Whether you’re an experienced gardener or struggle to keep the house plants from dying, you’ve come to the right place if are serious about growing hops! There is a ton of information out there. From blog posts, forums, videos, advice from friends, books and more. When you are getting started, all that information can seem a bit overwhelming at first.(especially true if you don’t already have a green thumb!) – My goal with this guide is to pull together all the information you’ll need, all in one place. From choosing a hop variety, to harvesting and everything in between.
If you have any questions along the way, Please don’t hesitate to ask! I’ve created a FAQ section to address any topics that fall outside the scope of the guide, and I’ll do my best to keep it up to date as questions arise. If you don’t see your question answered there, I invite you to post your question in the forums. Either myself or one of our community members will help you get things sorted out.
If you’re anything like me, you will have to resist the urge to just jump right in and start “winging it”. Trust me though- spending an hour or two researching now can save you days worth of hassle and headaches down the road! To make the guide easier to digest, I’ve broken the “preparation” portion of this guide into 2 sections: Choosing the right hop strain and planning your location & infrastructure. This will be the foundation for everything you do moving forward. So if you can nail this section, everything else tends to fall in place.
Choosing A Hop
If you have the will and know how, You can successfully plant nearly any variety of hops in almost any climate that has at least 120 “frost-free” days. That said, it’s probably wise to consult nearby hop farmers or homebrewing forums to find out what others have been successfully growing in your area. You’ll find that different climates, regions and soil tend to favor certain varieties of hops more than others. The STTP Hops Chart and the USDA Hop Page are great resources to help you narrow down your choices. Above all though, choose a variety of hops that you will enjoy brewing with 🙂
Alright – now that that’s out of the way, lets get down to business. Rhizome or Crown?
So what’s the difference?
A rhizome is a cutting of the root stock that is used to propagate new hop plants, It takes longer to establish but is also readily available to order online or pick up at your local home brewing store. Crowns in comparison are a fully developed plant and will insure that your first years yield will be much more plentiful, the downside of course being availability. If you are interested in starting with a Crown and are lucky enough to live near some hop farms, start reaching out and asking if they have any crowns available to purchase. Alternatively, you can also purchase fully developed crowns from greatlakeshops.com for just slightly more than you’d be able to purchase a comparable rhizome ($9.00 vs $5.00).
My Advice? Start with a Crown.
It’s the difference between waiting 2 seasons to see your plant yield some healthy hop cones and being able to harvest a decent yield during your very first growing season. If you aren’t able to source a hop crown in your area or would simply prefer to start with a hop rhizome instead, You can generally start placing pre-orders online or at your home brew store between January and March. If you haven’t yet purchased a rhizome, I highly recommend NorthernBrewer. If you are lucky enough to have a brick and mortar store in your area, you probably already know that they offer a ton of brewing related classes completely for free (even a Hops growing class!)
Once you’ve received your rhizome/crown, You’ll want to make sure that you store it properly until it’s ready to be put in the ground. Both should be stored in an airtight Ziplock bag or suitable container. You want to make sure that the hop remains moist, but not drenched (we don’t want any mold). Take a paper towel and use a spray bottle until the paper towel is moist, but not dripping wet. Then simply store in the refrigerator, re-wetting the paper towel as necessary. The general rule of thumb is to wait until the last frost of the season has come and gone and the soil becomes workable. Don’t be afraid of planting too early though, as Hop Plants are notoriously tough sons’a bitches and will make good use of the extra time to help establish themselves for the growing season.
Choosing A Location & Planning Your Infrastructure
Space, Sunshine & Soil.
The space that you choose for your hops should take all 3 into consideration. Once established, Hop Plants will be able to climb 20-25ft each season. This extra space is crucial in avoiding over-crowding and all the pitfalls that accompany an overcrowded plant (mold, reduced yield, etc). It should be noted that this space doesn’t’ strictly have to be measured vertically, and there are plenty of creative solutions shown below to draw inspiration from.
If you aren’t able to find a location in your yard with ample space for your hop plants to climb, then you might want to consider a dwarf hop variety. In the united states, hop varieties like Cascade, Centinnial, Galena and US Goldens are considered to be great candidates for “Low Trellis” designs. (8-10 ft) Dwarf hops are not only great for those of us who have limited space to work with, but they also make for some of the best container grown options. You can check out the “Container Planting Considerations” section below if you are interested in exploring this option further, but it really comes down to this: Growing hops in a container will result in a reduced yield and often times require a more complicated mobile-type trellis system, BUT it allows you the flexibility to move your plant around your yard through-out the season to dial in the best possible place for your hops to grow.
Which brings us to our next point – Sunshine.
The one thing that determines the success and health of your plant more than anything else on this list. Hops love the sun. The More The better! Ideally you will want to find a location that receives between 12-14 hours of direct sun light every day. That means finding a place on your property with southern exposure. The sun does so much more than simply fuel your hop plants growth, it protects your plant from a long list of pests, fungus and diseases that would otherwise flourish in damp and dark (shaded) conditions. What I like to do is create markers in the yard to highlight possible locations for growing my hops, and then over the course of the day check on each location and note any periods of time where each location may become blocked from the sun. The location with the most sunlight (and the one that gets the wife’s approval!) is the winner. 🙂
Finally, Once you’ve found a suitable location to grow your hops, you will need to make sure the soil in that area will accommodate your new hop plant! One of the first things to watch out for when examining your soil is drainage. You don’t want to plant your hops in soil where standing water is a possibility. Hops love water, but hate being wet. You will want to make sure that the soil is also nutrient rich and has a neutral PH level between 6.0-8.0. Chances are that if other plant life has taken root in the surrounding soil, the soil should be just fine. But If you want to be absolutely sure – For about $12.00 bucks you can purchase a Soil Test Kit to test the Soils PH and various Nutrients levels.
The final piece of the puzzle – Designing your Hop Trellis!
As mentioned earlier, You will want to provide the plant with approximately 20 feet of combined growing space. The design you come up with doesn’t have to be complicated or labor intensive – but keep in mind that the trellis design is what defines the growing space for your plants. Too small of a structure and your plant will not reach it’s full potential, too large and you are wasting space and materials. While there is no one size fits all solution that I can recommend here in this guide, There are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up through my own experiences and research that should help you narrow down some of your options.
- Use Baling or Binder twine to train your hops. Twine is reasonably priced, bio-degradable and strong enough to carry the weight of your hop plants throughout the growing season. Coir/Jute Twine is also a great candidate!
- Avoid using Nylon Rope. While it can work functionally, the hooked hairs of the bines will have more difficulty latching on to it.
- Consider implementing a pulley system at the top of each run. This will allow you to simply lower the vine at the end of the season to make harvesting more managable.
- Make sure that you use weather treated lumber, stainless steel hardware and if you are using braided wire in your design, you will want to make sure it has a plastic coating.
- If you live near streetlights or other bright sources of night time light – this may prevent or stunt flowering of the plant. Plan your location accordingly.
Hop plants are a hearty perennial plant, that begin growing in early spring and die back to the root system and remain dormant during the winter months. While it is certainly possible to grow hops in climates that don’t see freezing temperatures during the coldest parts of the year, As with most perennial plants, Hops actually thrive in climates that experience all 4 seasons. When the plant goes dormant, it is under-going an important process known as Vernalization, where the plant begins to prepare for the next growing season.
At this point you should have received your hop rhizome/crown, vetted a location for your hop plant in your back yard and have your Hop Trellis nearly finished.
Once the last frost of the season has come and gone and the soil becomes workable, you are ready to plant your hops! Start by digging a 1 foot deep by 5+ inches wide hole at your chosen location. If you are planting multiple hop plants of the same variety, you will want to make sure that they are spaced at least 3 feet apart. Conversely, If you are planting several different hop varieties, they should be spaced at least 5 feet apart. If you run into standing water as you dig, you will have to either find a new location or make the move to growing hops in containers. There are work-arounds to soil with poor drainage, low and high PH levels and poor nutritional content, but Soil with a high water table is an absolute no go.
Once you have your hole dug and if the soil looks to be suitable, we can begin preparing the space for our hop plant. The first thing I recommend that you do is to add a nitrogen rich fertilizer or a shovel or two worth of compost (if you have a compost pile) and then begin back-filling about 1/2 of the loose soil back into the hole. While there are many nutrients that are key to promoting a healthy and happy hop plant – Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K) and Phosphorous (P) are absolutely essential. Nitrogen in this case, is considered especially important during the beginning of the season, and helps promote a healthy and strong root system. I’ll cover Potassium and Phosphorous fertilizers in the next section, but for now we simply want to focus on a Nitrogen rich fertilizer. I personally recommend a mixture of blood meal, bone meal and coffee grounds, although there are certainly plenty of other great alternatives! If you have a few different plants, don’t be afraid to experiment with different fertilizers and concentrations to see what works best for your climate & soil.
Next, you will want to grab your hop rhizome (or crown) from the refrigerator and let it soak in warm water for a few moments to “wake it up” before putting it in the ground. While you are waiting, now is a great time to spot check the surrounding area for any weeds and remove them by hand. After you’ve cleared the area, go ahead and plant your hop rhizome/crown. As established plants, Hop crowns should be pretty self explanatory, simply make sure that the entire root system is below ground. Hop rhizomes on the other hand can be a bit more confusing for first time growers. You can plant rhizomes either horizontally or vertically, and depending on who you ask, should be planted at varying depths. For what it’s worth, Professional hop growers plant their rhizomes vertically at a depth of about 1-2 inches below the surface of the soil.
If you do decide to plant your rhizome vertically, you have to make sure that the buds are facing “skyward” & the roots are facing “down”. If you can’t determine the direction of your rhizomes buds/roots, or simply don’t want to risk screwing it up – Planting the rhizome horizontally works just as well. If you haven’t already, finish back filling the hole, wish your little hop plant good luck and go grab an ice cold beer.
- Use the remaining soil to build a small mound over the center of your hop plant. This will help with drainage and discourage water from pooling.
- Don’t be afraid of planting too early! Hop Plants are notoriously tough sons’a bitches and will make good use of the extra time in the ground to help establish themselves for their first growing season.
While we are waiting patiently for our little hop plant to first break ground, we’ll want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help it begin its journey. Until your plant does break ground, you should be watering your hops every day, making sure that the soil remains moist, but not drowning in water. While the exact amount of water will vary slightly depending on the soil and your hops age (rhizome vs crown), I’ve put together some helpful guidelines to help you make sure your hops are getting the right amount of water.
1.) If you are planting in a container – Continue watering until you notice that water has begun to form at the bottom of the container. Try to dial the amount of water back each time until just before you expect the water to start draining from the bottom of the planter.
2.) After a few days, go ahead and Dig up the soil and check for moisture at varying depths. If the soil below the surface is dry – water more. If it is moist, stay the course. And if it is soggy, take a break from watering and take a second look at your soils drainage and consider watering it less!
3.) If leaves begin to become dry, brown and brittle. There is a good chance that your hop plant is asking for more water. Alternatively, if they begin to start turning yellow – They are either receiving too much water or not enough nutrients.
Continue watering the soil around your hops, making adjustments as required. If you are lazy (aka clever) like me, you can leverage the water spigot in your yard to rig up an automated drip irrigation system to a water timer. Moving forward, this will help make sure that your plants are being taken care of, even when you completely forget about them for a day or two. We lead busy lives, being able to automate this important (but repetitive) task certainly makes things easier. The variety and health of the rhizome/crown will dictate how long it takes for the first shoot to sprout, but generally speaking you can expect your hop plant to break ground in 1-2 weeks.
Once your hop plant reaches about 1 foot, you will want to start training the bines (clockwise) around the twine or if you’ve built a more elaborate trellis type design, start weaving the bines in and out of the trellis. Now is also a great time to till the soil, and re-fertilize with a Nitrogen rich fertilizer. When the bines reach several feet in length, you will want to prune the first foot worth of leaves. Make sure to use gardening sheers or a scissors when pruning, as you can easily damage the plant if you try to just rip them off by hand. This all may seem a bit cruel at first, but all this pruning has a purpose. By removing the lower shoots and leaves of the plant you are encouraging it to spend more of it’s energy into growing upwards. But perhaps more importantly, you are actually protecting it from overcrowding and mold near the root system.
By the end of April you should now have several bines growing. Select the healthiest looking 2-4, and prune the remaining bines back to the soil. We do this for 2 very important reasons. First, it helps encourage the plant to focus all of it’s energy into a few healthy bines, instead of half a dozen. And second, It helps ensure that the climbing space doesn’t become over-crowded. To this end, If you are training your hop plant along a length of twine, you will want to make sure not to train more than 1 or 2 bines per each run. Till the soil once more, this time using a more balanced fertilizer (equal parts Nitrogen, Potassium & Phosphate).
Once you see cones starting to form, you should immediately switch over to a fertilizer that is rich in Potassium and Phosphate. These nutrients will insure that that your plant is getting exactly what it needs to start producing healthy hop cones. It should be noted that if this is a first year plant (IE – you planted from a rhizome) it isn’t unusual for your hop plant to not produce any hop cones at all. Other than that, the remainder of the growing season simply requires that you maintain a strict watering schedule, continue to fertilize regularly ( about once per month) and prune any yellowing leaves or excess bines. Your hop plant will take care of the rest.
You’ve put in your sweat equity, done your research and even managed to over come the potential pitfalls of pests and diseases.(link) Now, as summer begins to transition to fall, it’s time to start thinking about harvesting your hops! While harvest times will vary from year to year, you should expect to begin harvesting sometime between mid Auguest and September. First year plants typically average about ½ pound (dried weight) of hops, while established plants can produce in excess of 2 pounds per year.
Harvesting Your Hops
So how can you tell when your hops are ready to go?
You can generally tell when the hops are nearing harvest time simply by appearance alone. As the cones reach maturity, the tips of the cones will begin to turn light brown. You may also start to take notice of the distinct smell of hops as you walk past your hop plants. At this point, go ahead and pick a few cones off to test. Make sure to pay special attention to the hop cones near the top of the plant, as they tend to mature slightly faster than the rest of the plant. If the hop cone feels soft and damp, it is still too early to harvest. Repeat this process every couple of days until your hops start to feel dry and papery. From here, the best way to tell if they are ready is to rub the cone between your fingers and take note of the aroma and feel. When compressed, the cone should ‘spring’ back to it’s full size with relative ease and the distinct aroma of the sticky yellow lupulin should be fairly obvious.
Since your hop cones will reach maturity at different times of the year, you will want to make time in your schedule for a few separate harvesting sessions. Harvest too early and your hops will have a distinct grassy and vegetal like odor. Too late and they will turn brown, papery and become ultimately useless. Don’t be shy about plucking a cone or two off every couple of days to test them. It’s great practice and will help you develop a feel for exactly when your hop cones are at their peak. Collect your hops into a plastic pale or brown paper bag as they mature and immediately start preparing them for drying and storage. Lastly, when harvesting is complete, prune all of your bines to about 3-4 feet in length and retrain them if necessary. This allows the plant to use the remainder of the growing season to focus on storing energy in the root system for next season.
Drying & Storage
For best results when brewing and (mostly) to have any real shot at long term storage, We’ll want to dry our hops out as much as possible before storage. If the timing is right and you are confident in your calculations, feel free to use fresh hops in your brew. Just note that “wet” weight vs Dry Weight will typical be a 5:1 ratio. So if your recipe normally calls for 3 ounces of hops, plan on adding at least 15 ounces of fresh hops to get roughly the same results. For all practical purposes though, drying your hops is the only way to prevent mold during long term storage and allows you to more accurately estimate the end result of your hop additions during brewing.
There are only 2 real methods when it comes to drying your hop cones every year. You can let them air dry naturally or force the process using a food dehydrator or (if you have to) your kitchen oven. I emphasize that last point because being impatient here and ‘cooking’ your hops to speed up the process can quickly ruin the hop cones you worked so hard to grow and harvest all year. If you do decide to opt for the forced drying methods, make sure that the temperature does not exceed 140 degrees and that there is plenty of ventilation. This means if you are using an oven, it be left open for several hours while you are running your batch of hops through the oven. I recommend doing a small test batch first so you can dial in the temperature and timing without risking too much of your precious hops harvest! For those of you with access to a food dehydrator, the same logic applies. Small test batches first to help dial in the timing and temperatures.
If you couldn’t tell already – I strongly recommend air drying your hops. 🙂 A simple and cost effective way to do this is to re-purpose your screen door insert and place it on a saw horse. For those of you who don’t have access to the screen door or simply don’t have the space, I personally recommend using something like this. Aside from saving space, it also has the benefit of allowing you to enjoy the smell of your hops as they air dry in your home 🙂
Which ever solution you choose, you will want to spread out your hop cones in a thin layer over the screen and make sure to “fluff” them once or twice each day as they dry. This will speed up the drying process and insure that they are drying at the same rate. The space that you choose to dry your hops should be fairly clean and free of dust. You can speed up the drying process by using a fan to keep air moving over the hops, but it certainly isn’t necessary. The hops should be nearly dry and ready for storage after just a few days of ambient air drying. The best way test them is by inspecting the cones and looking for the following:
- The cones sprig should snap under between your fingers when you apply pressure. If it simply bends, the cones still need more time to finish drying.
- If you weighed your hop cones prior to beginning the drying process, you can get a good idea of how far along they are by weighing them now. When you first pick the hop cones, nearly 80% of their weight will be made up of moisture. If the hops are done drying, they should now about 1/5th of the original weight at harvest.
- If you break open a hop cone, the resins and oils of the hops lupulin glands should have also dried out into a darker yellow powder.
Once you’ve dried your hops, It’s time to package them for storage. For those among you who have oxygen barrier bags or access to a vacuum sealer, this will help maximize the shelf life of your hop cones. The goal here is to remove as much oxygen as possible for long term storage. For the rest of us, You’ll want to purchase some high quality Zip-lock style plastic bags. Compress the hops as best you can in the bag and remove as much oxygen as possible from the bag before sealing it. Once you’ve finished packaging this years harvest, go ahead and label each bag with the hop variety, final weight and the date it was packaged. Because the quality of your hops can suffer if you un-thaw and re-freeze your hops, I personally recommend separating your hops into practical sized proportions. Finally – Make some room in your freezer and store your hops until they will be ready for use!
Congratulations on successfully growing your own hops!
Hopefully by this point you are staring at a freezer chocked full of home grown hops and are putting together some new recipes based around your sudden surplus. In this final section, I’ll briefly highlight some of the differences between brewing with pellet hops and homegrown hops, and I’ll address some of the most common questions and concerns for new hop growers. If you have any questions at all after going through this guide -Please help me make this guide even better by sharing your question on the forum and I’ll do my best to get you an answer!
Unfortunately, the only way to get an accurate idea of your hops alpha acid percentage is to send them off to a lab to get tested. Since this isn’t really practical, the general consensus is to start out using your hops for aroma and dry hopping and continue using commercial pellet hops for bittering.
I’m not sure about you, but i didn’t bust my ass all year growing my hops only to still have to purchase more damn hops! Right? So we know that our AA (alpha acid) percentage probably isn’t going to be the same as the hops we could buy from the store, but we can get a general idea of the range we can expect from our hop variety and make adjustments based on the ranges average percent. Check out this Hops Chart, find your variety of hops and take note of it’s average AA percentage. This now gives us a starting point to help us start calculating recipes. If you prefer a more hands on approach, and you fancy yourself with a decent palette You can also make some hop tea to test. Using the same amount of homegrown hops and commercial hops, add them to warm water and do a taste test. Add more home grown hops until the bitterness of both seems the same, note the amount you added and then figure out difference. Not exactly scientific, but hey it’s all about taste anyways, not numbers!
At the end of the day though, the best way to learn to brew with your homegrown hops is to just start brewing with them! Once you’ve gotten your hop varieties average AA rating, simply adjust the recipe to taste. Meaning: If you enjoy a good hoppy beer, it won’t be the end of the world if you error on the side of too many hops, and likewise if you aren’t a fan of overly hoppy brews – less is more. Either way, I recommend starting with a few 1 gallon batches until you can settle on a ratio that you are happy with. If you are using Beersmith to build your recipe, you will want to make sure to denote that you are using hop leaves and not pellets. Beersmith will automatically adjust the IBU’s accordingly. (about 10% lower) If you aren’t using beersmith, plan on adding an additional 10% worth of hops to your recipe.
Happy brewing my friends!
Considerations For Growing Hops In A Container
If you are eager to get started growing your own hops but can’t wait until you have that new house, extra land or that extensive trellis built – You can always grow your hops using a Large planting Pot.The basic principles behind growing your hops still apply here, But there are a few things you should consider prior to getting started.
- Large Pot or Planter (~20 in.)
- Support Structure
- Liquid Fertilizer
- x1 Hop Rhizome/Crown
- x1 Bag Gardening Soil
- x1 Bag Potting Soil
Compared to planting your hops in the ground – Even with the recommended 20+ inch planting container detailed in this guide, the root system will quickly become cramped and ultimately inhibit growth and yield of the plant. Something to consider if you brew often or do big volume batches. That being said, most home brewers will be left with more Hops than they can use after the plants second season.
Nothing changes here. You will want to position your hop plants to a southern exposure where they can get as much sun light as possible through-out the day. If you live in really warm climates, you will still need to keep an eye out for “over-exposure” if the plant begins to look burnt or dried out from too much sun light. In these warmer environments in particular, growing your first hop plants in containers is a great way to pinpoint which spots will be the best to plant future crops as the container can easily be moved throughout the year as needed.
Feel free to get creative! Do some google image searches, ask in the forums, watch some videos on YouTube for inspiration – There really is no wrong answer.
Here are a few ideas to get you started…
Since the soil and our hop plant are essentially going to be isolated while growing in a container – The soil you dig up from your backyard probably isn’t going to be the best option for you hop plant. You’ll want to grab 1 bag of Potting Mix and 1 bag of Gardening soil and mix them together 50/50. The Potting soil mixture is specifically formulated for better drainage in potting plants and already contains a balanced and nutrient rich soil. Don’t compact/pack the soil too much or you will not only slow the growth of your hops, but it will affect your soils ability to drain excess water as well. (which can lead to mold)
The water needs of your hop plant will still change as it matures and grows, and as such there is no static amount that I can list here that will apply to the entire growing season of your plant. That being said, because the root system of your hop plant will most likely consume the entirety of it’s container by mid to late season, you should aim for about 1/2 gallon of water every other day (adjust as needed!). To make sure that the entire root system is getting the water it needs to prosper. Pour the water slowly and evenly over the top soil and continue to water until you begin to see water draining at the bottom of the pot.
**Refer to the full guide for tips on avoiding over/under watering.
Because our hop plant is isolated, it will require some additional help introducing important nutrients into the soil. While we have already given our plant a healthy start to it’s life by planting it in nutrient rich Potting soil, a few additions of liquid fertilizer can go a long way in suring up any nutrient defiencies through-out the growing season.
A Note To Pet Owners...
Before you become too invested in growing your own hops, It’s important that you are aware of the threat it poses to Fido & Felix. If ingested, Hops (Fresh, pellets or trub!) can cause your dog to go into malignant Hyperthermia, where your dogs body temperature rises uncontrollably. Depending on the amount ingested, the size of your dog and it’s breed – ingesting hops could ultimately prove fatal to your pets.
If you suspect that your pet may have ingested hops, keep an eye out for the following warning signs:
- Rapid Breathing
- Racing Heart Rate
- High Temperature
- Signs of Abdominal Pain
If you notice any of the above symptoms, take them to an emergency pet hospital immediately. Left un-treated Malignant Hyperthermia can kill your dog in as little as 6 hours. Any breed of dog may be affected, but breeds predisposed to malignant Hyperthermia (e.g., Greyhounds, Labrador retrievers, Saint Bernards, pointers, Dobermans, Border collies and English springer spaniels) are at higher risk for toxicity.
**While the toxic effects of the Hop Plant seems to be primarily limited to dogs – The pet poison hotline also lists cats as being susceptible to the same toxic effects and symptoms should they ingest Hops. While it would seem cat owners have less reason to worry – I’d personally advise keeping all of your pets away from your spent hops and Hop plants! It’s simply not worth the risk…If you have any doubts about whether or not you will be able to keep your dog/cat away from your plants, please consider leaving the hop growing to the professionals!
Definitions & Terminology
In hops, “Bines” refer to the hops shoots or vines. Bines differ from “vines” due to the fact that the shoots climb by growing in a helix around a support structure. In the case of our hop plants, the bines also feature many pointy bristles to help aid the bine in climbing and attaching to it’s support structure.
The crown of the hop plant is the collection of shoots and bines above the soil.
High Water Table:
The “Water Table” refers to the level at which the soil is completely saturated with water. As it refers to growing hops – If you live in an area with a really high water table, You may want to consider growing in above ground containers/planters as to avoid Black Root Rot.
In botany – the term “bract” is used to describe a speciliazed leaf structure, that is ussually found near the flowing parts of the plant. With hops, these are the pine cone like layers of leavs that surround the entire hop cone.
Bracteoles are essentially a secondary layer of bracts (or specialized leaves) within the pine cone. It is under these secondary layers of the hop cone, where the lupulin glands, resins and essential oils can be found.
The sprig refers to the stem that attaches the hop cone to the bines of the hop plant.
Common Diseases & Pests
Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common diseases, pests and fungus that hop plants can fall victim to under your care. Along with symptoms, pictures and recommendations for treatment. If your hop plant is showing signs of distress and the symptoms aren’t coming up in the below list of common ailments, I’ve included a resource below that delves into each of the below issues in much more detail. Also, please note that leaf discoloration, dry and flaky leaves and other oddities may simply be a result of over/under watering or nutrient in balance!
Black Root Rot
The infected roots and crown system of a hop plant inflicted with Black Root Rot will generally be water-soaked and blackened. Distinct boundaries between the blackened infected roots and healthy roots should be easily distinguishable. In severe cases the damage will also become evident above ground in the form of wilted bines and yellow leaves. Black Root Rot is usually the end result of sever over watering, poor soil drainage or high water tables.
The black root rot spores, when dormant are able to survive for up to 18 months in the soil. The spores will begin to propagate when exposed to standing water and host root system to infect.
The most important step you can take in countering Black Root Rot is to avoid planting your hop plants in any areas with poor drainage or any points of low elevation that might become targets for “standing” water. If your plant is already infected, make sure to quarantine the plant and the surrounding soil. Plan on finding a new place to plant future Crops for the next 18-24 months.
Downy Mildew disease can be identified beginning in the early spring through a number of possible symptoms.
Some of which include:
-Black Discoloration and lesions on the leaves.
-Dark Purple/Black sporulation on the underside of leaves
-Dark Brown discoloration of bracts & bracteoles on cones
-Infected shoots will yield yellowish and downward curling leaves
The Downy Mildew pathogen can lie dormant in infected buds and crowns through the winter and spread into developing plants when the ground begins to thaw. The disease spreads by producing spores on the underside of developing leaves, which will show up as black/purple splotchy discoloration. The disease thrives in humid and wet conditions, and will inevitably invade the crown and either weakening the crown and reducing the yield or completely killing the plant.
Downy Mildew is one of the most prevalent and possibly damaging diseases hop growers face world wide. As such, there is no simple answer in how to combat the disease. The best thing you can do is to be diligent in planning your hop yard, hop variety and location to help minimize the risk as much as possible. For example, If you are in a humid climate that has a naturally higher risk for Downy Mildew disease, consider picking a variety of hops that is resistant to the disease, such as Cascade, Fuggle, Magnum, Newport and Perle. If your plant is already infected, you can drastically reduce the spread of the disease further by pruning and removing any effected shoots, cones and leaves. It’s also a good idea to begin a regiment of fungicide to inhibit the fungus from growing as much as possible.
Fusarium Canker (Cone Tip Blight)
Cone Tip Blight can be easily identified by the brown bracts and bracteoles at the tip of the cone. As the cone matures the effected cones will grow from medium brown to dark brown and in severe cases are capable of effecting up to 60% of the entire cone.
Little is known about how this disease propagates and survives through the seasons, although initial reports suggest that the pathogens behind Fusarium Canker favor higher humidity environments.
There are currently no known preventative measures. Although as with all diseases, isolated the effected plants, removing plant debris and introducing new soil/locations for future plants should help curb the disease. Luckily, Cone Tip Blight only occurs in small numbers.
Similar in appearance to Cone Tip Blight, Gray mold makes it’s presence known by turning the tips of the hop cones brown and covering the infected areas with a fuzzy & gray fungal growth.
Favored by moderate temperatures (~68°F) and moisture, gray mold is able to remain dormant both in the soil and decaying plant matter until conditions become more favorable.
Fungicide has been proven to significantly inhibit the growth of gray mold and reduce the damage to hop plants. For the most part though, Gray mold doesn’t inflict enough damage to warrant fungicide treatment, and instead growers are cautioned to take preventative measures to reduce future incidents. If you are growing your hops at home, You can help reduce your chances of encountering Gray Mold by Reducing the amount of moisture that cones are exposed too. Moving your irrigation system, making sure your plant has enough sun to expedite evaporation and reducing shaded areas will help keep Gray Mold at bay.
One of the “Big 3” diseases – capable of destroying entire hop yards and in severe cases a complete loss of yield. Powdery Mildew is usually accompanied by white powdery fungus on hop leaves, but may also appear in the form of cone distortion or brown/reddish cone bracts.
The Powdery Mildew Pathogen is able to survive the winter months by lying dormant in infected buds.During the growing season, these infected buds will produce shoots that will quickly be covered in fungal growth. As with all fungi on this list, disease development is favored by high humidity, cloudy skies and mild temperatures.
Regular fungicide applications, alongside proper growing practices will be the most effective method to fight this disease. For home growers or small hop yards, paying extra attention during the initial growth stages and pruning any infected bines will also help reduce the spread of the disease. You can be pro-active in preventing Powdery Mildew if you are in a region or climate that is predisposed to it by pruning the lower 2 feet of leaves and shoots of your plant. As always, choosing a hop variety that is naturally resistant to Powdery Mildew is a great idea.
Red Crown Rot
Red Crown Rot gets it’s name because it turns the pith tissue in affected roots and crowns red and orange, eventually giving way to dry rot of the root system. While this is the easiest symptom to help identify the issue, it’s often goes unnoticed until it’s too late. In the sever stages of the disease, the lower leaves of the plant will begin to yellow and any further growth of the plant will be noticeably stunted.
Insufficient data is available at this time for any accurate information about the life cycle of Red Crown Rot.
While there aren’t any documented control measures available for Red Crown Rot yet, luckily the disease only effects relatively few hop plants each year.
Sooty Mold first shows up as a shiny layer of sticky honeydew covering the leaves or cones of the plant. The honeydew then develops into a black mass of fungal growth.
When hop aphids feed on the hop plant and ingest more than can be processed by their digestive systems they expel a sugary substance referred to as “honeydew”. Sooty Mold is the result of fungus growing from this sugary and sticky honeydew.
Sooty Mold is caused by hop aphids – So get rid of the hop aphids and get rid of the Mold problem. Historically insecticides were used to target the aphids and hopefully remove them from hop fields, however recent research is now looking to favor the use of a non-chemical solution by introducing predatory mites into the hop fields to target the aphids. If you are growing just a few plants at home, insecticides may still be the most practical method of dealing with these pests.
The symptoms of Verticillium wilt vary depending on the aggressiveness of the particular Verticillium strain that is attacking the hop plant. Non-lethal strains will cause the lower leaves to start yellowing and curling upward. It is also visible in the bines of the plant, causing them to become visibly swollen. As the disease progresses it is capable of making one or all of the leaves on the plants bines completely wilt. In really aggressive version of Vertificillium Wilt rapid death of leaves, shoots and plant death are common occurrences.
The Verticillium Wilt Pathogens are particularly hearty, capable of surviving in soil, hop roots and even able to spread and survive in common weed species. In the absence of a host, strains can persist in the soil anywhere from 4-15 years (depending on the strain).
As always, Planting Hop varieties that are naturally resistant to the disease is a great place to start. (See chart below) It is important that if you already have any plants that are currently effected that you do not re-use the soil or introduce any of the plant waste/compost at to new plants.
White Mold can generally be seen at the end of spring or early summer in the form of swollen lesions on the bines of your hop plant. Given time, and moisture – these lesions will turn brown as the plant tissue becomes compromised and begin to produce fluffy white fungus on the infected areas. The leaves however, typically remain green and healthy looking until the bine becomes completely compromised.
The pathogen survives the winter months in infected crop debris and soil and can survive for up to five years in this dormant state under the right conditions. The pathogen can germinate directly to exposed roots or if it receives enough moisture and shade, accompanied by cooler temperatures, It will begin to produce small mushroom-like fungus structures.
Generally speaking, White Mold isn’t going to be as big of a threat as other pests or diseases on this list – but if you happen to live in an area with a high water table and mild temperatures you can greatly reduce your risk of infection by following some of the below control measures.
- Allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry completely between watering.
- Remove the bottom 2 feet of shoots and leaves.
- Avoid planting in any area with a high water table or too much shade.
It’s not uncommon for infected plants to not show any visible signs of the infection among certain hop strains. For those who are sensitive to the disease, the disease will first become evident by a yellow mosaic pattern of on the hop leaves.The Hop Mosaic Virus is capable of stunting the growth and consequently yield of the infected hop plant anywhere from 15-62%(depending on hop variety.)
The Hop Mosaic Virus propagates primarily through the growth and distribution of already infected plants. The disease is also capable of spreading via a few species of aphids and other pests, although transmission rates are considerably lower.
The most effective method for controlling the spread of the virus is to simply isolate any infected plants and not use any of it’s rhizomes to propagate further. While insecticides may seem like an obvious choice to curb the threat of spread by aphids, It isn’t nearly as efficient or practical.
Two Spotted Spider Mite
The two spotted spider mite is most closely related to ticks and spiders, with the ability to actually spin webs. Either green or yellow in color, they are easily identified by their two spots (one on either side). 1/50th of an inch in size, they should still be barely visible to the naked eye – or at the very least make their presence known by the webs they produce on the leaves and cones of the plant.
The spider mites feed on the both the leaves and cones of the hop plant, by sucking plant juices from the cells. These feeding habits cause both the leaves and cones to become brown and damaged. This damage of course depends on the size of the infestation, but can range from simply a reduced yield or total crop loss.
Predatory bugs or insecticides can be used, however many commercially available pesticides may actually encourage spider mite population growth. You can However use Neem Oil spray as an organic and effective alternative. Another great alternative is to purchase some Lady Bugs from your local gardening center and let them go to town the lil’ buggers.
Hop Aphids can occur in either winged or wingless forms, as pear-shaped white to light green colored insects.Both forms of the hop aphid feed off of the water and nutrients of the hop plant, using specialized mouth parts to suck nutrients and water from the tissue of leaves and cones.
As they feed on the leaves and cones of a developing hop plant, Leaves and cones will begin to to turn brown, wilt and eventually die. The excretion that the aphids leave behind acts as a catalyst for Sooty Mold, while the Aphids themselves are capable of carrying diseases like Hop Mosaic Virus and American Hop Latent Virus just to name a few.
Historically insecticides were used to target the aphids and hopefully remove them from hop fields, however recent research is now looking to favor the use of a non-chemical solution by introducing predatory mites into the hop fields to target the aphids. If you are growing just a few plants at home, insecticides may still be the most practical method of dealing with these pests. It should also be mentioned that soapy water or neem oil would also be suitable organic substitutes for controlling insect populations for smaller hop yards.
Popular American Hop Variets – Disease Susceptibility
Use the below chart to choose a hop variety that is naturally resistant to one of the major diseases hop growers face. Generally speaking, You can get a good idea of what type of hop varieties would do well in your area by finding out what local hop farmers tend to grow.
S = susceptible
MS = moderately susceptible
MR = moderately resistant
R = resistant
**For a more detailed break down of the diseases and pests that Hop plants are susceptible too and how to treat your plant, Please check out USAHops.com.
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