Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks are an impressive plant, standing up to 8 feet tall, with attractive foliage and many flowers along the central stem.  A wildflower, originally from Southwest and Central Asia, they are a popular ornamental plant in gardens. Hollyhocks will grow in zones 2-10 and look great in the back of a border. Flowers are 4-5 inches wide and appear for up to 2 months in midsummer. The wildflower types are usually pink or yellow. Nursery cultivars come in red, white and a purple that is so dark it’s almost black.

The genus Alcea, in the family Malvaceae, includes some 60 species of Hollyhocks. I found it rather confusing because there is a lot of conflicting information on this genus name. Some sources use Althaea instead. Althaea is Greek and means healing or curing. Alcea means approximately the same thing in Latin. Depending on who you believe, they are interchangeable, one has replaced the other, or they mean something entirely different. I can’t tell you who to believe. We’ll just agree that Hollyhocks belong in the genus Alcea.

Hollyhocks should be planted in full sun, in rich, well-drained soil. They are quite drought tolerant and will grow in spots that are too dry or too hot for other plants. It is also important to space them far enough apart to provide good circulation of air in between plants. Though they grow very tall, the plant itself is only 1-2 feet wide. Hollyhocks have a long taproot and do not like to be transplanted. Staking is not necessary unless there is an unusual amount of wind or rain. Once they are finished flowering, cut back the stem to 8 inches from the ground.

A biennial is a plant that produces leaves the first year it is planted, and flowers the second year, dying after that. Hollyhocks are mostly biennial, but some survive longer than two years and so become short-lived perennials. Even though Hollyhocks are biennial, that doesn’t mean you can’t have lots of them for many years. They produce large, flat seeds which grow very easily. If you let them go to seed, you will have plenty of new seedlings each spring. If you don’t want any new seedlings, make sure you deadhead the spent flowers until they are all finished. Deadheading is a good idea anyway, it encourages the plant to bloom some more. To grow new plants from seed, scatter the seeds outdoors anytime from late spring to early August. Plants grown in this way will bloom the following summer. Or, you can start seeds indoors in February and you’ll have plants that will bloom this summer.

Of course, such a beautiful flower has to be plagued by an ugly disease. Rust is a fungal disease that frequently infects Hollyhocks. All green parts of the plant can be infected and it spreads rapidly from leaf to leaf, and from plant to plant. Rust usually does not kill the plant, but it causes the leaves to yellow and fall off. It can survive through the winter, if not controlled. In the spring, spores are spread by the wind to infect new plants. Infected leaves should be removed and burned right away. Infected stalks should also be destroyed when the flowers are finished. Good air circulation may help slow the spread of rust, along with chemicals.

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One Response to “Hollyhocks”

  1. Kem Says:

    For years there were hollyhocks growing where my dad parked the manure spreader. When I was a kid I thought they were just pretty weeds. They must have self-seeded, because we never did anything to encourage them.

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