How To Prevent Your Hops From Spreading (5 Methods)
Growing your own hops can be beneficial for any brewer. However, hops can get chaotic as they grow, and it is essential to learn how to control them.
Here are 5 methods of preventing the hops from spreading:
- Prune the vines and trim rhizomes regularly.
- Grow hops in a barrel.
- Use a bottomless can to contain the hops.
- Set up a rhizome barrier.
- Provide hops with strong support to climb on.
The cost of these approaches varies, as do the lengths of time required. Some are essential, while others allow you to choose among possible options. In this article, I will explain everything you need to know about regulating hops growth and spreading.
1. Prune the Vines and Trim Rhizomes Regularly
Pruning is crucial to maintaining your hops and the best way to control their growth. This applies to both the vines and rhizomes.
Reasons for Pruning Hop Vines
Hop vines grow rapidly and spread with great speed, so regular trimming is essential. Apart from keeping plant growth in control, pruning also has other benefits:
- Growth stimulation. By cutting off weaker vines and supporting the strongest and healthiest ones, you help your plant grow more quickly.
- No tangling. As hops spread and new vines emerge, the sidearms can get tangled, sometimes between two separate plants growing close to each other. Pruning is the best way to prevent it.
- Protecting hops from disease. According to research, pruning can prevent hop diseases such as halo blight.
- Improving air circulation. Cutting off excessive vines ensures better air supply for the main ones.
The Timing of Pruning Hop Vines
Vines should be pruned three to four times over the course of the year. The reason for this is their rapid growth: once you let them get loose, they can quickly become messy.
First Pruning: 3-4 Weeks Before Training
Training occurs when the vines grow to be about 1 foot (0.3 meters) in length, which is when they need strong support to develop further.
Providing them with such support is essentially training them to grow in your desired direction and preventing their chaotic spread, but more on that later.
It is recommended to cut the initial stems about 3-4 weeks before planned training. This helps to even the vines out in length when they regrow and encourage better yield.
The timing will depend on the climate conditions in your region, expected weather, and other factors. The best way to determine the proper pruning window is to take notes every year about the best weather conditions and your hops’ growing speed.
Here’s a table that shows approximate dates for pruning and training in Washington State, which you can use as a reference.
|5-1 / 5-3
|8-24 / 8-29
|5-4 / 5-7
|9-3 / 9-23
|5-7 / 5-8
|8-29 / 9-10
|9-3 / 9-28
|4-18 / 4-26
|5-10 / 5-15
|9-3 / 9-18
|5-16 / 5-17
|9-20 / 9-23
|4-26 / 4-28
|5-15 / 5-20
|9-5 / 9-23
|4-28 / 4-30
|5-19 / 5-20
|9-3 / 9-30
If you see that regrowth is taking too long in your particular region, it is better to skip the first pruning because not missing the training window should be your top goal. I also do not advise pruning baby hops.
Pruning After the Training
After three to four weeks, hops will regrow and be ready for training. Typically, the three strongest stems will be trained and thus prioritized over others.
Once the training has happened, the vines must be regularly pruned throughout the growing season.
Here’s how you should approach it:
- When the vines are 1 to 2 feet (0.3 to 0.6 meters) in length. Cut the untrained weaker vines to help control the spreading of your hops and strengthen the roots of the trained vines.
- Middle of the growing season (usually July). Cut about four feet (1.2 meters) from each vine.
- End of the growing season. Cut the vines to be two or three feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) in length. This will prepare them for the next season.
- Throughout the growing season. Trim the ground-level stems as they emerge and cut shoots on the trained vines every few weeks.
Many people don’t know what rhizomes are and often mistake them for the hops roots. So, before learning how they should be treated, you should know what they are and why they deserve your close attention.
Rhizomes are a modified kind of stem that stores nutrition for the plant and performs reproduction. They do resemble roots and grow primarily underground as well.
Yet, while roots usually grow down and don’t give any trouble, rhizomes can be sneaky and spread rapidly if uncontrolled. They are the main concern of the hops’ growers, and it is essential to trim them to control their severe spread regularly.
Still, it is not always easy to tell whether the vast spreading you see is the roots or the rhizomes. To make it easier for you, remember the following:
- Roots are more ‘woody,’ while rhizomes are softer and ‘spongy.’
- Roots are dark, while rhizomes tend to be lighter in color.
Trimming Hop Rhizomes
While hop vines grow rapidly and can soon turn into a chaotic jungle if not controlled, another kind of spreading happens underground.
Rhizomes should be pruned yearly to prevent them from taking over your garden. Ideally, you should keep it in mind before planting your hops and ensure there is enough space around them for you to be able to dig in any direction.
- Use a shovel to dig 6-10 inches (15-25 cm) deep in different places around the hop (about 1 foot from the crown, so the hop doesn’t get damaged)
- Determine where the rhizomes have spread. Often you will find them growing in multiple directions.
- Dig the rhizomes up and cut them off. Be careful not to mistake roots for rhizomes.
Remember that rhizomes are responsible for reproduction, so you can use them to plant more hops or sell them online.
2. Grow Hops in a Barrel
A way to contain the rhizomes is to plant them in a ‘pot,’ for instance, a barrel. This way, they won’t be able to spread under the ground in your garden, and all the digging can be avoided.
You can get whiskey or planting barrels or another type of container to plant your hops in. Make sure they’re at least 5 gallons (19 liters) in volume to fit the roots.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to how you should proceed:
- Ensure there are enough drainage holes. Planting barrels will usually have them, but you may have to drill the holes yourself if you’re using other equipment.
- Add some gravel. Filling approximately ⅕ of your container with gravel is also a part of setting up the drainage system.
- Prepare the soil. Use a potting mix to fill the barrels. Hops prefer soil with lower pH.
- Prepare the trails. Secure them with tent stakes put directly into the soil at least 5 inches (12.7 cm) apart. You can find more about creating hop trails later in the article.
- Plant the hops. Insert rhizomes by each trail 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm) deep and cover them with soil.
- Water the hops. Make sure there is enough moisture in the soil for them to grow.
While it is important not to go above and beyond with watering, hops planted in containers require extra care and special treatment. Check the soil at least once a day and water it whenever it dries.
It is best to treat hops planted this way with fertilizer approximately once a month.
3. Use a Bottomless Can To Contain the Hops
Instead of planting your hops in a container, which requires a lot of extra care, you can create a kind of underground barrier for them.
This will allow hops to grow more freely, and you won’t have to worry about their root development and water them as frequently. You might still have to trim the rhizomes, but they won’t spread around your garden as severely.
For this method, you can either build the restraining system yourself or use a large can to cut its bottom and dig it into the ground.
Method 1: Build the Restraining System
You can use wood planks to build the bottomless container for your hops. Here’s how:
- Build a square. Use four wood planks to create a square large enough to fit as many hops as you want to plant freely. Use nails to secure them together.
- Bury the square. Try to make it go as deep as possible, at least one foot (0.3 meters) down. Leave above the ground a few inches (about 10 cm) to create a barrier.
- Plant your hops inside the square. Plant and treat as usual.
As rhizomes will be contained inside the restraining square, you won’t have to worry about them spreading extensively. However, you still should watch the rhizomes and trim them from time to time to free some space inside your bottomless container for the hops’ growth.
Method 2: Use a Large Can
A more straightforward method would be to find a big enough can (at least 5 gallons, or 19 liters, in volume) and use it to create a similar barrier.
- Cut the bottom of the can. As this step is essential, go for materials that would be easier to deal with.
- Bury the can. Again, try to make sure it is tall enough to go at least one foot (0.3 meters) under the ground.
- Plant the hops. You may have to add additional soil; other than that, proceed as usual.
You can use a plastic trash can, a water barrel, a wood barrel, or anything similar. Make your pick based on what is easiest to get and work with while cutting the bottom off, as additional equipment may sometimes be required.
4. Set Up a Rhizome Barrier
A more professional approach would be to get a rhizome barrier. They are also called ‘bamboo barriers,’ as people mainly use them for growing bamboo, which also has rhizomes.
Still, this method would work great to prevent your hops from spreading. Rhizome barriers aren’t expensive, and you can find a great variety available. The main characteristic would be its height, so select one that goes at least one foot (0.3 meters) deep.
I recommend using polypropylene barriers, as this material is the most practical. You can also find concrete, metal, or wooden options, but they are not as long-lasting and can be more challenging to work with.
Here’s how to set up a rhizome barrier:
- Dig a trench. Make it a few inches less than the height of your barrier so that some is kept above the ground. Create a trench around the area where you plan to contain your hops.
- Insert the barrier. Ensure it stands strictly vertically and at least two inches (5 cm) above the ground.
- Secure the seams. Overlap at least 12 inches (30.5 cm) of the barrier material when you connect the end and beginning of it, and do the same for any other seams along the way. Secure the seams using a strapping system. You can get one online along with the barrier.
- Bury the barrier. You can use less plant-friendly soil, so the hops are tempted to spread in that direction as little as possible.
5. Provide Hops With Strong Support To Climb On
The best way to control the spread of hops’ vines is to train them. As mentioned, hops require something to climb on, and if they’re not properly trained, their spreading can become chaotic.
You can find various trellis systems available online. They are made of different materials and can be as tall as 18 feet (5.48 m) or more, allowing you full control of the hops’ growth.
However, such systems are often quite expensive, and if you’re planting the hops as an experiment for your homebrewing, you might not want to commit to such a costly purchase.
Alternatively, you can build a support system yourself using wood planks, bamboo stakes, old fences, or anything you have that could work.
- Set up two posts. Using the material of your choice, create two posts at least 10 feet (3 meters) in height for growth and a couple of feet (0.6 meters) under the ground. They should be level and directly facing each other.
- Attach two 5-feet (1.5 meters) boards with hooks to the top and outside of the posts. Put two eye hooks on the left and two j-hooks on the right of each board. Two posts facing each other should have an eye hook right across a j-hook.
- String coir twine. I recommend this type because it is strong enough to support the plants. Attach the twine to a j-hook and the eye hook on the opposite post directly across the j-hook, then leave the twine hanging. Repeat the process for each pair of hooks.
- Secure the twine by tying it to a tent stake. Place the stakes by each of your planted hops and tie the free end of each twine to a stake.
Planning your own hops can be a great adventure, but it is essential to control their growth. Otherwise, you’re risking ending up with a jungle both above and under the ground in your garden.
These simple tips can help you prevent your hops from spreading:
- For the vines: train them, provide strong support, and prune regularly.
- For the rhizomes: prune annually and create a homemade barrier or buy one online.