Grow Your Own Backyard Hops

Growing your own hops at home can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. I have been growing hops in my backyard for over a decade and have found it to be a truly fulfilling experience. It has even led me to establish my own commercial hop yard, HopRidge Farms, in Johnsonville, New York. I have learned many lessons and techniques over the years and I hope to pass some of those along to you.

I have been homebrewing for nearly six years and I am Head Brewer at Madison Brewing Company in Bennington, Vermont. I started my hop growing business four years ago, where we grow seven varieties of hops (Cascade, Nugget, Chinook, Mt. Hood, Centennial, Willamette, and Saaz). We have a 17-ft. (5-m) high trellis system and 150-ft. (45-m) rows complete with an irrigation system. Growing hops commercially has its own unique challenges unrelated to home-scale hop growing but the core knowledge gained in growing my hops at home was invaluable. So, let’s dig in and I will share what I have learned about growing hops at home. I will guide you through every aspect of growing hops in your backyard from site preparation all the way through harvest and packaging.

The Plants

Hops, known scientifically as Humulus lupulus, is a species of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family, native to Europe, western Asia and North America. Mostly known for its inclusion in beer for bittering, this plant is also used widely in alternative medicine to treat everything from digestion to insomnia.
The hop plant is unique in that it is considered an annual plant above the ground and a perennial plant below. Each year the hop plant sends out shoots, which eventually turn into bines (yes, bines not vines) and grow upward of 20 feet (6 m). The crown of the plant, which is underground, will continue to produce hop bines for years and even decades. The bines produce hop cones, which contain a yellow substance known as Lupulin. It is the lupulin that bitters the beer with the cone acting as a vessel.

Site Preparation

Hops can have a very small footprint in your yard as they grow vertically. You can get creative as to where to plant your hops, and most often I have seen folks grow them on the side of their house or on a fence. It is best to choose a spot for planting that has southern exposure with plenty of sun. However, an eastern or even western exposure will work but you may not experience as vigorous growth. Once you have your location for sun exposure you want to make sure you have around 20 feet (6 m) of vertical space available for the plants to grow into. If you don’t, you can come up with other solutions, however, it’s important to note vertical growth is ideal for hop production and that the hop bines will easily grow this tall and usually a few feet more.

Next, you will need to consider the earth at your growing site. The hop crown likes rich well-aerated soil that drains well. If you have that, great, but if not, you can amend the soil without too much trouble. You also need to determine how many plants you would like to grow and make sure you have adequate space. The hops will need to be planted 5 feet (1.5 m) apart for different varieties so they won’t grow together and 3 feet (1 m) apart for the same variety.

What Varieties to Grow?

What kind of hops you grow is a personal preference and most of the time depends upon what you are growing the hops for. If your goal is to grow something ornamental or for a cover I recommend Chinook and Mt. Hood. These varieties will grow tall, thick, and produce a ton of cones. However, most of you will of course be using the hops for homebrewing so you will need to determine what styles you enjoy and what hops are typically used in brewing them. Here in the Northeast big and juicy IPAs are all the rage and most homebrewers and commercial hop yards are growing many C variety hops. For those who may not know what the ‘C variety’ hops are, they are Cascade, Chinook, Columbus, and Centennial.

Cascade has been around for a long time and is credited for starting the hop craze nearly 20 years ago. This variety is dual purpose, meaning they can be used for bittering and aroma, but I prefer them as an aroma and dry hopping addition. Cascade grows well in most places with smallish tight cones. They have alpha acids ranging from 5 to 7% and work well in pale ale and IPA styles.

Chinook is a true superstar in growth and functionality. They are a great bittering hop and wonderful aroma hop especially for dry hopping. They are incredibly vigorous growers and typically produce huge harvests with 3-4-inch (7-10-cm) cones. Alpha acids range from 10–13% and if I had
to pick only one hop to grow it would be Chinook.

Columbus are like Chinook in overall value and growth but they are citrusy where Chinook is piney. They also grow vigorously and produce a large harvest but, in my experience, not as well as Chinook. With alpha acids ranging from 14–16%, they are a great bittering hop but also work very well in dry hopping.
Centennial, sometimes dubbed the super Cascade, is a great aroma hop. It has a very pungent aroma that is dank and less “grapefruity” than Cascade. Alpha acids range from 8 to 12% and allow it to be used for bittering and aroma but I prefer it for aroma and dry hopping additions. In my personal experience, Centennial has not produced as well as the other three hops already covered here, but does tend to grow decently.

I recommend growing a few varieties, if you have the space, to cover all of your brewing needs. I think it’s best for a homebrewer to grow a nice clean bittering hop like Magnum or Columbus along with several dual-purpose hops like Chinook and Centennial and one noble variety like Saaz or Hallertauer. This covers most beer recipes and allows you to use some of your home-grown hops in all your beers. On the other hand, if all you brew is IPAs, then by all means stick with the C hops or conversely if you brew a lot of traditional German beers then go with all noble varieties.

Some of you might be thinking, “Why not grow some popular hops I always hear about like Mosaic™, Citra®, and Simcoe®?” Unfortunately, we can’t, as these hops are proprietary varieties and are only grown on the farms that own the copyrights or trademarks. The farms own the rights to grow them exclusively and plants are not available for others to grow. Proprietary hop plants are being released to the public as their contracts expire with the original farms, however. One such hop now available is Sorachi Ace. This is a great dual-purpose hop, which can throw a lemony flavor and aroma. I have used it in IPAs and saisons with great success. We will be growing it at HopRidge Farms in the coming season, and I encourage you to give it a try as well.

Once you decide which variety or varieties you would like to plant, you must decide where and what type of rootstock to purchase. You have a few choices of rootstock to include rhizome, plant cutting, and crown. The rhizome is probably the most well known part of a hop plant and can be purchased in multiple places online (see page 95 for a list of sources). Plant cuttings can typically be found locally through Cooperative exchanges, nurseries, or homebrew shops. Crowns are somewhat new to the scene in terms of being able to purchase, but they are out there.

The rhizome is a cutting off the main crown that will grow into a full hop plant. Typically, you want to plant two rhizomes of the same variety to ensure that one will grow. Depending on the rootstock, they will grow well but do not begin to produce fully until the third year. Plant cuttings are cut from a growing plant and re-rooted, which enables them to be planted and grown as normal. As with rhizomes, cuttings grow ok but tend to take a few years to produce. Crowns are the base of a fully established hop plant, and if you can find them to buy they are the form that I recommend. On the commercial side, I have planted over 250 crowns and have never had one not grow. Additionally, they will produce a nearly full harvest the
first year.

In terms of cost a rhizome is usually around $2-3 each, a cutting around $3-4, and a crown is typically around $6-7. Considering it’s recommended to plant two rhizomes we are talking a difference of only a few dollars with all options but the biggest sell for the crown is both the reliability of growth and a good harvest of cones the first year.

Regardless of what rootstock you start with, make sure you know where your stock is coming from and that it is certified virus and disease free. Buy from a reputable source that tests and guarantees their stock. You can find rhizomes cheap online but you get what you pay for as they say. Do yourself a favor and spend a few more dollars on crowns that are certified and will produce a good harvest in the first year.

Trellis and Soil Prep

A hop trellis can take many shapes so feel free to be creative but a few important reminders. Try to go as tall as possible taking into consideration safety first. If you can safely go 20 feet (6 m) then do so but if you can only get 12–14 feet (3–4 m) that’s fine too. I wouldn’t go under 10 feet (3 m) unless you run a horizontal line an additional 10 feet (3 m) or so. Additionally, remember that each hop plant will weigh 20-30 pounds (9–14 kg) around harvest time so multiply that by how many plants you have and make sure your system can take the weight.

I recommend the teepee approach where you have one 15-ft. (4.5 m) pole and run several stringers off it. It is functional, visually appealing, cost effective, and works well. If you look around online, you can also purchase a round plate that can be raised and lowered on the pole to assist in raising and lowering all the plants at once. While the teepee is a useful design, it is recommended to use only one teepee per variety as the bines will undoubtedly grow together and you won’t be able to distinguish which cones are which.
If you are growing different varieties I recommend a simple two-pole system, which I use in my own backyard. This setup uses two poles (at least 4 in./10 cm in diameter and 15 ft./4.5 m tall), 4 large eye hooks, 1 50-foot (15-m) cable, and 4 ground anchors. You will need the anchors to set up the poles, and there are different kinds of anchors. For more on setting up your cable and anchors, check out for an instructional video. When setting up the poles you will want to dig down at least 2 to 3 feet (1 m) and place some small rocks in the hole for drainage. Place the pole into the hole, with help, and fill in the soil around the hole. Now that we have the basic design of the trellis in mind we need to talk about what to use for the vertical growth of the hop bine. I recommend coir, which is a woven rope made of coconut husk and originates from Sri Lanka. It is a wonderfully strong fibrous rope that the hop bines love to climb. If you can’t find coir, I suggest simply using any fibrous/rough rope you can find that is at least 1⁄4-inch (0.6-cm) in diameter.

Now that the trellis is up we shift our focus to the soil. You will want to envision a 3-foot (1 m) diameter circle as your growing zone for each hop plant. I recommend removing any sod and digging down about 1 foot (0.3 m) and loosening the soil. If you have rich well-draining soil you really don’t need to anything further. If not I recommend purchasing a few bags of Miracle Grow garden soil, hummus, and manure. Mix 1 large bag of miracle grow garden soil (typically 40 pounds/18 kg), 1 bag humus (typically 20 pounds/9 kg), and 1 bag manure (typically 20 pounds/9 kg) together. Place roughly the equivalent of a 5-gallon (19-L) bucket into each growing zone. Mix with the ground soil and form a 12-inch (38-cm) high mound about 1 foot (0.3 m) in diameter. This is where you will plant your stock.

If planting a rhizome dig down about 5 inches (13 cm) and place two rhizomes either vertically or horizontally depending upon where you see little white nodes growing. Always point the nodes up as this is where the bine will grow. If planting a cutting dig down so all the roots are about 3 inches (8 cm) below the top of the mound. If planting a crown dig down 7–8 inches (17–20 cm) making sure the entire crown is buried and the new growth is at the top of the hole. Make sure to water each mound thoroughly and place some more of your soil mixture on the mound if necessary. Now we will shift our attention to the growing season and what to expect each month.

Growing Season

April is the month in which you can prepare your trellis and begin prepping your growing zones depending on how warm or cold it is. It will be tough to dig the holes for your trellis if you live in a northern climate so wait till the ground is not frozen. Additionally, you don’t want to plant your stock until the threat of frost is over.

In May, you can plant your stock and begin to look for the first shoots. This could also be a great time to think about a small irrigation system, which can be as simple as a soaker hose. An irrigation system is not 100% necessary but it will improve the growth of your plants therefore increasing your chances for a full harvest.

In June, you will really start to see your plants take off. You will also need to start training the longer bines onto the coir/rope. Hops grow clockwise upward, so once a bine gets 2-3 feet (1 m) long you will want to gently wrap it around the coir/rope in a clockwise pattern. Be careful when you do this as the bines are delicate at this point. If the top of a bine flops off a bit that is ok as after a few days it will correct itself and begin to wrap around the coir/rope. Pick three or four of the heartiest bines to train, leave another two to three bines to grow off the coir/rope, and cut the rest of the shoots back. The reason for leaving two to three off the grid is in case any of the bines growing up the coir/rope die.

July is the most exciting month. Your hops will grow upward of 1 foot (0.3 m) per day so be prepared for some serious growth. Make sure to keep them watered if rainfall is low or if you see the soil around your plants drying out. You will also want to keep an eye out for Japanese beetles if they are in your growing region. They can decimate the foliage and hurt the hop plant. Also, be on the lookout for burs, which will eventually turn into hop cones. Late in the month you will notice the bines developing side shoots. These side shoots will produce most of your hop cones and are a welcome sight.

August is typically the month where all your preparation and hard work pays off. August is all about the cone development and growth. You may notice some lower leaves dying off, which is normal. Keep an eye on the hop cones as they will plump up fast and ready themselves for harvest. Often the third or fourth week in August is when your hops will be ready for harvest.


You will know the cones are ready to harvest when you squeeze a cone and it pops right back into shape. Also, I recommend picking a hop cone that you feel is close to being ready and cut it in half lengthwise. It should be full of the yellow substance lupulin. You’ll be able to see lupulin sacks and it should be plentiful. All your hops, even on the same plant, will not all be ready to harvest at the same time. If you have multiple varieties, you may need to harvest at different times as you’ll want to harvest as soon as they are ready.

For harvesting, I recommend lowering your trellis, if you can, and cut the bines about 3 feet (1 m) from the ground. Leaving that 3 feet (1 m) will allow some of the nutrients in the bines to travel back to the crown and help it prepare for the upcoming over wintering. Lay your bines out in a line for easy transport and simply drag them to your harvest area. Lay them out and start hand picking the cones. A word of caution, the hop bine can irritate your skin quite severely and some folks can be allergic. You may want to wear pants if you lay them across your lap and even gloves to protect your wrists and forearms. It’s a good idea to get some large bins, totes work well (see picture on page 54), and throw the cones in them.

Once you have picked all the cones it is time to dry them. You must dry them immediately (or use them in a wet hopped beer) as they will begin to rot and deteriorate. I recommend laying them out on a large screen in a dry spot like an attic where air can flow freely. A window screen on a saw horses works well but you will find that will only dry about a pound (0.45 kg) of wet hops. You may wish to build a simple oast out of some 1-inch (2.5-cm) square wood and screening (check out a design and build at Lay the hops out in a single layer and find a dry place with a lot of air movement. It can take a day or several days for them to dry depending on the conditions. Drying takes typically at least 48 hours.

The next step is to package your hops. I recommend using a vacuum sealer if possible as this will not allow any oxygen to degrade your cones. If this is not feasible get some good quality freezer bags and pack them full. Try to press out as much air as possible then zip it shut; I would then double bag them and store in the freezer. Be sure to label them by style and harvest date.

Growing hops is a unique, fun, and rewarding hobby. Remember, there are a ton of ways to accomplish what I have outlined. This article is intended to be an introduction to growing hops in your own back yard and to get you thinking about how to develop your own hop growing plan. Growing hops should be fun and economical. If you have questions I am happy to answer them via [email protected].

Issue: March-April 2017