Growing Hops With Limited Space

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There are few things in the homebrew world as enjoyable as growing your own hops. Being able to craft a killer pale ale or IPA with hops you grew yourself is not only fun; it’s one of brewing’s most enjoyable bragging points (and let’s be honest, we all like a small brag now and then).
Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with space enough to grow their own hops. These aggressively growing bines can climb to upwards of 30 feet tall, spreading out bushy limbs covered in the fragrant hop cones we know and love. Most growers built tall poles or trellises for their hops, which require materials and yard space. But here’s what you may not know: You don’t actually need a huge yard or sprawling acreage to grow your own hops. In fact, if you get creative, you can even grow hops indoors – and we’re going to give you some tips how.
We’re going to start with a brief overview of the basics of hop growing, but if you already know your stuff feel free to skip to the next section.

Growing Hops: The Basics

Growing your own hops starts with getting your hands on some rhizomes, which are essentially small root cuttings (actually subterranean stems) that will grow into full-sized plants. Rhizomes are widely available at homebrew shops and online retailers, but their availability is limited to certain times of the year. In fact, as of this writing the time is NOW to begin purchasing yours, so start checking with your favorite retailers.
Your first time out, it’s best to start with two rhizomes for every plant you want, just in case one doesn’t take. Plant the rhizomes in the early spring about two inches under the soil, with the buds facing upward or horizontally. Hops are hungry feeders, so be prepared to water and fertilize regularly, but take care not to overwater young plants. Doing so can cause root rot. Hops will break ground in the mid to late spring. You’ll get a number of shoots sprouting from the ground, anywhere from a six or seven to a dozen or more per plant. One feisty Centennial in my yard produces upwards of forty shoots! When they grow to about a foot tall, select the three or four sturdiest and wrap them around a support system, such as a trellis, supporting twine, or other support system. Cut back the rest. (If you’re adventurous, eat the shoots you cut away. Hop shoots sautéed with butter are quite tasty!)
Once trained, hops will grow very aggressively.
Once your hops start growing, they’ll grow aggressively. Growth of a foot a day is not unheard of. By mid-summer, you’ll start to see hop cones forming. In the late-summer or early autumn, depending on your region and hop strain, those cones will be nice and full. Use the “pinch test” to tell when they are ready for harvest. If you pinch them and they are somewhat papery, with some very, very slight browning, they’re ready to harvest. Pull off all the hops you want. Lay them out to dry for a few days, which will also cause any critters inside to leave – which means your kitchen table is NOT a good place to do this, as I learned my first year when I accidentally brought an aphid plague into the house – and then use or store them. Your hops can be used immediately, stored in the short term in the fridge, or even stored long term in the freezer.
There is more to know, of course, but those are the basics. What we’re really here for is to give you pointers on how to grow your bitter green friend even if you have limited space. First we’ll tackle outdoor growing with limited space, and then indoor growing.

Double Duty: Use Hops As A Decorative Plant

Those of you with limited outdoor space may think hops are out of question for you, but the trick to maximizing what little space you have is to realize that almost anything can be a suitable growing area for your hops. Because of the way my yard is situated, setting up the traditional grow poles or trellis systems was out of the question. No doubt many of you are in the same boat. With a little creativity, however, you can turn your limited space into prime growing area and have it look great, too. The trick is understanding how to train hops to grow horizontally.
Hop plants climbing along the front of a backyard deck, shown here about mid-season. Photo by Eric San Juan
In my case, I utilized my backyard deck as a grow area. You can do the same with a deck, balcony, small shed, or even a chain link fence. Though my deck is relatively small, only about 10 x 15, I was able to use the deck and railings as a support structure for three hop plants (a Cascade, Nugget, and Mt. Hood). The hop bines never got in the way or impeded the use of the deck. In fact, by the end of the grow season it looked amazing, a complete wall of green that even my wife was sad to see go once it came time to cut the bines back. Pick the structure in your yard you plan to use. Even your front porch will work, provided it gets enough light. Once you have selected a location, use a modified version of the steps I took to
1. Plant your hops at the foot of the deck. I did one at each corner and the third near the middle?
2. Allow your bines to grow vertically until they reach the top of the railing. Depending on your deck, that might be anywhere from seven to ten feet or more.
3. From the railing, use jute twine secured to hooks or nails to the front of your railing, stretch a few lengths of it horizontally across the front of the deck. I try to do each line at a slightly different height, separated by one to two feet so that once the bines are producing foliage it will cover the front of the deck. When the bines reach the top of their vertical climb, begin training them along these horizontal lines. Yes, that means you’ll be training some bines to grow at a downward angle!
4. Every few days, check your bines. They’ll be reaching upward. Instead, gently wrap them around the twine on the horizontal path you’ve paved out. No need to wrap them tight.
5. Once the first two months of strong growth are done, let them grow as they will. Side arms will begin to develop (which is where the cones will form).
The bines will wrap around anything they can find, including the deck infrastructure. Don’t worry, they won’t damage the deck. Feel free to redirect any that grow in an undesirable location or having three on a single deck means they’ll intertwine with one another. I’ve not found that to be a problem, but if you’d like to avoid that in order to maximize your harvest, scale back to just one or two plants. With this method, all three plants (Mine are now entering their fourth year) grow to their expected lengths and produce a nice hop harvest.
By using this method and treating your hops as both a cone producing machine and a decorative plant, you can squeeze them into even the smallest yard. One 10-foot stretch of standard chain link fence, for instance, provides plenty of space for a nice, fully producing hop plant. Another method you can use with sheds, garages, and the side of your house is explained below. This method can even work on apartment balconies. You’ll have to be judicious in properly training the plants, possibly even training them in one direction, then turning them 180 degrees and going back the other way, but it can be done.
The best part of all? They look amazing. Even if my plants had produced no harvest, I’d have been happy to have them growing on my deck all summer.

Container Growing and Indoor Adventures

Hops are not a plant you usually think of as being suitable for indoor growing, but dedicated homebrewers have managed to make it work. Ideally you’ll have a balcony that affords you enough room to let them spread out, but failing that, you can make it work provided you have enough space near a large window that lets in a lot of light.
First, you’ll need a growing container. Select a pot of at least 20 inches in diameter and fill it with two cubic feet of planting mix. If you want to keep with the brewing theme, use a half barrel or retired brew bucket. They can serve as good planters, just be sure to drill some holes in the bottom for drainage.
Get yourself some lengthy garden stakes, too. If you’ll be indoors, stakes of six to eight feet will be plenty. Plant as you normally would, and begin to water generously. As a general rule of thumb, container-grown plants need more water than ground-grown plants. Once you start getting your first shoots, proceed as you normally would, cutting back to the strongest few and training them up the stake. Because you’re growing indoors, consider cutting back to just two bines instead of the aforementioned three or four. But where to go from there? After all, hop bines are around 15 to 20 feet in height, and can reach upwards of 30 feet. They’ll outgrow those stakes and reach the ceiling in no time.
Simple solutions can still get you an abundant harvest. These Centennial hops are growing up twine hung out a second floor window. They take up almost no yard space. Photo by Eric San Juan
To address overgrowth you can:
• Use screw-in hooks to support them the bines from your ceiling. Run them to the ceiling, then either allow them to hang. You may try adhesive hooks, but be forewarned that the adhesive won’t always be able to support the weight of a hop bine rich with cones. Trust me, I’ve been there!
• If you have the room, train them horizontally. Maybe run them along the top of a window or along a length of twine. The usual tips for horizontal growth apply. If you’re creative, you might even find a way to use them decoratively indoors.
• Just let them dangle! If hops don’t have anything to climb, gravity will take over and they’ll droop downward. This is fine. I have a Centennial that outgrows its line every year by five to six feet, and it still manages to be my best producer. So let them run up the stake, then spill downward.
Other factors to consider:
• Fertilize! Hops are strong feeders, and the limited space of a pot means they’ll eat up nutrients fast. Use a liquid fertilizer or slow-release granular fertilizer to prevent “burning” the roots.
• Know that the plants are likely to become pot-bound. This is when there is an extensive root system that takes over the entire inside of the pot. This can cause plants to become stunted. Pot bound plants won’t produce much.
• Water generously once the plants are growing well. Do daily soaks that cover every inch of soil. Water thoroughly so you get some drainage from the bottom. Water again when the soil has dried, likely by the next day or the day after. But if the soil is still damp, ignore the calendar and skip watering. Over-watering is just as dangerous as under-watering.
• Don’t let anything go to waste. When your experiment has run its course, cut back the bines to the ground and pull up the roots. The thick, branch-like growths near the surface can be cut into four-inch lengths and each will grow into a new plant. Share them with your homebrewing friends!
• Don’t expect a bountiful harvest. Indoor hop growing can be a fun part of a homebrewing lifestyle, but you’re not going to replace what you get from your homebrew supply shop. You’ll get enough to dry hop a batch or two, though.

Wall Crawlers: Let Them Play Spider-Man

Training hops up the side of your house using jute twine and adhesive hooks. Photo by Eric San Juan
If you have both limited space and a limited capacity for handyman projects, not to mention you lack something like a deck or fencing you can use as a makeshift support structure, you can still squeeze some hops onto your property provided you live in a two-story home or have something like a garage or shed on your property. It’s ridiculously easy to do – and yes, it’s also ridiculously lazy. Don’t judge me.
Here’s what I did: I grew hops by hanging lines out a second floor window. Seriously. I tied jute twine to a bookcase located near a second floor window, tossed the twine out the window at lengths that would reach the ground, then closed the window. The twine is thin enough so that the window closed just fine.
At the foot of the house, just a foot or two from my foundation and spaced about ten feet apart, I planted a Centennial, Cascade, and Nugget. I ran the twine to each planting location and staked it. Once growing, the hops ran up the side of my house along the jute twine. Simple as that. I built no trellis, created no support system, and generally did none of the things a conscientious grower would do. Those hops are now in their fifth year of growth. Each year they climb the twine, do no damage to the house, produce lots of hops, and take up a virtually zero yard space. We’re talking a one-foot by one-foot patch of ground at the side of the house for each. That’s it. If all you had was a one-foot deep stretch of earth between, say, your house and a sidewalk or driveway, you could make room for your hops there.
You can do the same with a shed or garage. Simply hang some twine from the top and allow the hops to grow up it. No muss, no fuss. No doubt many of you have found even more creative ways to squeeze hop plants into unlikely places. Please share your ideas in the comments. Until then, happy brewing (and growing)!
Eric San Juan
Any recommendations on additional resources for hop growing? Love these ideas but am totally new to the subject. I live in Florida and have 2 west facing bedrooms that I would love to have a trellis outside of and have a wonderful hop wall.
I ve had some problems getting mine to train as the bines are so stiff they often break (yes Ive been very careful with them etc) they just don't seem to want to grow this way. (We had some hail a few weeks ago that bashed the crap out of mine as well this year and seem to have shut of the "length growth") I may try it again next year but if I have the same problems I may just put up the poles (SWMBO wont be happy about that LOL)
When I started out I relied on the instruction sheets that came with my rhizomes, similar to this one:
I also checked out a few articles in BYO:
Most of it has just been hands on, figuring out what works for me and what doesn't. I'm not particularly handy, so that + my yard space means I wasn't going to be building a big trellis and that sort of thing. Just jury-rigged together whatever solutions I could!
I have had mine in 5 gallon buckets (like you would see bulk oil, paint, flour come in) for 2 yrs. First year I got a total of 7 small cones on one of the chinook plants.
2nd year, I got enough from the 2 Chinook for about an oz of dried hops (used them in an IPA this spring...very nice)
Also have 1 Fuggles, and 1 about enough from them combined for 1oz dried.
Just pulled the buckets from their winter storage, and not seeing any new growth, but likely just a matter of time, now that it is warm enough to leave them out over night.
Building planter boxes and putting them in the ground this year however. Hope they get much more yield this year, especially where they are going in the ground. 2 new Centennial plants this year which are growing. 2 Cascade I got don't seem to be doing anything however.
Great article on growing hops. I like the way you covered all of the essentials.
I have been growing hops for over 20 years. The first two "hop gardens" were in Charleston, WV and the 3rd is in Metro Atlanta. Growing hops in WV was very easy. The climate was perfect and I got a tremendous yield from a variety of Hops. Growing hops in GA has been quite the challenge. Between the heat, soil conditions, and bugs, we have a few failed attempts. The best solution has been growing hops in raised beds or barrels. We have Cascade, Nugget and Cenntennial in Whiskey Barrels cut in half. The Cascade is by far the most prolific producer.
If you are going to attempt growing hops in Florida, you might want to try it in late winter. Feel free to contact me if you want to try this with some Southern Rhizomes.
Nice article! In particular I like the way you grew them in a decorative way on your deck. I'm in my second year of growing a cascade and a goldings and have been trying to a more decorative way to do it. Twenty foot poles in the back yard won't work for me. My deck set up is similar to what is in your picture, and it faces south. Now that I see It's possible to have success with such a setup I may get a couple more plants and give it a try.
about 6 ft. The vine is typically about the diameter of a pencil and is hollow BTW. 2nd year cascades. Grew like weeds till they got hammered by some hail but they are bining like crazy now. I tired letting them get some length too before gently trying to wrap them etc with mixed results. Once they break off...that's it for length.
I have a short (3 ft) trellis in a corner of my yard (Gulf Coast TX) as a visual barrier for a generator. Just planted some Cascade rhizomes in January, and been training the bines to weave through the trellis. The thing exploded!! About to harvest first cones later this week!
Good luck! If it helps, my deck is 10 x 15' (I *think*) and I squeeze three plants around it. Each has its own corner, and one of the plants overlaps with each of the two others. In other words, I train a few bines to one side and a few to the other. Got really full last year, but very manageable.
Here is another website about growing hops at home that has good information
And a good article on planting hops