When to plant hollyhocks?

Tips On Hollyhocks: Growing Hollyhocks Successfully

Growing hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) in the garden is the goal of many gardeners who remember these impressive flowers from their youth. The flower stalks on hollyhocks can reach heights of 9 feet tall! They can tower above a garden, adding a lovely vertical element to your yard. Let’s look at a few tips on hollyhocks to help you grow them in your yard.

How to Plant Hollyhocks

The first thing to understand is how to plant hollyhocks. Hollyhocks need full sun and moist, rich, well drained soil. The mistake many novice hollyhock growers make is to plant this flower in soil that is too dry.

If you are planting seeds, sow the seeds outside about a week before last frost. If you are planting seedlings out, wait about two to three weeks after last frost. Hollyhock seeds only need to be planted right below the soil, no more than 1/4-inch deep. Hollyhock plants should be about 2 feet apart to grow well. You can also plant bare root hollyhocks.

How to Grow Hollyhocks

Once you have planted your hollyhocks, they will need minimal care, but there are a few things you should be aware of when growing hollyhocks. Here are some tips on hollyhocks.

First of all, hollyhocks are a short lived perennial. This means that most varieties will only live two to three years. Their lifespan can be extended some by removing growing hollyhock flowers as soon as they fade. If you live in a non-tropical region, cutting them back to the ground and mulching them will also help.

The one benefit that comes from growing hollyhock flowers is that they easily reseed themselves. While they may be short lived, in their proper growing conditions they will continually grow more, which will keep the hollyhock flowers consistent in years to come.

Growing hollyhocks also benefit from fertilizer or compost in the spring.

Tips on Hollyhocks and Their Problems

Hollyhocks are easy to grow, but they are not without their problems. When growing hollyhock flowers, you need to keep an eye out for rust. Rust will typically attack the lower leaves but it may spread to upper leaves. To help keep rust to a minimum, some tips on hollyhocks include:

  • Remember to water from below
  • Treatment with a fungicide
  • Make sure the plant has good air circulation

All of these tips should help but will probably not eliminate the rust problem. Your best bet is to keep rust contained to the lower branches so the problem will only affect the leaves and not the flowers.

Now that you know how to plant hollyhocks and how to grow hollyhocks, you can grow these wonderful flowers in your garden. Growing hollyhocks in your garden will add some drama and exciting height.



Hollyhocks are the epitome of cottage garden plants. These stately towers of flowers bloom for a long time in summer in a wide variety of colors. Chances are you’ve seen them alongside a barn, in front of a cute cottage-style house, or gracing the front of a white picket fence. This old-fashioned pass-along plant has absolutely caught the hearts of many.

genus name
  • Alcea rosea
  • Sun
plant type
  • Perennial
  • 3 to 8 feet
  • 1-3 feet
flower color
  • Blue,
  • Purple,
  • Red,
  • White,
  • Pink,
  • Yellow
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Summer Bloom
problem solvers
  • Good For Privacy
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Cut Flowers
  • 3,
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8
  • Seed

Garden Plans For Hollyhock

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Towers of Flowers

If there’s one defining feature to describe the hollyhock, it’s height. With a range of 3 to 8 feet tall, even the short end of the height spectrum is big. When you have a mass planting of these stately beauties in full bloom, it’s really quite a show.

Make a Hollyhock Doll

The flowering stalks of the hollyhock, Alcea rosea, are covered in buds from the top all the way down to the rosette of foliage at the base. Once they are fully grown and ready to burst into color, these blooms start at the bottom and slowly work their way up, unfurling a little at a time. As the blooms continue to open, there will typically be several blooms per stalk all opening at once to create beautiful columns of rainbow-worthy color.

Hollycock Care Must-Knows

If the striking pillars of blooms are what you’re after, it’ll take some patience. Many of the most common and available hollyhock varieties are biennials. This means that these plants spend their entire first year just growing foliage and storing up nutrients for the next year. In their second year, hollyhocks use all of their stored up energy from the first year to put on a spectacular floral show. As they bloom, they also use all of this stored up energy to create as much seed as they possibly can. At the end of their blooming season, these plants have used up all of their energy and die. Luckily, seeds produced then shed and go back to the ground to start the whole process over.

If you plan on planting these from seed in your garden, know that you generally won’t have blooms until the second year. Another important detail about growing hollyhock from seed is that they are easy to start by direct-sowing the seeds straight in the ground. Hollyhocks and many other members of their family have very long taproots. This makes these plants a little tricky to transplant. So if you do want to get a head start by growing seeds indoors before spring, be sure to plant the seedlings outside while they are still young to prevent disturbing the taproot too much.

Hollyhocks are typically grown against something for support, whether it be against a wall, along a fence, or at the back of a mixed border. Having a support system is especially important for taller varieties.

Rust and Other Not So Fun-gis

If you have ever grown hollyhocks or ever been up close to admire the blooms, you may have also noticed some not-so-pretty foliage at the bottom. Unfortunately hollyhocks are prone to rust—a type that preys only on members of the hollyhock family. The first sign of hollyhock rust is yellow spots forming on lower leaves of the plants. As the rust progresses, you will usually see brown- or rust-colored bumps on the underside of leaves. Plants grown in high humidity or places with poor air circulation are especially prone to this.

Keep an eye out for early symptoms of rust and other fungal problems. If you see a problem starting, remove the affected leaves and dispose of them by burning or sealing them away. Spores from fungus are spread easily by water and wind, so splashes from rain or a hose can spread the fungus to plants nearby. Keep foliage dry and water below leaves, if needed.

Plants Hummingbirds Love

More Varieties of Hollyhock

‘Chater’s Double’ Hollyhock

Alcea rosea ‘Chater’s Double’ offers frilly double blooms in a vareity of colors, including peach, pink, scarlet, purple, yellow, and white. Zones 3-8

‘Creme de Cassis’ Hollyhock

Alcea rosea ‘Creme de Cassis’ bears striking, white-rimmed raspberry shaded flowers on 6-foot-tall stalks. Zones 3-8

‘Indian Spring’ Hollyhock

Alcea rosea ‘Indian Spring’ is available with single pink, rose, yellow, or white flowers. Plants tower to 8 feet tall. Zones 3-8

‘Old Barnyard Mix’ Hollyhock ‘Peaches ‘n Dreams’ Hollyhock

Alcea rosea ‘Peaches ‘n Dreams’ has ruffled, double peachy-pink blooms with overtones of raspberry and apricot. It grows 4-6 feet tall. Zones 3-8

‘Queeny Purple’ Hollyhock

Alcea rosea ‘Queeny Purple’ grows just 2-3 feet tall, so it needs no staking and is an excellent choice for adding height to container gardens. A ring of broad lavender-purple petals surround a tuft of frilly central petals. Zones 3-8

‘The Watchman’ Hollyhock

Alcea rosea ‘The Watchman’ bears stately 6- to 8-foot-tall stems of velvety black/maroon blossoms. Zones 3-8

Plant Hollyhock With:

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Clematis is undoubtedly the most versatile vine you can grow. Few other climbers offer such a broad range of bloom colors, shapes, and seasons. Dwarf clematis are perfect for growing in containers or along decks and patios; medium-size varieties look great intertwined in small trees. For a knockout mix, plant a blue or white clematis with a red climbing rose. Most clematis grow best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Note: All parts of clematis are poisonous.

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Always fresh and eye-catching, Shasta daisy is a longtime favorite. All cultivars produce white daisy flowers in various degrees of doubleness and size. The sturdy stems and long vase life make the flowers unbeatable for cutting. Shasta daisy thrives in well-drained, not overly rich soil. Taller sorts may need staking.

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Shrub roses take the best of the hardiest rose species and combine those traits with modern repeat-blooming and diverse flower forms, colors, and fragrances. Some shrub roses may grow tall, with vigorous, far-reaching canes; others stay compact. Recent rose breeding has focused on developing hardier shrub roses for landscaping that needs little to no maintenance.

Planting Hollyhock Flowers

Hollyhock truly is an old garden favorite, with a long blooming season. Usually considered a short-lived perennial in Zones 3-8, but may live for several years if stalks are cut off at their bases after the flowers fade. Makes an excellent screening plant to hide unsightly places. A good background companion for shorter plants. Hollyhock is very easy to grow, preferring a warm, sunny location sheltered from the wind. Will tolerate moist conditions. Bloom midsummer-early fall.


Four inch double flowers borne on wand-like stems. Blooms start near the base of the stem and move upward so that 1-1/2 to 2 feet of each stem is covered with bloom throughout the season.


Hairy leaves, 6-8″ across, borne in low clumps. Hollyhock plants grow up to 6 feet in height.

Hollyhock will do well in almost any soil but prefers a well-drained soil with pH 6.0 – 8.0, from slightly acid to alkaline. If you are in doubt of your soil acidity, make a soil test with one of Burpee’s Soil Test Kits listed in the catalog, or contact your local County Agricultural Agent about soil sampling procedures. A soil test will indicate what fertilizers or elements are needed in your soil.

Planting hollyhock may be done in spring or fall. Select a sunny location sheltered from the wind. Try to have the soil worked up at least one week before planting time.
Spring plantings will be safer in areas where winters are severe. Plant as soon as nursery stock is received. If plantings must be delayed, place the hollyhock in a cool, shaded area and keep the roots moist. Hollyhock seedlings are grown in a special planting mixture to promote fast growth. Do not pull this material away from the roots, but set the top of the planting material level with the soil line. Firm the soil around the plants and roots by pressing the soil with your hands. Water well to eliminate air pockets that may form around the roots.

Eighteen inches apart. If planted in rows, space rows at least 3 feet apart. Depending on how hollyhock grow in your area, some plants may require staking to support fragile stems in windy areas.


Will tolerate moist conditions if soil is welldrained. Water thoroughly during hot, dry weather. Keep water off leaves when watering, to prevent disease problems.

Remove any seed-heads that may form, so hollyhock will continue to bloom for several years. Most plants will live and bloom for several years in Zones 3-8 if stalks are cut off at the base after flowers have faded. They will not be as vigorous as new seedlings. Once established in the garden, hollyhock often grow voluntary from seeds dropped during the summer. These chance seedlings may and should be transplanted elsewhere in the garden.

See all our Hollyhocks.

Knowing when to plant hollyhock and calendula seeds can mean the difference between a bright cottage garden full of blossoms this season or waiting until next year to enjoy the show.

About Calendula and Hollyhocks

You have to know a little about these old fashioned favorites to properly plan when to plant hollyhock and calendula seeds. Both calendula and hollyhocks are flowers used frequently in cottage garden styles. They are equally at home in your garden and your grandmother’s garden.

Hollyhocks grow quite tall, usually in the range of several feet, while calendula are a more modest 12 to 18 inches tall, depending upon the variety. Both flowers come in a wide variety of colors. Hollyhocks may be found in many colors ranging from whites, yellows, pinks and dark burgundy, while calendula favor the orange and yellow end of the spectrum. Like many flowers, hollyhocks and calendulas both require full sun and prefer rich, well-drained soil.

When to Plant Hollyhock and Calendula Seeds

Hollyhock and calendula seeds require different conditions to germinate.

Planting Hollyhock Seeds

Hollyhock seeds may be started outdoors or indoors, but do best when sown directly into the garden soil where you’d like them to grow. Choose your spot wisely. Traditional varieties grow three to four feet tall, while dwarf varieties still get at least a foot tall. Plant traditional hollyhock varieties towards the back of the garden bed. In many gardens, you’ll find hollyhocks growing along a fence line. They add additional beauty and color to screen the fence, while the fence acts as a support for their tall, top-heavy blossoms. Hollyhocks require rich, well-drained soil, so be sure to amend the garden soil with lots of compost before sowing your seeds. They need full, bright sunlight too, so make sure that the spot chosen for your hollyhocks will receive at least six hours of direct sunshine daily.

There are two times of year that hollyhock seeds may be planted in most gardening zones: spring and fall. The recommended planting time is fall. If you plant seeds in the fall, hollyhocks have a good chance of blossoming in the next year. If you plant the seeds in the spring, you may have to wait a full year before you see blooms. In gardening zones 6 through 8, plant hollyhock seeds February through March or September through October. They need temperatures around 59 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit in order to germinate. Be sure to leave the seeds on the surface of the soil, or just sprinkle them very lightly with soil or compost. Hollyhock seeds need light in order to germinate, so if you plant them too deeply, they won’t sprout.

Calendula Seeds

Calendula seeds are slightly different from hollyhock seeds. While it’s recommended that you plant hollyhocks outdoors, calendula may be started indoors or outdoors, and many gardeners prefer to give them a head start growing in flats under lights inside before transplanting them to the garden. Sow calendula seeds indoors March through April, depending on your garden zone. Garden zones 7 and higher can sow seeds in March to set plants outdoors in May, while zones 6 and lower should start seeds later, sometime in April. Sprinkle the seeds in flats of seed starting mix, covering lightly with soil. Place a plastic dome or plastic bag over the seed trays to maintain humidity and keep the room temperatures around 65 to 70 to encourage germination.Once the seeds have a few sets of leaves, they may be transplanted into the garden as long as it is past the frost free date for your gardening zone. It’s important to harden off calendula plants. Hardening off means to gradually acclimate the plants to outdoor conditions. To harden off seedlings, bring the seed trays outside and set them in a sunny area for about two weeks, taking them inside or into a sheltered spot at night. As long as the temperatures don’t dip too far below 65, the seedlings should be fine. At the end of the hardening off period, they’re used to the outdoors and stand a better chance of success.

Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten to start calendula seeds inside. They can be directly sown into the garden once all danger of a hard frost is past, usually sometime in late April. As with indoor seed sowing, sprinkle the seeds into the soil, add a thin layer on top, and keep moist until they germinate.

Sources of Seeds

Hollyhocks are such an old-fashioned variety and so easy to collect seeds from that you may be able to get some free seeds from neighbors, friends, or free seed exchanges. You can find many different types of hollyhock seeds ranging from Victorian beauties to modern hybrids at your local garden center, large home and garden stores, and even mass merchandisers such as WalMart and K Mart. Calendula seeds are also plentiful and easy to obtain. Online sources include Thompson and Morgan, Park Seed, Burpee and the many other seed catalogs.

Hollyhocks are true summer marvels with their magnificent flowers.

Summary of hollyhock facts

Name – Alcea rosea
Family – Malvaceae
Type – perennial
Height – 4 to 8 feet (120 to 250 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary

Flowering – July to September

Sowing and caring for hollyhocks is easy, and they have the great advantage of reseeding themselves every year without needing help!

Planting and sowing of hollyhock

Sowing hollyhock

It is recommended to sow hollyhocks in spring and summer in a mix of garden soil and soil mix.

  • Hollyhocks like edges and the base of walls.
  • Sow seeds at least 12 inches (30 cm) apart.
  • Sow 2 to 3 seeds per hole.
  • Water in a light drizzle regularly to ensure that the ground stays damp.
  • It usually takes two years for the plant to bloom after sowing.

You can multiply your hollyhocks by direct sowing.

How to recover hollyhock seeds

To propagate your hollyhocks, harvest the seeds that are found in the capsules formed after blooming, store them in the dark over winter, and plant them in the ground in March or April depending on the climate zone.

Planting hollyhock

If you have purchased your hollyhocks in nursery pots, it is possible to plant them in the ground directly.

  • It is best to plant them in the spring.
  • Set the plants at least 12 inches (30 cm) apart to give them space to grow.
  • Water regularly for the first year after planting.
  • If they are located in a windy spot, you must stake them to avoid them bending over.

Pruning and caring for hollyhock

Hollyhocks, once settled in, require almost no care at all. They draw the water they need from the ground, and can cope with very harsh conditions.

  • To boost flower-bearing, remove wilted flowers regularly (deadheading).
  • Cut dried stems at the end of the season, they will grow back naturally in the following year.
  • In regions with colder winters, protect the base with mulch.

Note that for windy areas, it is a good idea to stake your hollyhocks to keep them from bending over.

Diseases and parasites that attack hollyhock

Hollyhock rust

This plant is vulnerable to rust, a fungus that covers the leaves with rust-orange colored blotches.

  • Rust mostly develops in spring and summer if the weather is wet.
  • Leaves are mottled and turn brown before falling off.
  • Rust can kill a hollyhock plant.
  • As a preventive treatment, spraying with Bordeaux mixture in spring is mandatory.
  • As a curative treatment, only specialized treatments fighting rose tree diseases can do away with rust.

Hollyhock and aphids

In the insect parasite category, hollyhocks are vulnerable to aphid attacks.

  • Hollyhock leaves crumple up and become sticky.
  • The only effective treatment is to apply aphid-specific treatments.

All there is to know about hollyhock

Very beautiful perennials with abundant flowering all summer long, hollyhocks are a great addition to flower beds and along garden walls.

This plant has cute flowers that can be white, pink or even dark purple, aligned at the end of long stems with sparse foliage.

They are often seen along roads and sidewalks and they often re-seed themselves naturally almost everywhere. The strength of their roots lets them squeeze in virtually anywhere, and even lifts up the pavement off the street.

They are perfect flowers for prairie gardens, and are a good match to plants like althea or tree mallows which are both cousins of the hollyhock plant.

Hollyhocks have always been acknowledged to have soothing health benefits. Hollyhock flowers are perfectly edible and are often eaten raw, in salads, or steeped in hot water to make infusions.

Smart tip about hollyhock

It is recommended to stake them to keep them from bending over.
Along a wall, it is enough to attach them with a wire or string stretched from one end of the wall to the other.

  • Rust – orange-brown or yellow blister appears under leaves.

Hollyhock is completely edible – leaves, roots, flowers, seeds – not just an amazing looking flower, common in many cottage gardens. It’s a valuable medicinal plant too and can be use in natural homemade skin care.
Who would have thought? Hollyhock is a really useful and hardy self-seeding plant in a diverse polycultural garden that adds so much beauty too.
Did you also know that many other common flowers are edible – Gardenia, Gladiolus, Pansy, Hibiscus, Fuchsia, Impatiens and Jasmine flowers are also edible.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is a direct relation of Marshmallow and can be used interchangeably for that herb. The difference is that Hollyhocks have woodier and tougher roots making them less palatable than Marshmallow’s softer roots.

So, how do you use Hollyhock?

1. Eat Hollyhock leaves

The leaves of Hollyhock can be used as a spinach. Choose the younger softer ones.

2. Eat Hollyhock flowers

The flowers of Hollyhock are edible and can be added to salads.

3. Hollyhock to sooth dry skin – face and body

Put flowers in warm water, crush a little and apply to dry or flaky skin on your face. You can add them to your bath too to soothe dry skin.

4. Make a Cold Infused Hollyhock Tea

Mashmallow and Hollyhock flowers, leaves and roots reduce pain and inflammation. They are good as a healing tea. Cold infused medicinal tea to soothe the respiratory tract, sore throat, dry cough, stomach issues and urinary tract inflammation. Note: do not boil this tea as it will loose lots of the healing properties. To make a cold infused tea, gather a handful of fresh flowers or leaves (dried is OK too) and place in a plunger, or wrap in a cheesecloth and tie with string as a homemade teabag. Leave overnight. Refrigerate and use within a day or two.

Eighty years later, my father still remembers hollyhocks in his grandmother’s garden, now long gone. Tall, fuzzy stalks with bright blossoms and large, palm-shaped leaves towered ten feet tall, or at least they seemed that high. The ruffled flowers had wide, cherry-red petals and sunny yellow pistils that beckoned every bumblebee and butterfly that passed.

Even those who grew up without a grandmother’s garden might remember Peter Rabbit’s hollyhock patches or “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” nursery-rhyme illustrations. Nodding wands of hollyhocks have lined paths, guarded secret gardens, screened neighbors’ views and adorned sides of barns for a long time.

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) are members of the Malvaceae, or mallow, family. While other members of the mallow family, like marsh mallow, are grown specifically for their culinary or medicinal qualities, garden hollyhocks are usually grown simply for their cottage-garden charm.

Like their medicinal cousins, all parts of garden hollyhocks are edible. The petals make a mild addition to a salad or a colorful garnish.

Keep dogs away from hollyhocks, however. I have read several reports of dogs occasionally digging up and eating hollyhock roots with resulting trips to the vet. These are anecdotal tales, but worth paying attention to.

Hollyhocks are easy to grow, although many varieties are biennial and take two years from seed to flower. Some bloom the first year if planted early enough, and other varieties are considered to be short-lived perennials. Cut them to the ground after they flower, continue to water and feed them, and they will often bloom once or twice more that season. Cut again at the end of the season and they should come back for several more years.

Hollyhocks often self-sow, producing a legion of volunteers the following year. Whichever type of hollyhock you choose, August and September are good months to plant from seed or to transplant seedlings.

Hollyhocks are not fussy and survive in many spots but do best in soil that has been amended with compost. They do not like dry soil. With adequate moisture and good drainage, hollyhocks can thrive in full sun or partial shade. Try them in a few different spots in your yard and see where they are happiest.

Hollyhocks typically grow five to six feet tall, although shorter varieties like the Celebrity, Queeny or Majorette series reach only about three feet tall. Consequently, these latter types can be grown in small beds or even containers. Some towering varieties can reach ten feet and are hummingbird heliports in colors ranging from lemon yellow, apricot and blush pink to almost black. They can reach halfway up a barn wall.

For fall planting, prepare a bed, mixing in plenty of compost and leaf mold. These amendments provide nutrition for what will become a large plant and also help your soil retain moisture.

If you buy hollyhocks at the nursery, transplant carefully, trying not to disturb the roots. Starting from seed gives you more choice. Swallowtail Garden Seeds has a good selection on its website.

Start hollyhock seeds in two-inch cell packs or pots, indoors or outdoors. Transplant when seedlings are a few inches high. Alternatively, sow seeds directly where you want them to grow, in the nice, cushy beds you prepared. If direct planting, sow groups of three or four seeds, two to three feet apart, depending on how large a variety you are planting. Press seeds into the soil and cover lightly with soil, if at all.

When seedlings are up and established, thin each group to one plant so it has room to grow. Good air circulation discourages rust and mildew, which can infect hollyhocks in moist, crowded settings. If your plants develop these ailments, carefully clip away the damaged leaves and throw them away. Always water hollyhocks from below; keeping their leaves dry can help keep rust and mildew at bay.

Hollyhocks flower on the top one and one-half to two feet of their stalk, with blossoms opening from the bottom to the top. To collect seed, wait until the petals have fallen and the flat, blackish seeds have formed. Hollyhocks are open pollinated and will usually come true from seed, although wonderful variations can always surprise you the following year.

Tree Walk: Join U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County for a free guided tree walk through Fuller Park in Napa on Monday, September 12, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Registration is recommended as space is limited. Meet at Fuller Park, corner of Jefferson and Oak Streets. Online registration or call 707-253-4221. Trees to Know in Napa Valley will be available for $15. Cash or check payable to UC Regents. Sorry, we are unable to process credit cards.

Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Growing Bulbs” on Saturday, September 17, from 10 a.m. to noon, at Mid-City Nursery, 3635 Broadway Street, American Canyon.Bulbs are among the easiest plants to grow and deliver a welcome dose of color and scent, often when the winter is dreary. Master Gardeners will showcase a variety of bulbs, rhizomes, corms, tubers and stolons. Learn how to plant for successive bloom; how to care for, store and divide bulbs; and how to force blooms and encourage rebloom. On-line registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (cash or check only).

Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.

Hollyhocks: Old Is New Again

If ever there was a garden plant that your grandparents or even your great-grandparents grew, it was a hollyhock.

So imagine my surprise when I picked up the new Wayside Gardens catalog to see that the company is offering plants of Chater’s Double Mix, a longtime favorite, but refers to them as “new.” In the online catalog, you can click on the “new” button to see what this symbol means. Well, according to the legend it means ”Great products that have just been introduced.”


Shame on Wayside. Not only have hollyhocks been grown in our gardens for hundreds of years but the Chater’s double strain probably goes back to the 1800s. New? I don’t think so.

But for many, hollyhocks are new. Like many garden plants, this one has had its ups and its downs. I’ll get into the reasons later, but for now keep in mind that hollyhocks are becoming very popular again.

They make a wonderful plant that can be easily grown from seed, purchased in pots and even in full bloom. Hollyhocks make a great statement in groupings or as a specimen plants. And their colorful flowering spires begin to appear in early summer and can go on for weeks and weeks or even months.

One of the confusing aspects of hollyhocks—or more correctly the genus “alcea” and a few close relatives called “altheas”—is their classification. Some catalogs classify them as biennials while others classify them as perennials. Some of the confusion comes about because of the way biennials grow and reproduce. And there may actually be some in the family that are true perennials, but for the most part they are true biennials that seem to act like perennials.

Being a biennial, hollyhocks are started from seed the first year. During the growing season they develop a shoot system (leaves and stems) and a root system but they don’t flower. At the end of the growing season, most of the shoot system dies back to a crown where some foliage remains through the winter.

The following season the shoot system re-emerges and the plant blooms. In the case of hollyhocks, it blooms and blooms and blooms.

As a result of all the glorious blooms, hollyhocks produce lots and lots of seeds. The seeds can be collected and used for the next crop, and inevitably a few will drop to the ground and sprout new plants, which in turn will bloom in two years.

Now occasionally, a hollyhock will bloom for two summers. This is where things get confusing. Having done this, it’s no longer a true biennial but a short-lived perennial.

But something else happens. The blooms from the flowers during the second year have produced plants that are growing but not blooming the third year. The original plant that bloomed the second and third year is now dropping more seed, and as a result, if the plants are permitted to grow in situ, hollyhocks will be in bloom every year instead of every other year as the dictates of biennialism would otherwise indicate.

So, for the novice, it appears that the plant is blooming every year when it’s actually the progeny that’s blooming and not the parent. Confused?

It can get even more confusing if you go to a garden center and buy a hollyhock in a 1- or 2-gallon pot in late May that’s in full bloom. You go home and plant it, but then next year, nothing.

Remember that in order for the plant to bloom it’s already two years old so you’re probably planting a hollyhock whose obit has already been written. Next year, in 2013, you’ll go to find the plant in the garden and it’s gone. Ah, but look more closely and you’ll probably find the seedlings from the seeds dropped by the parent plant, which will bloom in 2014.

Now if you’re not thoroughly confused, there are a few varieties of hollyhock that are reputed to bloom the first year from seed.

Indian Spring is reputed to be a first-year bloomer when started early indoors. And Happy Lights seems to have the same reputation. But these are both single-flowered varieties. Summer Carnival, which is a semi-double variety, is also reputed to be a first-year bloomer when the seed is started indoors—say in early March in a sunny window.

Alcea zebrina, sometimes sold as althea zebrina, is often sold as a perennial but I don’t think it is. And when I used to grow it, I could never get it to overwinter. I think of this one as a possible winter-hardy annual, which will grow from seed and flower the first year and drops its seeds.

In a mild winter, the seeds will remain viable and grow new plants in the same location the following year. It’s an attractive plant about 2 feet tall with purple to maroon 1-inch flowers that have darker stripes, thus the name “zebrina.”

Alcea nigra is another variety that’s probably biennial. It’s one of the more striking hollyhocks. The flowers are about 6 inches across and are a very dark maroon, growing to about 8 feet tall.

Again, it’s sold as a perennial but is a biennial. It’s also sold under other names such as The Watchman, Black Beauty, After Midnight and Arabian Night but they’re all the same plant, though different strains will show some variation in color.

Alcea rugosa, or the Russian Hollyhock, is probably one of the few true perennial hollyhocks. Instead of growing in single spikes like the roseas, this one has a bushier habit with multiple stems and buttery yellow flowers on 6- to 7-foot spires.

Possibly related is the alcea ficifolia, which is known as the Antwerp or figleaf hollyhock. This one also has a single yellow flower but on single spires instead of a bushy habit. It’s also reputed to be a true perennial, and if the seed is sown indoors early, it will flower the first year from seed.

The hollyhocks are really great garden plants and fit well in the perennial border, cottage garden or even the cutting garden. But they are not without their problems and the problems usually show up in the second year. By no means though is this a reason not to grow them, so next week we’ll get into the little quirks of hollyhock culture.

In the meantime, buy some seeds, get a few plants going and next week we’ll explore further. Keep growing.

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