Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Even though I was a child at the time, I still remember the first time that I saw hollyhocks. They were growing along a fence. I was in awe of their height and beautiful flowers. As an adult, I have found them to be both easy and a challenge to grow.
What are Hollyhocks?
Most of us associate hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) with English cottage gardens, but they are actually native to China. They were introduced in England before or during the fifteenth century. No one is sure of the exact time period. They were given their name, “holyoke” by William Turner, an herbalist who wrote the first herbal published in English. Hollyhocks were popular with herbalists because they believed that they could be used as a laxative, an anti-inflammatory, as a mouthwash to cure bleeding gums and to stop bedwetting.
Hollyhocks were among the Old World plants brought to the New World by European colonists. In addition to their medicinal uses, thanks to their height, hollyhocks were frequently planted around outhouses to hide them.
Hollyhocks are hardy in zones 3 through 8. They are biennials, meaning they live for two years. The first year, the plant germinates from seed and grows only foliage. The second year, the plant comes back from the roots and develops both leaves and flowers. They readily self-sow, giving the impression that they are perennials when in fact, you are seeing new plants not the old ones.
The flowers grow on stalks, opening from the bottom of the stalk to the top. They range in color from white to deep red, including pink, orange and yellow and come in single or double form. The double flowers look like pom-poms. They bloom from mid-summer to early fall. Butterflies and hummingbirds are reputed to favor red flowering hollyhocks. Cut the flower stalks off at the base when they have finished blooming.
Hollyhocks are quite tall, growing 6’ to 8’ in height depending on the variety.
How to Grow Hollyhocks
Hollyhocks grow best in full sun but will tolerate part shade. They prefer well-drained soil. They like to be moist so keep your plants watered during dry periods. A thick layer of mulch will help retain moisture and prevent weed seeds from germinating.
When watering your plants, water at the roots, rather than from overhead. This prevents the spread of rust, the scourge of gardeners trying to grow hollyhocks. When you water from overhead, the water falls with such force that it bounces back up, carrying soil and fungus up on to the leaves.
Because of their height, the flower stalks need support. Plant your hollyhocks in a protected area where they will not be blown around by the wind. If you have a lot of them, plant them along a fence or a wall for support rather than trying to stake up each individual plant.
How to Get Rid of Rust on Your Hollyhocks
Hollyhocks are very susceptible to rust which is caused by a fungus. You can purchase a fungicide at your local nursery but the best way to control rust is through proper sanitary practices. At the first sign of rust, remove the infected leaves and either throw them out or compost them. If a plant is covered with rust, remove the entire plant. In the fall, remove all dead plant material from your garden so that the rust doesn’t overwinter and re-infect your plants in the spring.
How to Grow Hollyhocks From Seed Outdoors
Hollyhocks are easily grown from seeds. They can be direct sown in your garden in either the fall or spring. The seeds should be surface sowed. Do not cover them with soil. They need light to germinate. Germination will occur when the soil warms to between 60⁰F to 70⁰F in the spring.
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Thin your seedlings to 18 inches apart to provide good air circulation. If you are growing them in rows, space your rows at least 3 feet apart.
How to Grow Hollyhocks From Seed Indoors
You can start your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. Surface sow them. Do not cover the seeds. They need light to germinate. Germination should occur in 10 to 14 days. Wait until after your last frost to move your seedlings outdoors.
Plant them 18 inches apart. If you are growing them in rows, space your rows at least 3 feet apart.
© 2014 Caren White
Caren White (author) on September 12, 2014:
I envy you, Pawpaw. I no longer have space to grow hollyhocks. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Jim from Kansas on September 12, 2014:
They are such beautiful flowers. We have a couple, but plan to have a few more.
Caren White (author) on August 26, 2014:
I always seem to lose my hollyhocks to rust. I hope your experience is better. Thank you for reading and commenting.
RaintreeAnnie from UK on August 26, 2014:
I love Hollyhocks and other cottage garden type plants. Doing a lot of redesigning in the garden this year and Hollyhocks are going to be a part of it! Thank you for the helpful information and I will remember to watch out for rust!
Caren White (author) on June 24, 2014:
I envy you. I moved to a townhouse and I don't have the space to grow hollyhocks. Good luck with yours. I'm sure that they will b beautiful.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 23, 2014:
No; I should have been clearer; they grow good but shorter which I love because my moms were so tall they were always falling over no matter how much she tied them. I just let mine die out and am getting them restarted.
Caren White (author) on June 23, 2014:
Bac, a well-constructed compost pile heats up and kills seeds, rust, etc. Due to air quality regulations here in the US, we are not allowed to burn garden waste like leaves. Thanks for reading!
Anne from United Kingdom on June 23, 2014:
I love hollyhocks and chose the name as my psudonom on another site I write for. I have them growing in my garden in Spain and they are stunning. I have one variety that is such a deep maroon colour it looks almost black at times. I'm not sure about putting rust infected leaves on the compost heap though, maybe they would be better burned. Just a thought.
Caren White (author) on June 21, 2014:
My guess would be that your summers are too hot for hollyhocks. They grow well in England which has much cooler summers. There are some plants that just don't tolerate the hot summers of The Beautiful South. Thanks for reading.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 21, 2014:
My moms hollyhocks got really tall up north but any I have had in the southeast do not get so tall. I have several coming up that are different; I hope I will see some flowers from them this year.
Caren White (author) on June 15, 2014:
Blueheron, I have loved hollyhocks since I was a little girl and I first saw them growing along a fence. Thanks for reading!
Caren White (author) on June 15, 2014:
ES, hollyhocks don't climb, they just get very tall but I agree that they are very beautiful. Thanks for reading!
Sharon Vile from Odessa, MO on June 15, 2014:
Emilie S Peck from Minneapolis, MN on June 14, 2014:
I enjoy climbing plants. These are beautiful!
Caren White (author) on June 14, 2014:
That's great! Thanks for reading.
mactavers on June 14, 2014:
They grow well in Northern Arizona too. Good Hub thanks.