If you’re a homebrewer who also has a green thumb, you may have thought about growing your own hop plants. Do you need to replant hop vines every year, or is there a way to preserve them so they return in the spring?
Hop plants are perennials, meaning they go dormant in the fall and winter and return the following spring. Because of this, you should carefully select where you plant your hops and plan for them to grow vertically over several growing seasons and plan to winterize them before temperatures drop below 40 °F.
Read on to find out more best practices for caring for hop plants and ensuring that they thrive year after year.
Do hop plants come back every year?
As with any plant, it’s important to understand their growth patterns and annual cycle. You may have heard that hop plants are hard to grow, but for some, they grow like a weed and begin to take over.
With the proper care, hop plants should go dormant in the winter and return every spring. This is because they’re perennial plants, meaning as long as they remain healthy, they will complete their growing cycle over and over.
Do not assume that your hop plants will take up the same amount of space, or produce the same yield in future years.
After the first couple of seasons, they often begin to grow and spread out quite a bit, sometimes taking over space where other plants are growing. To grow hops properly, plan for a large bit of space and a vertical trellis for them to latch on to and grow upon.
It’s important to understand hops, how they grow, and how to care for them when the weather begins to get chilly. If you don’t care for your hop plants properly year round, they will eventually die, forcing you to start over with a new crop.
Read on for more details on maintaining a thriving crop of hop plants every single year.
Are hops annuals or perennials?
Any gardener knows one of the most crucial things to understand about the plants in their garden is whether or not they are annual or perennial. Annual plants complete their whole growing cycle in one season. Once they die off, they do not return. Perennials, on the other hand, simply go dormant in the fall and winter, and return each spring.
Hops are perennials, or more specifically, twining perennial vines. This means that they are vines that grow by grabbing onto something and wrapping around it like a ball of twine. This also means that once you plant them, they’ll return year after year.
Hop plants are notoriously difficult to get started, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a few growing seasons for them to begin to thrive. You may only get a handful of usable hop cones those first few years. However, with the proper care, they should return stronger and healthier every spring.
What should you do with hops plants in the fall?
Hops thrive between temperatures of 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature begins to dip below that, it’s time to start thinking about preparing the plants for winter.
To ensure hop plants come back healthy, it’s important to care for the plants properly, especially to prepare them for their dormant winter. Frost and temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit can damage or kill your plants so prepare early.
The keys to maintaining hop plants, especially in the fall, are training and winterizing. Best practices for these processes are outlined below.
Should hops be cut back?
Adult hop plants should be pruned and “trained” but this is not necessary for baby hop plants. Training hop plants involves cutting back all but the strongest vines and optimizing their growth direction to create the highest yield of hops.
Pruning and training should be done early in the season, but according to one study from Michigan State University, exactly when depends on the time of year and the type of hops. In general, the earlier in the growing season you prune your hops, the better.
When pruning hops, wait until they grow a few feet in length. Then, choose the strongest three or four vines and prune the rest to the ground. These strongest vines are the ones to train to climb by tying them to a trellis.
This should typically be done in the spring and maintained throughout the growing season.
How to winterize the hop plant
If you live in an area where temperatures regularly drop below freezing during the winter months, you’ll need to winterize your hop plants.
Follow the steps below immediately following the first frost and maintain it into the chilly early days of spring to ensure your plants are protected.
1 – Cut the vines of the hop plant back to the crown.
The first frost will cause the leaves to begin dropping off of the plant. This is a sign that it’s time to begin pruning the vines. Be sure to remove the vines entirely from the area unless you are looking to sprout additional hop plants.
If you do want additional plants, bury the trimmed vines under the mulch where you want the plants to grow. They won’t grow hops in the winter but it will help them take root under the mulch so they begin to grow in the spring.
2 – Apply a generous layer of mulch.
Though the deepest roots of the hop plant will be protected from the cold, the parts within the first foot of the surface could be damaged. Add a layer of mulch around the hop plants that’s at least 5 inches thick to help protect these areas.
Note: you can also use a plastic tarp to cover plants for the winter, but this method is often less preferable as it can be unsightly.
3 – Remove the mulch after the frosts stop
Though it may be tempting, don’t remove your mulch on the first nice day of the year. Wait until temperatures warm enough that there is no possibility of frost.
Your hops will have laid dormant all year and will be ready to grow and thrive during the remaining warm weather months.