There is a style of gardening for everyone, from vegetable gardening to pollinator gardening, some prioritizing delicious fruits and veggies and others aiming to display as many lovely flowers as possible…but why choose? Many edible crops can also serve as accents or even focal points in flower gardens, providing both beautiful form and function for humans and pollinators alike. Humulus lupulus (hew-mew-luss lew-pew-luss), more commonly known as hops, are not only a tremendous addition to a crisp IPA or amber ale, but are also a beautiful perennial option for any flower or vegetable garden, and are even native to Minnesota...so let’s hop to it.
Hops are a vining plant in the hemp family, Cannabaceae, and are native to Europe, western Asia, and North America including right here in Minnesota. While referred to as vines, hops plants are true bines, as they send out flexible, twining stems from rhizomes which then use stiff, downward facing hairs to wrap themselves around a trellis or post, in contrast to vines which have straight stems attached with tendrils that cling to surfaces rather than fully encircling them. This also means that unlike true vines, hops plants will need some assistance with training and attaching themselves around your trellis, fence, or deck each spring. Preferring to be grown in well-draining soil in full sun, hops are fast growers, using these specialized hairs to climb upwards of 15 to 20 feet in a single season if given adequate room to climb. After climbing, hops plants fill out to create a wonderful verdant, bushy appearance.
In the late summer, usually around mid-July to early August, hops plants will begin to flower. As dioecious (dye-ee-shuss) plants, hops produce distinctly male and female flowers on different plants. Female plants are instrumental in homebrewing, as their specialized flowers, called strobiles (str-oh-beels) or cones, are used as a bittering and flavoring component in beer, and as an added bonus are also excellent for pollinators including butterflies. These bitter compounds along with their stiff hairs also prevent deer or rabbit feeding. Hop strobiles are made up of many overlapping bracts that create a small green pinecone-like appearance all along the plant when flowering. These cones also contain lupulin glands, which produce a yellow powder, lupulin, containing resins and essential oils necessary for brewing excellent beer.
Commonly carried varieties, curated to provide an assortment of aromas and flavors for any homebrewer, include Centennial, Chinook, Comet, Crystal, Nugget, Sorachi Ace, and Zeus. Whether you’re looking to spruce up your space with a lush, native climbing vine, or planning to create an excellent homebrew this summer, hops are a great choice for any garden space.