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Hollyhocks are an easy plant to grow and they seem to have been around forever. They are especially easy plants for beginners to grow successfully and they can be a strong accent plant in gardens and cottage-like borders.

Hollyhocks bloom over a long summer season and will attract hummingbirds and butterflies. They are a biennial or short-lived perennial, but will usually reseed themselves and return year after year. They can grow up to 7'. Winter hardy to Zone 3. Hollyhocks are available in a variety of colors including white, pink, yellow, red, bi-color shades and black. Hollyhocks are also available as either the old-fashioned single blooms, or the newer doubles.

  • Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • Origin: Eastern Mediterranean

  • Soil: Hollyhocks need good drainage as well as good soil in order to be strong

Hollyhock bloomsHollyhocks are true biennials (which means they don't bloom until their second year of growth) but they may be treated as annuals or perennials according to variety and management. Some outstanding old-fashioned types are `The Watchman,' a dark maroon heirloom, `Indian Spring,' with single or semi double flowers in white or pink, and `Country Garden' in mixed colors.

To raise hollyhocks as biennials, sow seeds outdoors in a cold frame, nursery bed or other convenient place in late summer or early fall but at least two months before frost. The seeds will sprout quickly and form several large leaves before winter. Give the plants a protective winter mulch. In early spring they should be transplanted into flowering position. Handled in this way, hollyhocks will bloom by midsummer in Zones 3-8. In Zones 9-10, young plants are set out in the fall and bloom in spring.

It's best to plant hollyhocks near a building or fence so they can be staked when they get tall. Be sure to keep your soil evenly moist and add organic matter if your want to keep this plant looking good. Watch for Japanese beetles and rust.


Other problems with hollyhocks

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) would likely be in more gardens if it weren't for a few serious flaws.

The plants are not long-lived; and (maybe worse) their leaves are susceptible to hollyhock rust, a disfiguring fungus that starts out as orange pimples and quickly spreads. Younger plants are less prone to attack, so the best prevention may be to root out hollyhocks after their second summer—by then they are usually rotting at the crowns anyway.

Our method of rust control is simplicity itself—as leaves shrivel, we cut them off. No sprays, no fuss. Often that means removing every last leaf. But, surprisingly, hollyhocks look better flying their colors without foliage than with a bunch of crumpled brown rags hanging from their stalks. Growing hollyhocks behind perennials that sport good foliage helps hide their lanky, bare limbs.

When you water the plants, direct a gentle stream of water toward the base of the hollyhocks. That should help reduce the risk of the rust disease.

Good garden sanitation practices are the best remedy. Don't leave infected leaves and remove the dried stalks in the fall.

Hollyhocks sometimes like to pick their own location, coming up from seed in odd, unlikely places. Still, there’s nothing as tall or colorful as hollyhocks in summer, nothing as old-fashioned and ordinary.

Hollyhock origins

The name “hollyhock” has been used to refer to the flowers in England since the 13th century, although it was originally spelled holihoc, a portmanteau of holi, for holy, and hoc, for mallow. The plant was also referred to as St. Cuthbert's Cole, suggesting that it may have been included in religious gardens such as those at churches and monasteries.