The hops industry has grown significantly over the past several years, expanding remarkably across the nation. Though the Pacific Northwest may be the traditional home of hops, there are now well over 30 states producing hops. As the popularity of local craft beers grows, the demand for quality local hop growers increases as well. There are even hobbyist hop growers that produce crops right on their own modest plot of land.
The unique nature of the hop plant means it can only be successfully grown on specialized trellis and pole systems. To grow the best plants possible, and therefore get the most value from your harvest, selecting the right pole trellis design is key.
Consider Any Species-Specific Characteristics
Before you get into actual trellis designs and layouts, it is important to consider what species of hops you plan on growing as this can affect height and spacing requirements.
There is a surprisingly vast variety of hop species, though they tend to be broken down into three main categories - American types, British types and Continental European types. The latter two are naturally less common in the US, part in due to their lower yield and more particular soil requirements. American types are the traditional large, robust, high-yield hops grown in the US.
The greater size of many American species means row spacing will need to be wider and also require very sturdy trellis structures to handle the weight. If you do happen to be growing a British or European species, you can do very well reducing row spacing and planting at a greater density as they are smaller plants.
One other factor that may influence your trellis design is your region. If you have a shorter growing season your hops may never reach full height, allowing you to use slightly shorter poles with success.
HOP TRELLIS DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS
A traditional commercial trellis system for hops calls for poles anywhere from 22' to 25' in length with roughly 3' to 4' of said pole in the ground. This leaves about an 18' pole above ground, allowing for plenty of space for growing the majority of hop plants. Shorter trellis designs are possible for some plants, so long as they are a species that produces cones at a low height. Constructing too short of a trellis with a hop variety that matures with its cones high would be a costly and unfortunate mistake.
Row spacing is equally as important as height. Too wide and too narrow of spacing can both lead to poor growth, mold and fungus issues, or even promote pest damage. Going back to the three categories of hops, as far as spacing goes stick to 14' to 16' spacing between rows and 42" to 48" between plants for American varieties. British and European varieties will do well with 12' to 14' spacing and anywhere from 2' to 3' between plants.
COMMON TYPES OF HOP TRELLIS DESIGNS
There are four main trellis designs ideal for growing hops. These include:
Flagpole - The most basic design and the fastest construction method. The Flagpole trellis simply consists of one main pole with three lines extending from it. This works well for many hop plants, but may end up leading to clumping issues at the top if varieties with a high cone height are being grown.
TeePee - Similar to the Flagpole, but with a greater size and strength. This involves making a teepee skeleton structure with poles and growing the hops on the outside of them as you would with the Flagpole. This design is quite large but good for holding up very dense, heavy species or for areas where high winds can push over top-heavy hops.
Clothes Line - A very useful and effective design. As the name suggests, the Clothes Line trellis is constructed similarly to how you'd construct a clothes line. The support post will have a T-Shape, allowing roughly 3 lines to extend from each side. This allows for maximum growth and no issues with clumping at the top like the Flagpole design can cause.
House Eve - The same idea as the flagpole, but the lines will reach up to the peak eave of a house or other building instead. Useful for properties where growing hops isn't the main goal, but rather a bonus that can be placed around buildings rather than taking up planting space in a garden.
Flagpole, TeePee and Clothes Line designs are better suited for yards where maximum growth and profitability are the goal. The House Eve is ideal for residential locations where the grower is simply maintaining a few hop plants for personal use.
Growing hops can be an exceptionally rewarding process on both commercial and private scales. These wonderful multi-use plants will remain in high demand for many years to come, making it an enticing investment for those that would like to enter the agricultural industry. By taking the time to compare trellis designs and effectively plan your hop yard in the beginning, you'll be able to focus on actually growing and caring for your plants rather than worrying about your structure down the road.