellis system. Since they grow so quickly it is important to check on them every day, helping them to wrap around the twine and follow the criss-cross pattern.
Prune hops vines once they have become tall enough to outgrow the trellis. Periodically remove the vine tips, by snipping just after the node. This will encourage branching from the main stem and create more opportunity for cones to grow. Always be sure to use clean, sharp pruning sheers.
Another important step in pruning is to defoliate the bottom 1 foot of the vines. Removing the lower leaves increases air circulation and helps to protect the plants against pest infestations and diseases.
9. Winterizing Potted Hops
Since hops are a perennial plant, if you live in a cold climate, protecting the roots from frost during the winter is a key component to growing hops in containers. Plants which are grown in the ground are naturally protected from from frost with roots deep below the soil surface.
However, even though hops are very hardy, when being grown in containers the frost can penetrate and kill the roots. There are some precautions you can take to avoid this.
Approaching the first front, the hops vine will naturally begin to die back to the ground. Since hops will go dormant during the winter anyways, one simple strategy is bring the container indoors. It will not need any sunlight or water, so a cool basement or garage would be ideal.
If you live in an apartment with hops on a balcony, move the plant up against the building where it will receive some ambient heat. Cover the soil surface with straw, mulch, or even blankets. This should be enough to protect the roots until spring.
10. Be Patient
The first year after planting hops rhizomes, the plant will be focused on establishing its robust root system. The second year you will probably start to see a few cones, with your first real harvest coming usually in year 3.
Sometimes earlier harvests are possible, but don’t fret if you don’t see any cones after the first growing season. Its is important to be patient when growing hops.
It may feel like a lot of work for nothing in the beginning, but with plenty of love and care your hops will eventually make it very much worth your while.
Growing hops in containers is definitely a labor of love. It is not recommended for first-time gardeners, as it requires a great deal of maintenance and attention to detail.
Additionally, growing hops is more of a long term project. With your first real harvest usually coming only after year 3, you have to be in it for the long haul.
However, when finally able to reap the benefits of a beautiful hops harvest, all of the hard work will certainly be worth it. Whether you are interested in their roots in traditional medicine for sleep and anxiety, or you’re trying your hand at home brewing, using your homegrown hops is an extremely rewarding process.
Jessica McPhail was born and raised in tiny country town near Ottawa, Canada. Her childhood was filled with time spent in the outdoors, and her favorite activity growing up was to help mom work in the garden. By the time Jessica had obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Biology specializing in Plant Science, she had already gained 7 years worth of experience working in the horticulture industry. Her in-depth knowledge of plant physiology combined with years of passionate experience with growing plants in outdoor, indoor, and greenhouse settings, gives her a unique understanding of what it takes for plants to thrive. Aside from Jessica’s horticultural career, she loves to spend her downtime caring for her jungle of houseplants, experimenting with DIY balcony and urban gardening creations, and learning to cook old-fashioned from-scratch recipes with homegrown ingredients.