Hop rhizomes come in all shapes and sizes; some are longer, some thicker, some with lots of root development, or shoot development, and some with less. When grading rhizomes, we focus on health and quality, not necessarily size. While we always stay above a minimum size and number of nodes or “eyes,” a small healthy rhizome won’t be small for long! New roots grow from the skin, and new stems sprout from the “eyes” or nodes of the rhizome, starting white, becoming purple, and then green above ground. Sprouts often break off during harvest, processing, packing, shipment, and planting, but fear not, more will grow in their place.
We’re all itching to plant, but remember, rhizomes won’t do a whole lot of growing before June, so they can be planted throughout May and even into June and still put on satisfactory growth when watered correctly. So, take some time to think about compost, mulch, trellising, and perhaps most importantly, your weed and water management systems. While the prolific root systems of mature hops make them very competitive with weeds, pruning and training hops tangled in weeds is a nightmare, and time spent in spring weeding will pay for itself doubly later on. Here are a few tips about what to do when your receive your rhizomes. You can plant rhizomes as soon as you can dig, however, they will also store in the fridge for weeks, if not months. Just don’t let them dry out. Hop shoots can handle light frost, but most growth is put on in the warmer weather. Growers at higher latitudes might opt to plant a bit later if deep freezes are still a risk.
Plant into good loamy soil that has been amended with well-aged compost. Plant the rhizome about an inch and a half below the surface of the soil, and the shoots will find their way up. We usually plant rhizomes horizontally.
Water your first year plants in the morning, usually every other day through June, when there’s no rain. Mulched soil will retain moisture better. Soil should almost always have some moisture in it, never bone dry, but also well-drained and never saturated. *Rhizomes will rot in saturated soil.*
Depending on your soil temperatures, you should see shoots breaking the ground in 1-3 weeks. As the plant grows, you will want to wean it from frequent shallow watering to occasional deep watering (about twice per week through July when there’s no rain), since constantly damp soil promotes disease. If possible, you’ll also want to move the watering outward from the center of the plant, promoting root growth.
While mature plants can go weeks without water, they will not grow as well. Rainfall usually accounts for just a fraction of the water requirements of plants in their second year and onward, so while you want to give the soil a chance to drain after heavy rains, light rain may still need to be supplemented. Also, mature plants need most of their water during the vegetative growth phase in June and July; watering can and should be cut back once the hop cones have set.
Exact feeding and watering requirements vary from variety to variety, season to season, region to region, and especially from soil to soil. The hobbyist will eventually “get a feel for it,” while the more serious grower will use soil samples and a matching fertilizing regimen. Hops are heavy feeders and are impressive growers when fed properly.