Garden Doctors: Hop vines can thrive, but beware of deer

Lucky asks: I am a recent transplant to California after living in the mountains. Can I grow hop vines in Sonoma County?|

Lucky asks: I am a recent transplant to California after living in the mountains. Can I grow hop vines in Sonoma County? I have seen the vine in many mountain gardens and it seems like it would be the perfect vine to climb up an old fence in our Windsor yard. Do the deer like to browse on the hops?

Hops can be grown successfully in our area and, in fact, were a major crop for many years in Sonoma County. In the summer and fall, an interesting hop demonstration garden can be viewed at the Windsor Historical Society and Museum located at 9225 Foxwood Drive in Windsor. Of particular interest are the tall supports used for trellising the vines. In September, visit the museum for a hop harvest and beer celebration.

Plants can be purchased as dormant roots (rhizomes) or in containers. Hops are available as female plants or male plants. We are more familiar with the female vine and its delicate, pinecone-shaped, bract-like flowers, which add to its ornamental attractiveness and its use in flavoring beer. The male vine has a rather insignificant bloom with many small flower clusters (panicles). It is not necessary to have a male vine planted for pollination purposes unless one wishes to try cross-pollination experiments aimed at developing new hop cultivars. There are several varieties of hops available, and a favorite for a shady location is Humulus lupulus “Aureus,” which has bright greenish-yellow foliage. There are many good websites for in-depth information, and one site in particular is from Oregon. It covers a wide range of information on growing hops.

Plant the new vine in the spring in full sun or part shade and in soil that has been amended with organic matter for ideal drainage. When planting, the roots should be positioned with the thickest end up and just below the surface. Water the newly planted roots well and mulch the surface to retain moisture until they become established. Hops can reach astounding heights the first year, 25 feet or more. You will need to tie the new growth to a support while it is forming its twining tendrils.

The vine will go into dormancy during the winter and should be pruned back to a couple of buds above the ground. This will tidy up the vine and encourage new shoots to grow during the summer.

I have seen deer browse on the blossoms one time. Perhaps they were simply trying the vine to see if they liked it. If you live in an area with deer, you might want to initially spray the new vine with a deer repellent to train them not to sample the tender new growth and hopefully to associate it with an undesirable browsing experience.

Lydia asks: There is a huge tree (I am not sure what kind) in our neighbors’ front yard. It appears to be leaning a little more each year. We have had much discussion (all friendly) on whether it has become a hazard and whether we should be concerned. Should we?

“Leaners” are considered to be a hazard, so a call to a licensed and certified arborist is recommended. He or she can confirm if the tree should be removed and if it is indeed dangerous.

Following are descriptions and causes of why trees start to lean and become dangerous to people and property:

After hard rains and strong winds, the soil becomes too saturated to support the roots and the weight of the canopy. The ground at the trees’ base will appear lifted on the side opposite to the lean. The tree trunk is no longer vertical, and the axis under extreme conditions will be at a sharp angle to the ground.

Leaning can be caused by root loss, the result of recent trenching (root cutting) at the root zone.

The root system can no longer support the weight of the tree because of compacted soil, and the roots are more on the surface.

Soil erosion along the edge of streams and slopes will loosen the roots that anchor the tree to its growing site.

Constant wind from one direction will cause the trees to grow at an angle away from the brunt of the wind, and they are seldom dangerous as long as the soil is not compacted nor saturated. (A good example of healthy trees growing in constant windy conditions and leaning at an angle is in the city of Fairfield.)

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

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