Nick Carr on September 25, 2020 0 Comments Hops are an amazing addition to any garden. But, of course, they hold a special place for the homebrewing gardener. As a homebrewer, I know the excitement of seeing the first pale green shoots poking up through the soil in the early spring. I’ve hurried out morning after morning and found myself, each day, freshly in awe of just how fast those little shoots were able to spring higher and higher; sometimes a foot in a single day. I know the pride of those first cones appearing, like a parent watching a child take its first slow steps. I watched and praised the plant’s abilities. Then comes the mounting excitement as cones mature and harvesting time nears, knowing that soon you’ll be brewing with homegrown hops. Growing something and using it in the creation of something that we can enjoy and share with others is a deeply satisfying experience. Homegrown hops give us this experience and in return, we should take care of them as best we can. This includes preparing them for their winter rest. Most hop plants can survive the winter with little or no help from you. But, they may not be as healthy or give as large a crop as they could if you’d just taken a little extra time. There’s really very little to bedding hops down for the winter, which makes it even more of a wonder why more people don’t think about doing it. Cut Them Back At the end of the growing, trim back the hop bines and unwind the bines from your trellises/stringers. You can either wait until the bines die after the first frost to cut them or if you’re planning to make hop wreaths, you’ll have to cut them when they are still green and pliable. Any parts of the bine you don’t end up using can be cut up and composted, but avoid composting anything from plants that you believe might have had some form of mildew or wilt disease. Some articles and books suggest cutting all the way back to ground level, but I’d suggest leaving anywhere from one to three feet of the bine behind. This short piece from Great Lakes Hops states that the crown and plant can continue to get small amounts of sugar from the bine. This is especially important if you are cutting the bines earlier in the year when they are still green because the plant needs some green matter to gather energy stores before it goes dormant. According to the article, crown damage caused when the crown thaws out but the root does not, can be avoided by these extra nutrients; along with the added insulation possible through the old bines grabbing and holding debris and snow. By keeping the bines slightly longer you increase the likelihood of your plants remaining insulated and fed. This may not be such a big deal for those of us who are just growing a few hops. We can always go out and check that they remain covered. But having that little extra help isn’t gonna hurt anything either. Breakup The Soil If your hops are a few seasons old, the soil around each plant may be getting pretty compacted. You may want to consider breaking up the topsoil a bit. This can help the plant grow and moisture/nutrients to get into the ground. Be careful not to cut any of the root body below the surface. The easiest way to do this is to take a rake or fork hand tool, push the tines into the ground, and then just rock it a bit. Don’t actually try to pull up soil and turn it. Adding Compost and Mulch Give each hop plant a shovelful or two of good rich compost. Then pile on organic mulch in a thick layer, at least 4 to 6 inches deep. The mulch not only provides nutrients as it breaks down, it also will help insulate the plant as temperatures drop. Any easy source of this mulch in the fall can come from the falling leaves you rake together during Fall yard maintenance. When The Winter Has Ended Once the winter has passed and there’s no chance of a late freeze in your area, push the mulch away from around each plant, but don’t remove it completely. The mulch will continue to provide nutrients to the hill as it breaks down. You also may want to prone your hop roots. This is an important task to carry out about every two to three years. This keeps your hop plants contained, healthy, and ensures they put most of their energy into the bines you’ve selected to produce. It’s best to do this when the hop root is just starting to grow for the season. To do this, take a sharp knife and cut any roots in a one-foot radius around your hop plant. Be sure to get all the root matter you cut, because they will continue to grow and sprout new plants. An added bonus of this pruning comes if you happen to be planning to expand your hop garden. You can use the pieces of rhizome you cut. Just make sure each piece has both some roots and sprouts on it. Another option is to give them away to other local homebrewers or gardeners looking to start some hop plants. You might even be able to trade your rhizomes for root stock of a variety you don’t yet have in your garden. That’s all it takes! A little trimming, some soil preparation, and mulch. Your hop plants will be happy and healthy through the winter, and vigorous as ever come spring. If you do this year after year, your plants will be healthier and your yields will be larger than if you’d just left the plants to fend for themselves. Bigger yields mean more recipes brewed with homegrown hops and more money saved— what homebrewer needs more than that?