Growing Hops in Containers

Growing Hops in Containers

Hops, with the scientific name Humulus lupulus, are non-woody annual or perennial vines native to Eurasia, South America and North America. They belong to the hemp family Cannabaceae, and are propagated for use as flavoring, bittering and stability agents in beer. These herbaceous climbers can be successfully cultivated in containers by following the instructions laid out in this article. 

Growing hops in containers: What are the steps?

Choose a good location. 

Hops thrive in sunny areas with ample space to climb. They should get at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily, without which your harvest will be very minimal.  

You should have at least eight feet of clearance to build a trellis for the hops to climb. This is possible even on apartment balconies, as long as they face south and there is enough direct sunlight. 

Use a large container. 

Choose containers with a diameter of at least 20 inches. Hops have tough root systems and a maximum of two rhizomes can be planted per container of this size. See to it that your container has enough drainage holes to facilitate healthy growth.  

Provide the correct soil conditions. 

Hops prefer well-draining soil, and the ideal potting mix is four parts fresh potting soil to one part perlite. Do not compact the soil as doing so will limit its drainage ability, and add some more soil after the initial watering. The soil pH for these plants should be slightly acidic. Check the soil pH using a pH testing kit to ascertain whether any amendment is necessary. 

To lower the pH naturally, add used green tea leaves or used coffee grounds. Sulfur and aluminum sulfate can also decrease the soil’s pH. 

Construct a sturdy trellis. 

Hops can climb up to 20 feet, so they need a sturdy trellis to support them. These plants have an impressive growth rate, averaging as much as 12 inches in a day. All you need to make a trellis for your hops are some screws, two eight-foot stakes, and some strong twine. 

Push the stakes deep into the soil, about five inches apart, and insert a small screw at the top of each stake. Next, tie a very long piece of twine to each screw and wind the twine in a criss-cross fashion between the two stakes. Finally, cut the twine at the bottom and tie the ends together. The hops will grow at an angle because of the crisscrossing, and this allows for 20 feet of climbing surface. 

Secure the rhizomes you will use for planting. 

Rhizomes are small pieces of root cut from the root system of the mother plant. Once they are replanted, fully functioning female plants will sprout, that are genetic twins of the mother plant. Try to acquire the rhizomes from a trusted source, since genetic diseases in the mother plant could affect the new plants as well. 

Hops are a dioecious species, wherein the male and female reproductive structures are on separate plants. The female plants are the only ones that produce beautiful flowers, known as cones. Seeds cannot guarantee a cone harvest, which is why rhizomes are preferred for propagating hops.

Plant the rhizomes in the containers. 

To plant the rhizomes, dig a two-to-three-inch hole at the base of each stake. Plant one rhizome vertically in each hole, making sure that the buds are facing upwards. Cover the rhizomes with potting soil and water well. It is safe to plant the rhizomes once the last frost has passed; the right time to plant them will also depend on your location. 

Be sure to water the rhizomes when the top two inches of soil feel dry to the touch. In a matter of two to three weeks, you will notice new sprouts appearing. Increase watering when they emerge, and water deeply, making sure that water drains from the drainage holes.  Allow the top three inches of soil to dry out before watering again. 

How to care for your hops

Hops are considered high-maintenance plants and they require regular watering and feeding to thrive. Water them daily when the temperature is hot, and water enough that excess water flows from the container’s drainage holes. Feed the plants with a liquid soluble fertilizer diluted to a quarter strength, since too much could burn the plants. Keep their growing area clean and free of weeds. 

Prune the plants once they are tall enough to overgrow the trellis and remove the tips periodically by snipping just after the nodes. This promotes branching from the main stem and provides more opportunities for the cones to grow. Be sure your pruning shears are clean and sharp. Defoliate the bottom one foot of the vines to increase air circulation.

To protect the plants from frost during the winter months, bring them indoors or into a basement or garage. If the plants are on a balcony, place them against the building so they will be exposed to ambient heat. Cover the soil’s surface with mulch or straw to protect the roots until spring. 

The plants will focus on establishing a strong root system in the first year, and in the second year you should start seeing a few cones. The first harvest usually happens during the third year, although there are instances when earlier harvests are possible. 

Conclusion 

Hops are non-woody perennial vines that are widely propagated as flavoring and stability agents for beer. These plants are native to South and North America as well as Eurasia, and can be successfully grown in containers. You will need to choose a good location, an adequately-sized container and the correct soil type. These plants also require a sturdy trellis, as they can climb up to 20 feet.

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