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Humulus lupulus – Hops in the Garden

Familiar to brewmasters, hops is a bine, not a vine. The difference is that vines use tendrils and suckers to climb or attach, while bines have stems that twist and hold themselves in place with small, stiff hairs. Interestingly, columbine is a bine.

Hops – my favorite vine (bine)

Hops is aggressive. Happily, hops foliage perishes with the first frost. If you need an aggressive vine that will grow 25 feet in a season, Humulus lupulus is for you. But what about the inevitable problems with such an aggressive plant? For example, we have to worry about potential damage to structures and strangled plants. Because it dies back every winter, hops never has the chance to develop the large, strangling vines of, for example, wisteria. Nor does it shade out competition over time like kudzu.

hops vine in the garden
Hops vine in the garden

Here are a few of the reasons I love hops:  It lends a substantial vertical element to the landscape. It is fairly rare in most gardens. Because it dies to the ground every year, there is the opportunity for fall cleaning on the structure after a season’s growth. Because it dies to the ground every year, hops vine does not develop huge vines that crush everything in their path. Plus, your beer-making friends will beat a path to your door.

Growing hops in the garden

Hops vine is hardy zones 2/3-8 and prefers rich, moist, organically rich soil. Dry conditions are unacceptable. Full sun to partial shade is fine, although, in the hottest parts of the South, afternoon shade is recommended to prevent leaves from scorching or bleaching. The hops themselves (pictured at the beginning of this article) mature in late summer and are 1/2″ or so in size.

Vines, and hops, prefer cool, shaded root zones

After frost comes feel free to whack hops vine back to the ground…leave 4″-6″. As far as culture, many online resources are dedicated to producing hops for use with brewing beer, so their concerns are often geared towards the eventual taste of the hops produced. Our concern in the landscape is aesthetic.

This article from the NY Times provides a brief introduction to hops from a beer maker’s perspective.

p.s. Some gardeners report having allergic reactions to contact with hops vine…wear gloves when handling if you have a concern.

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