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How to Grow Hollyhock From Seed

Jill is a former Master Gardener and Naturalist who enjoys cooking, abstract painting and stewardship.

This guide provides instructions for propagating and growing the biennial Alcea rosea, commonly called hollyhock.

This guide provides instructions for propagating and growing the biennial Alcea rosea, commonly called hollyhock.

Spring and fall are the best times to start hollyhock (Alcea rosea) from seed. The entire process, from sowing to transplanting seedlings, takes about nine weeks.

The growing and maintenance guide below covers the following topics:

  • Prepping seeds for germination
  • Sprouting and growing seedlings
  • Transplanting seedlings
  • Getting hollyhock to bloom
  • Collecting seeds
  • Saving hollyhock seeds
Hollyhock tends to grow true from seed, even hybrids like this double pink.

Hollyhock tends to grow true from seed, even hybrids like this double pink.

How to Prep Hollyhock Seed for Germination

Water treatments are commonly used on seeds with hard shells. The water softens the seed casing, breaking the dormancy of the embryo inside and encouraging germination.

Because hollyhock seeds are large and have fairly tough seed coats, soaking them in warm water or hot water prior to sowing increases the percentage of seed that germinates. It also causes those that do sprout to do so more quickly.

Warm Water Treatment

Prior to sowing, give hollyhock seeds a warm water treatment by soaking them in water that is approximately 113°F (45°C) for roughly 12 hours.

Hot Water Treatment

Rushed for time? Try a hot water treatment. In the late 1960s, botanists at the National Botanic Gardens in Lucknow, India found that soaking hollyhock seeds in hot water anywhere from 60–70°C for 30 minutes greatly improved their germination rate.

Young hollyhock buds are tender and green, with a shape similar to their drying seed pods.

Young hollyhock buds are tender and green, with a shape similar to their drying seed pods.

When to Soak Hollyhock Seeds

Giving hollyhock seeds a water treatment is a good idea if you're using store-bought seed or seed that you've collected, dried, and stored.

If you sow them by breaking and scattering dried seed pods outdoors at the end of the growing season, there's no need to soak the seed beforehand. The rains, snows, frosts, and thaws of autumn, winter, and spring are all the water treatment the seed needs to prep it for germination.

Hollyhocks are well loved for their tall spires of multiple flowers.

Hollyhocks are well loved for their tall spires of multiple flowers.

Sowing Hollyhock Seeds in Spring

Here's how to sow your hollyhock seeds in the springtime.

Indoors

To start hollyhock seed indoors in the spring, begin in late winter, about nine weeks before the last predicted spring frost in your area. It's best to start the seed in individual pots, as hollyhocks (even seedlings) can develop long taproots that don't transplant well.

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If possible, sow hollyhock seed in biodegradable containers, such as peat pots, newsprint pots, or paper towel and toilet tissue rolls (cut into 3-inch lengths). Although some gardeners recommend biodegradable egg cartons or even eggshell halves, they probably aren't deep enough to give hollyhock seedlings a good start.

Sow the seed in seed-starting mix with a little sand mixed in. Cover it lightly with soil, as the seed needs light in order to germinate. Place the pots on a sunny windowsill—under grow lights or in a cold frame—and keep the soil slightly moist throughout the germination process.

Outdoors

Hollyhock seed also may be directly sown outdoors in early spring.

One to two weeks before the last frost date, scatter seeds where you want the hollyhocks to grow, preferably by a doorway, along a fence, or at the back of a flowerbed. (Remember, hollyhocks are tall! And they don't transplant well, so be sure to sow them where you want them to grow.)

When temperatures reach anywhere from 59–68°F, the seeds will germinate. The resulting plants, however, probably won't blossom for another year.

Sowing Hollyhock Seeds in Fall

The best time (and the easiest time) to sow hollyhock seed is in autumn.

Simply sprinkle the seed onto soil that's been amended with lots of rich compost and cover it very, very lightly with soil. (As noted above, hollyhock seeds need light in order to germinate.)

In spring when the soil warms, the seed will sprout. And because it will have experienced bouts of winter cold—unlike spring-sown hollyhock—the plants will likely produce flowers in the first growing season.

Because of its height, hollyhock is perfect for the back of a bed or border.

Because of its height, hollyhock is perfect for the back of a bed or border.

Biennial Hollyhocks

Unlike perennial hollyhocks (Alcea pallida and A. rugosa), biennial hollyhocks A. ficifolia and A. rosea require two periods of cold weather before they will flower.

The first year, biennial hollyhocks grow vegetatively; that is, they produce only stalks, stems, and leaves—no flowers. They bloom the following year, unless brutal winter weather kills them.

To force biennial hollyhocks to flower the first year, treat them with gibberellic acid, a flower inducer that takes the place of a cold period. Planting them in fall may also induce hollyhocks to bloom the first year.

Biennial hollyhock planted in spring is unlikely to bloom the first year.

Biennial hollyhock planted in spring is unlikely to bloom the first year.

How to Transplant Hollyhock Seedlings

  • It's best to plant hollyhock seedlings outdoors when they're small, before they develop long taproots that don't transplant well.
  • As recommended previously, for good transplanting results, sow the seeds in individual pots so that transplanting causes less distress to the roots.
  • For the best results, sow seeds in individual biodegradable containers. That way, you can plant hollyhock seedlings in their containers outdoors without disturbing the roots at all.
  • Be sure to transplant hollyhock plants into fertile, well-composted soil in a sunny location.
  • Because hollyhocks are tall, they are excellent plants for the back of a border or flowerbed. They are also traditionally grown along fences, by gates, and next to doorways.

How to Care for Hollyhock

  • After transplanting seedlings into fertile soil in a sunny spot in the garden, keep the young plants moist. After a few weeks, when their roots are established, the hollyhock plants will need little care.
  • If blooms develop the first growing season, the stalks may need to be staked to prevent them from falling over under the weight of the plant's full, heavy flowers.
  • To keep hollyhock growing from year to year, allow established plants to self-seed, or scatter the seed yourself in autumn at the end of the growing season. (See directions for harvesting and saving hollyhock seed below.)

How to Harvest and Save Hollyhock Seeds

Collecting and saving hollyhock flower seeds is a simple process. In fact, it's so easy that it's an ideal garden activity for children.

Hollyhock seed pods are big and fuzzy, the seeds themselves thick and large—and very easy for little fingers to handle.

To collect and store the seeds, you'll need:

  • brown paper bag(s)
  • paper towels
  • empty seed packets or envelopes
  • resealable glass jar(s)

Harvesting

First, allow the hollyhock flowers to "go to seed."

When the flowers have devolved into large, brown pods, snap them off and drop them into an ordinary paper sack, such as a brown lunch bag, for safekeeping. While in the sack, they'll dry out further.

After a few days, remove the hollyhock pods, breaking them open onto sheets of paper towels. The seeds inside the pod will be stuck together, so you'll have to break them apart as well.

Almost every year, I pick the most mature green seed pods and bring them inside to dry. If the pods are spread out on a flat surface in a warmish room for a few weeks, the seeds can easily be removed from the pods. I have found that seeds from green pods dried this way have an astounding germination rate, even after several years of storage.

Drying

Place the individual seeds flat on the paper towels, removing the chaff with your fingers or with tweezers. Unlike snapdragon seeds, which are black and fine, hollyhock seeds are large and course. So you'll have little trouble differentiating bits of stem, pod, and other chaff from them.

Be sure to remove as much chaff as you can. Not only does chaff retain moisture, which could cause seed to rot, but it may also harbor fungal spores and viruses.

Storing

  • Seeds contain plant embryos that must be kept alive in order for them to germinate.
  • As a general rule, fresher seed is more likely to germinate than older seed, because the embryos in them are more likely to be alive. Conversely, older seeds are less likely to contain living embryos and are therefore less likely to sprout.
  • If purchasing hollyhock seed, check the date on the packet in order to select the freshest seed available.
  • To keep the embryos of seeds that you collect alive longer, store dry seeds in air-tight glass containers in a cool place, such as the refrigerator or freezer. Before refrigerating or freezing them, either place the seeds in small glass jars or place packets of seed in a large, sealable glass container.
  • Make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing them, as they have a tendency to mildew.
  • Adding a packet of silica gel to the container—like the desiccating packets found in new leather shoes and purses—will absorb any residual dampness in the seed and prevent it from molding. A teaspoon of powdered milk wrapped in Kleenex or a paper towel will do the same.
From bud to bloom, hollyhock is a show stopper.

From bud to bloom, hollyhock is a show stopper.

How to Propagate Hollyhock by Division

Hollyhocks can be propagated by division as well as by seed.

In winter, spring, or fall (when the hollyhocks are not blooming), loosen the ground around established plants. Then gently pull stalks out of the ground—retaining their long roots—and place them in a bucket of water.

Once you've collected all of the rooty stalks you intend to collect, immediately transplant them into your garden. As when sowing hollyhock seed, be sure to choose a sunny, rich-soil location that's right for a tall, tall plant.

Hollyhocks can also be propagated by division.

Hollyhocks can also be propagated by division.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I planted hollyhock seeds this spring. They are growing well but are not very tall yet. What do I do with them this fall? Do I leave the tops or cut them back? I know they will not bloom this year.

Answer: Cut them back and put a thick layer of compost around them to protect the roots this winter and enrich the soil.

Question: How do I bloom a hollyhock that is almost a year old? It's not growing as long as it seems to be in photos. The leaves are coming in one by one.

Answer: Hollyhocks planted in the spring will bloom the second year, not the first. Just be patient!

Question: I’m planting a row of Hollyhock. How far apart should they be?

Answer: Plant them about three feet apart. Although the flower spikes are tall and narrow, the base of each plant will form a large mound if enough space is available.

Question: Can I transplant the Hollyhock seedling into a large pot not in the ground?

Answer: There's nothing to stop you! However, your plant will not be as large as it would be if you planted it in the ground. Also, you'll have to water it more.

Question: I intend to grow hollyhock against a short fence but that same fence and the neighbour's horrible van create shade in the area. Will the hollyhocks be okay?

Answer: Hollyhocks do fine in full sun or partial shade (three to six hours of full sun per day). Be sure to amend the soil with compost!

Question: Will three separate clumps, each a different color, planted within 20 meters of each other, cross-pollinate and mix colors?

Answer: Hollyhock does cross-pollinate. You'd need at least 300 yards (about 275 meters) between your plants to reduce the likelihood of cross-pollination.

Question: I’ve already mulched my flower bed and just remembered I have hollyhock seeds I saved. Should I move the mulch then scatter and mulch over?

Answer: Do move the mulch but wait until you have sturdy seedlings before mulching around the plants.

Question: The seeds have been in storage and are dry, do I need to soak them before I put them in biodegradable seed pots?

Answer: Soaking increases the chances of successful germination, so doing so is a good idea.

Question: I haven't had luck starting hollyhock from seeds, can I start hollyhock seeds inside hydroponically?

Answer: I'm not sure how large your indoor hydroponic setup is or what variety of hollyhock you intend to grow. For standard hollyhocks, it might be best to germinate your seeds hydroponically and then transplant the seedlings outdoors. Standard hollyhocks are huge plants in maturity, bushing out at least two feet at the base and setting stalks of blooms six feet tall or more.

© 2013 Jill Spencer

Comments

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 12, 2020:

I'm sure you can do it, MizBejabbers! For me here in MD, sowing them in the fall works best. Good luck to you! Jill

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 12, 2020:

I had to come back and reread your great article so I could restart some hollyhocks. My grrrr husband decided that mine were taking over the back yard, so he eliminated them all. I've tried starting some from seed, but they didn't germinate. I had several colors that I started from plants, but my DIL in another state with a similar climate gave me so seeds for yellow ones. My result was unsuccessful. But now I want to replant them in any color. I would especially like some with double blooms. I have several plants of their cousins, the Rose of Sharon or altheas, perennials that we started from cuttings.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 12, 2020:

Hope you’re successful! And don’t worry about the cold. It won’t harm hollyhock seeds. Best, Jill

Michael and Cecil Cates on August 11, 2020:

The information you have seems to be very helpful. I would like to start seeds soon but don't have a lot. So probably gonna do half now and half in the spring. We usually don't have a hard freeze after middle of February. Thank you for your help. Will sure be happy this time next year.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on February 03, 2020:

Thanks, inkXE.

inkXE from Los Angeles on February 02, 2020:

nice one

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on October 16, 2019:

Hi Michele! If you plan to save the seeds and plant them later, you should definitely dry them. If you're planting now, in the fall, without saving/refrigerating your seeds, you shouldn't have to dry the matured seeds more.

Michele on October 13, 2019:

Do you have to dry the seeds? My sister gave me seed pods from her plants and i want to plant them but am not sure where to start!

Nikki on August 16, 2019:

I want to plant seed along a wall, they get sun the first half of the day then shade. But it is a gravel channel - will they grow in a mix of gravel and soil?

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 22, 2019:

Oh no! If the pods are mature, yes, you can salvage the seeds. However, if the plant was destroyed before the seeds fully developed, they are less likely to be viable.

Mitzi on June 22, 2019:

A storm broke my hollyhock steams off at the root they were in full bloom can I salvage the the seeds

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on March 20, 2019:

Hi Renee! Soak seeds in the gibberellic acid solution overnight and then plant. Do this if your seeds are old. If they aren't, the water method would probably work just as well. Best, Jill

Renee P on March 20, 2019:

Hi Jill, thanks for all you excellent information!

You said to use gibberellic acid for possible same year blooms. Is this added when initially planting? or later after roots have formed?

Thanks!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 10, 2018:

You're welcome, Sianni! Thanks for stopping by. --Jill

Sianni on August 10, 2018:

All your advise were so very helpful regarding hollyhock plants

Thanks.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on July 12, 2018:

If you plant them in summer, they may germinate and then die as seedlings because of the heat or simply never grow to maturity. Also, if your plants do survive, don’t expect them to bloom. It would be best to do a fall planting for earlier blooms in the following growing season. Best to you! Jill

denise on July 11, 2018:

can i plant the seeds in the summer?

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 02, 2018:

Sounds like they were mis-marked. I've found seeds from Monticello and Southern Exposure to be reliable.