Sunlight is crucial for hops growth and flower production, so select an area with plenty of sun. A north facing location is recommended to take advantage of early season sunlight. Try to protect your hop plant from easterly winds. These hot summer breezes can turn your lovely green flowers brown in a matter of days.
If you are thinking about growing in a pot, choose a BIG one! Hop roots grow large and get big very quickly. Consider this also if you are planting in a small garden bed. Don’t plant different varieties too close to each other.
Hops can grow to over 8 metres in height over a season and they can weigh up to 10kg. You will need plenty of vertical space and something for them to climb up.
Hops prefer a nutrient rich, well aerated soil with good drainage. pH of 6.5-7.0 is optimal.
There are 2 main options when growing a new hop plant, you can start with a rhizome, or start with a plant. Rhizomes are a section of the plant’s underground stem that has been removed in winter and will grow into a new plant. Plants are cut from softwood growth in spring and grown out in a controlled environment.
Rhizomes are usually planted at the end of winter once the threat of frost has passed. Place them in the ground approximately 5cm below the surface with any roots facing downward and the nodes (small ‘lumps’) facing upwards. Cover with soil and some straw or light mulch.
Plants can be planted in spring, just as you would plant any type of seedling, but they can also be planted in autumn to develop a strong root system before going dormant for winter. Remember, hops are a perennial and they will die back to the ground in autumn before sprouting again in spring.
Hops are a fast growing plant and need plenty of water and fertiliser. Like any young plant, too much water can cause more harm than good. First year plants require frequent, short waterings.
Fertilise well throughout the season, including after harvest. Hops like lots of nitrogen from mid-late September, right up until Christmas. Make sure they have some phosphorus in December and January. Potassium is required in January and February.
Three to eight shoots should be trained onto your trellis structure in a clockwise direction once they are about 30cm long. Remaining shoots can be trimmed.
Harvest time is usually February for us here in the South West of WA, but it does vary depending on hop variety and planting location.
Hops usually take three years to reach full maturity, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a great yield in the first season. If you keep your hops plants happy and healthy they will reward you for years to come.
To test if your hop flowers (cones) are ready, pick one from the bine and rub it between your fingers. If it feels soft and moist and stays compressed when you squeeze it, it is still too green. A mature cone will feel papery and light and will have a ‘crinkling’ sound when you roll it between your fingers.
When you rip the cone open and smell you should experience that hoppy, beery aroma. If it smells like grass, you’re still too early. The yellow pollen-like stuff inside the cone is called lupulin. That is where most of the oils and bitter compounds are stored. If the lupulin is a pale yellow, wait a little longer until it is more golden in colour. If your hops smell like onion, garlic or chives; sorry, you’re too late!