This 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.
*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*
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!
Not 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.
The 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.
Starting 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.
- Perennial: Plants will live for several years, depending on growing conditions and practices
- 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+