How to Grow Hollyhocks, a Cottage Garden Favorite
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 grow 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 . 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. seeds
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