I took the unseasonably warm weather this Saturday as a sign that I needed to get outside and do something. I need that vitamin D.
I toyed with making an impromptu brew day out of the faux-spring revival, but a lack of prior planning and fresh ingredients kept my kettle dry. I thought about washing the cars, but figured I wouldn’t tempt the weather gods with some pristine paintwork to defile. I even considered going for an extended run, but the overindulgence of the holidays still rolled in my belly like an errant skateboard on a halfpipe.
So, instead, I decided to transplant two of my hop plants.
When I’d first planted them, I broke ground in a dizzy revelry, overwhelmed with the idea that I would soon be growing my own delicious nuggets of lupulin. I’d painstakingly prepared an area for the gangly rhizomes; tilled, pH tested, de-rocked and de-rooted. I built for them a nest where they could sprout and grow and be happy. The one sort of definitely major thing I didn’t consider as I buried them a few inches down, was how much light they’d be getting in the rather secluded plot tucked next to my deck beneath two oaks.
Turns out it wasn’t nearly enough. While the bines did grow in the flat, sun-starved dapple, they didn’t exactly flourish. The fatal parallel was finally drawn when some first year hops I planted in a much sunnier spot grew to twice the size and produced dozens more cones. I knew they had to be moved. The problem was, I didn’t know how to move them.
I don’t have a lot of luck moving plants. Two bushes I tried to move last year did very impressive impressions of dead versions of themselves by the end of the summer. I’m also psychologically averse to pulling an established plant out of the ground. It feels like I’m ripping an organ from the earth with crude tools, in some barbaric verdant ritual.
But it had to happen. For the good of the hops! Lack of knowledge be damned. Armed only with a shovel, my hands, and some guidance via Stan Hieronymus, I set to giving my harrowed hops a happy new home.
How to Transplant Hops
Things you’ll need:
- Hops to be transplanted (sort of a no brainer)
- A shovel (given the size of the root networks, you’ll need something big)
- Your hands (they’re gonna get dirty, so plan ahead)
- A new place for the hops (see the first item of the list)
- Some extra topsoil (I had some left over from summer planting)
- A beer (I chose Troegs HopBack Amber because hop back. Get it!? I need help.)
Step 1: Find the Nubs
If, like me, you decided to transplant your hops in the late-fall/winter, you’re going to have to find exactly where you cut the bine down from the previous year. If, also like me, you were dumb enough to winterize your garden by dumping shredded leaves all over the soil before you moved the hops, you’re going to have to do what I like to call, “exploratory dirt surgery.”
Just dig around with your hands for a while until you find the nub where you cut down the bine. Don’t bust out the shovel quite yet; you don’t want to cut through any major roots. And yes, “nub” is the technical term. You can trust me, I’m a scientist.
Once you’ve found the nub(s), you can start to excavate the area around said nub to see where the major roots are. After a little bit more hand-digging, you should reveal what looks like a miniature stump with hundreds of differently sized roots shooting off in every direction.
Step 2: Dig around the Stump
Now comes the somewhat tricky part: you need to dig around the stump far enough to not accidentally sever any major hop-arteries, but close enough to actually be able to pull the tentacled beast from the ground. It’s a fine art. I started pretty far away and worked in closer until the whole ground heaved when I levered the shovel upwards.
Protip: The roots spread out very wide, but don’t go very deep. Sort of like bamboo, but way less intrusive and annoying.
At one point, I cut a pretty major root off of the rhizome and felt really super bad about everything. Before I was too overtaken with grief however, I remember that when I planted these things, they were barely the size of pencils. Hops are resilient little dudes. Don’t intentionally hack off a bunch of roots, but if you do hit some while you’re digging, it’s OK. Chances are the plant will be fine. Probably. Hopefully.
Step 3: Pull it out of the Ground
I’m not being metaphorical or anything, literally grab a hold of it and pull it out of the ground.
Step 4: Drink beer and Admire your Green-ish Thumb
And your high school guidance counselor said you’d never amount to anything. Just look at what you grew! You nurtured and loved a living thing! And then summarily ripped it from its comfortable home for selfish reasons. Maybe that counselor had a point.
Anyway, drink some beer and maybe pour some out for your hop-homies.
Step 5: Dig up the new spot
Given that your plant is much, much bigger now, you’ll need to dig deeper and wider than you would for new baby rhizomes (I dug down about 5 inches and out about 10, but this will vary depending on the size of your plant). You’ll also want to position the stump so that the nub is facing up, and planted roughly where you want the bines to grow. Both of my plants seemed to sprout bines from the same part of the plant each year, so there’s a good chance where you place the stump will be where your new growth will pop its little head out, come spring.
Once you’ve placed it where you want it, dump the dirt back on top. Remember that the nub was technically above ground before, so try not to bury it completely in the new spot, either. For good measure, I added a new layer of topsoil and patted it down to create a uniform bed for the hops to sleep in through winter. I then tossed some mulched leaves on top to keep the soil from getting too hard (you obviously wouldn’t want/need to do this if you’re transplanting in the spring).
Step 6: You’re done!
Pray to Gaia that your plants like their new home, and that you’ll be seeing little reddish-green spears shooting up come the long-thaw. Drink the rest of your beer. Rejoice. Then go clean all that mud off your shoes before you track it into the house and your significant other yells at you.