Skip to main content

Garden Trend 9 – Growing Hops for Beer

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Time for our next gardening trend of 2014: Young Men Get Down and Dirty. According to the 2014 Garden Media Group report, men aged 18 -34 are spending $100 more than the average gardener. They are grilling, growing their own hops for beer, and taking the kids out to play in the dirt. All good things!

Hops (Humulus lupulus) is an herbaceous perennial vine that grows well in central Illinois – sometimes too well. It is a very vigorous vine that can grow 20 to 30 feet long. Ideally a strong trellis is used to support the vine. In Jamaica I saw hops growing commercially on large pergola-type structures. Closer to home I've seen it growing up the back of a garage, along fences, and sprawling along the ground.

Brewing craft beers at home is a growing trend. The basic ingredients of beer are water, a starch source such as wheat or barley, a brewer's yeast, and a flavoring such as hops. Personally I am not a fan of "hoppy" beer, but it is very popular.

The part of the plant that is used to brew beer is the cone from the female plant. Female plants will produce seedless cones without a male plant nearby, which works fine for brewing beer.

Since you want a female plant do not start hops from seed in your garden. Instead purchase female potted plants or rhizomes (roots) to plant in the garden. The plant prefers a sunny location with well-drained soil, though it does tolerate some dryness.

I planted a hops vine this spring in my herb garden. In addition to beer, the female hop cone is also used to make tea. One hops plant will yield about one to two pounds of dried cones in early- to mid-fall. Cones are ripe when they feel dry, papery, and leaves are scented. Dry cones can be stored in air-tight containers or in the freezer until use.

Nugget and Cascade are popular hops varieties with home brewers. Nugget is considered a bitter hop that stores well, though it is late to mature. Cascade is considered an aroma type that matures early with a floral and spicy aroma.

Hops are also grown as an ornamental vine. A popular variety for this use is 'Aureus.' It's maple-like leaves are a luminous, clear shade of yellow.

Obviously you don't have to be an 18-34 year old male to grow hops. Whether you grow it as an ornamental or to use when brewing beer, hops is a great addition to many gardens.



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.