The hops plant, also known as Humulus lupulus, is a versatile and attractive plant. You may have heard the name already. It sounds familiar because it is the main ingredient for the brewing of ale.
When we talk about hops, what we’re referring to are the flowers of the hop plant. These flowers can embitter, flavor, and stabilize beer. They also add different flavors and aromas, making for unique tasting beers.
In particular, it’s the resin in the flowers, known as lupulin, which lends different flavors to the beverage.
The hops plant itself is a vigorous climber. Growers “train” it to grow up strings in a specially set up hop field, also known as a hop yard or hop garden.
There are many varieties of the plant grown worldwide, and the different types can create different kinds of beer.
The History of Hops
According to historians, the first use of wild hops to improve ale was in 822 AD. The brewing discovery is thanks to a French monk. However, its use only became more widespread later, in 1150 AD, among the Germans.
Even England got into the mix. King Henry loved beer, and he popularized it in his country. He even offered special protections to hops growers.
Hops changed the taste of ale so fundamentally that brewers had to distinguish between ale and other forms of beer.
What Do Hops Leaves Look Like?
A leaf on the hop plant has sections called lobes, and each one has three to five lobes and a serrated margin. The leaves themselves are opposite of each other on the vines. The cone-like fruits are separate from the leaves.
What Does Hops “Fruit” Look Like?
It’s useful to be able to identify both the flower and fruit of the hops plant. The flowers, known as hops, are yellow-green in color and come as male and female flowers.
The male flowers branch loosely and grow in a pattern. The female flowers grow in catkins. A catkin, or ament, is a cylindrical and slim flower cluster with no petals. The female flowers may have petals, but they are very inconspicuous ones.
The catkins on the hops plant have a cone-like shape. Hop plants, in a sense, each have a gender. Why can we say this? It is because male and female flowers do not grow on the same hop plant.
The female hops flower eventually develops into the hop fruits. These fruits are light green initially, but turn to brown when they ripen.
These fruits are also cone-shaped, just like their parent flower. The cone also has a unique scent, which smells a little like a mix of yeast, apples, and garlic. This unmistakable scent is part of what gives beer its unique taste.
Plants That Get Mistaken for Hops
The hop plant is often confused with other kinds of plants, such as the white bryony. The white bryony, also known as Bryonia dioica, is another climber that growers can train to follow strings or trellises.
However, the bryony leaves are all five-lobed and very distinct, and their arrangement on the vine is alternative, rather than directly opposite, as it is in the hop plant.
The fruits of the white bryony are also a deep red color, which is different from the color of hops.
If you look closely, it is easy to tell these two plants apart. It’s also imperative not to look too closely because the white bryony is poisonous.
How Long Does It Take for Hops to Grow?
Hops thrive in mild climates, but they can be grown in most places. Some species do better in temperate areas.
All hops need soil that is well-drained and rich in nutrients.
The plants require enough space to grow because they need to send out roots to survive, spread, and be productive. You also need to provide the growing plant with mulch. This step is especially vital in colder areas because it can protect the roots from damage due to the cold.
The best time to plant hops is in the spring. You will want to start the process when the soil has thawed from its winter freeze. Frozen ground is a no-no with this plant. You will also want to make sure that the danger of an overnight frost has passed for the year before planting.
The best time for growth is during the spring and summer, especially in the plant’s first year. In fact, during that first year, the hops are spending most of their energy just trying to send down roots. You should not expect them to be too productive in terms of fruit for the first year.
You may see a few cones in that first year, but it is not the year of the most significant yield. For you to see substantial results, plan on letting your hops grow for two years or more.
Since they are perennial, you can expect them to yield flowers and fruits for many years, so long as you take care of them. However, after that first planting, you do not have to worry about planting and having a low yield for the first year.
How Tall Do Hops Grow?
Hops can grow up to 40 feet if well taken care of in the proper manner.
Because of their potential size, you need to provide them with the right conditions to achieve their maximum size. A maximum size also means a full yield, so proper care is vital for a successful annual harvest.
The first important factor is the soil. Hops require well-drained soil full of nutrients. The pH should also be somewhere between 6.0 and 6.5, and you may have to add lime to achieve the correct acidity level.
When planting hops, add about 44 ml (3 tablespoons) of all-purpose fertilizer and work it into the soil to a depth of eight inches. This depth will give your hops plant a great start to life. You can then side dress with some mulch and add nitrogen every spring as a fertilizer.
How Much Sun Do Hops Need?
The second important factor is sunlight. Hops grow well when exposed to partial sunlight.
It would help if you distinguished between ornamental hops and hops that you are planting for their fruits. If you’re seeking maximum harvest, you will have to expose them to plenty of sunlight. They also do best on south-facing gardens.
The vines proliferate over trellises, fences, and teepees and the side of your house. For that reason, hops need plenty of space. They can reach heights of up to 20 feet (six meters) before producing cones. After that, they can grow up to 40 feet, or 12 meters, each season.
Each section of the rhizome will give you lots of shoots. Choose the healthiest and remove the others. When they have grown up to three feet, wind them clockwise around some support and watch them grow. In early summer, they can move upwards at as much as one foot per day.
Hops have various uses, though they can also be grown for their aesthetic contribution to your backyard. Most people, however, associate them with beer. Indeed, people often grow hops to use in home brewing or commercial microbrewing.
Hops are easy to care for and will increase in size and yield each year as long as you provide them with the conditions they need. With enough space, proper soil care, and skillful pruning, these plants will work well either as fruit producers or ornamental plants and conversation starters in your garden.