Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

20180517_171126This is probably the least troublesome plant that I have in my garden, as well as the most spectacular.  Not only do people stop and gawk, but the bees are happy to see them, too.

20180517_171201sdzxc(All links open a new page, so you won’t lose your spot when you look around!  Get information on gardening and cultural traditions, recipes, stories, and more!)

*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*

Shade is clearly not a problem!  This grew from a randomly scattered seed, and we just let it stay there.

Hollyhocks are the quintessential “cottage garden” flower, yet the reality is that they actually originate in portions of eastern Asia, specifically believed to be from Japan.  From there they spread across the middle east and into Europe, where they eventually became a popular staple in English gardens.  So what this really means is that this plant can pretty much grow anywhere.  Woohoo!

20180517_171103Not only are hollyhocks tolerant of a wide range of conditions, they also come in a wide range of colors and forms.  I’m a fan of the heirloom varieties that have the wide, cup-shaped flowers with single petals.  They typically come in colors of pinks, reds, creams, and burgundy.  New hybrids have multicolor blossoms that are also very pretty.  Other forms have a more “pom-pom” shaped flower like giant carnations, and they also come in a similar variety of colors.

111698erdfcgThe most unique feature of hollyhocks is their height.  While some are dwarf-sized, being only 2-3 feet tall, most reach six feet and much more.  Some of our tallest have grown to over 15 feet!  This means they are best suited for the back of the garden, along taller structures like fences or trellises, or among medium height plants to add a splash of height and interest.

Hollyhocks prefer full sun, but we have had some randomly come up in denser shade under trees and did just fine.  They can tolerate both hot temperatures of our zone 9 as well as the cold down to zone 3.  Technically they are biennials, growing in year one then blooming in year two, but some will bloom in their first year if growing conditions have been supportive of it.  They can last for several years, and may even bloom more than once in a season, if the plants are cut back after blooming.  Be mindful of how and when you cut back the flower stalks, though, as they are prolific seed producers, and the seeds will scatter easily once the seed pods have opened.

20181128_124251Starting hollyhocks is easily done from seed, but they will also transplant well.  For seeds to grow they do need consistent moisture, but once the plants are growing they are relatively tolerant of dry conditions.  Regular moisture will help with blooming, though.  They are also tolerant of a variety of soil types, but are not as happy with dense, wet clay or overly sandy soil.

Our only problems have primarily been slugs and snails, and the plants may develop “rust” which is a type of fungal infection.  However, neither issue has had any long lasting impact on our plants’ ability to thrive here.

20180611_180713Plant Summary:

  • Perennial: Plants will live for several years, depending on growing conditions and practices
  • Evergreen
  • Height: most are over 6 feet in height
  • Width: about 2-3 feet, but if it develops multiple stems it could get much wider
  • Sun: full sun, can tolerate light shade
  • Water: regularly when seeds are germinating, drought tolerant after established
  • Soil pH: slightly acidic to slightly alkaline
  • Soil type: amend heavy clay or loose sandy soil
  • Key nutrients: fertilize as you would for other flowers
  • Planting time: best to start in cooler temperatures
  • Zones: 3+

    Don’t hesitate to cut old stems down low near the base.  New stems will form from there.  I usually cut them down to about 8 inches.  New growth will hide the older stumps.

6 thoughts on “Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

  1. Did you just write about these or maybe snapdragons somewhat recently? I am impressed to see this in other people’s gardens. They can do very well in the Santa Clara Valley, but mine got rust. I must have been in one of those bad spots for rust. Snapdragons had the same problem. After tring them back in about 1990, I did without for a few years, and tried them again, only to get the same results. They did very well elsewhere in the same neighborhood.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s