How to Plant and Grow Hollyhock

Add these regal flowers to your cottage garden for a towering burst of color that draws your eye to the sky.

varying shades of pink Alcea rosea Hollyhock near barn
Photo:

Peter Krumhardt

Hollyhocks are the height of cottage garden style. Chances are you’ve seen hollyhocks beside a barn, in front of a cute cottage-style house, or lining a white picket fence. Their most defining feature is their height: With a range of 3 to 8 feet tall, even the short end of the hollyhock spectrum is impressive. Since most varieties are biennials, you probably won't enjoy blossoms until the second season.

These stately towers of flowers bloom for a long stretch of summer, from June to August. The big blossoms start at the rosette foliage at the base, slowly working their way up the stalk and unfurling a little at a time. Once fully grown, the flowers may open simultaneously to create beautiful columns of color, ranging from yellow to pink to white.

Hollyhock Overview

Genus Name Alcea rosea
Common Name Hollyhock
Plant Type Perennial
Light Sun
Height 3 to 8 feet
Width 1 to 3 feet
Flower Color Blue, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Attracts Birds, Cut Flowers, Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Propagation Division, Seed
Problem Solvers Good For Privacy

Where to Plant Hollyhock

Pick a full-sun spot—one with at least six hours of sunlight per day—with a natural wind barrier, such as a fence, building, or larger plantings, to keep your hollyhock from bending over. These plants can also grow in partial sun, but tend to flop over in full shade.

Hollyhock prefers rich, well-drained soil. It can tolerate clay, silt, or sand, but won't perform well in wet winter soil. This plant is not picky about pH, growing in acidic, neutral, or alkaline conditions.

Use hollyhocks as a stunning backdrop for flowerbeds, or add them to a cut flower garden for a regal addition to your arrangements. They are also well-suited to naturalized gardens. Hollyhocks typically grow against something for support, whether a wall, along a fence, or the back of a mixed border. Having a support system is especially important for taller varieties.

How and When to Plant Hollyhock

The easiest way to add these towering beauties to your garden is buying potted hollyhocks. You can place them as close as 12 to 18 inches apart, although you might consider giving them more room, since hollyhocks self-seed. Spacing them 3 to 4 feet apart will allow for this natural spread. In the spring, wait to plant until after the threat of frost has passed, and in the fall, plant your hollyhocks before the ground is frozen.

Be patient when planting, especially if you're growing hollyhock from seeds. Many of the most common varieties are biennials. This means they spend their first year growing foliage and storing nutrients for the following year. In the second year, hollyhocks use this stored energy to put on a spectacular floral show and create as many seeds as possible. Hollyhocks die at the end of their blooming season, but fortunately, they shed lots of seeds to start the whole process again.

Hollyhock Care Tips

Hollyhock has a reputation for being a little high-maintenance. This tall, fast-growing plant needs to be protected from the wind, and the foliage may need to be trimmed at times. Growth comes easily, however, and fertilizer needs are minimal.

Light

While full sun is best, hollyhocks will also grow in partial sun or light shade. Lots of sunlight equals less spindly plants and a lower likelihood of disease. Make sure to seek a sunny area that also offers refuge from the wind—for example, a fence or arbor to lean against.

Soil and Water

Hollyhock can handle lots of different soil types. Ideally, seek a spot with well-drained soil, though hollyhock will also take root in clay. pH isn't a major consideration, as these towering flowers will grow in acidic, neutral, or alkaline soil. Make sure to avoid wet winter soil.

When you first plant a hollyhock, keep it well-watered to allow the roots to take hold, then continue to water it regularly throughout the growing season. Using a soaker hose, direct the water at the base of the plant to avoid splashing the leaves; wet leaves can lead to rust, the most common plant disease in hollyhocks.

Temperature and Humidity

Daytime temperatures of 70℉ or warmer and nighttime temperatures of at least 60 to 65℉ are optimal for growing. In very hot, humid conditions, hollyhock is more likely to develop rust, and the disease tends to worsen as the summer goes by. These upright flowers also look their best early in the summer, before they've been worn out by the elements.

Fertilizer

When you first plant hollyhock, adding a slow-release fertilizer to the soil can help it thrive. Once the plant is mature, you shouldn't need to continue fertilizing (although it's okay to do so).

Pruning

Throughout the growing season, remove any dead or dying foliage, especially any leaves infected with rust. Once the flowers are past their prime, you can cut the hollyhock spikes to the ground.

Pests and Problems

Pests

Pests aren't considered a major concern for hollyhocks. However, young hollyhocks can attract slugs and caterpillars. Spider mites and Japanese beetles may also be a problem.

Hollyhock Rust

If you've ever admired hollyhocks up close, you may have noticed some not-so-pretty foliage at the bottom. Unfortunately, these plants are prone to a type of rust that's specific to members of the hollyhock family. The first sign of hollyhock rust is yellow spots on the lower leaves; as the disease progresses, brown- or rust-colored bumps will often appear on the underside of leaves.

Hollyhocks grown in high humidity or in places with poor air circulation are especially vulnerable to rust. Although its effects are unsightly, this disease usually doesn't kill the plant.

Keep an eye out for early symptoms of rust. 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 at the base of the plant to avoid this. If you notice yellow-spotted leaves, remove the affected foliage, then burn or seal them in a bag for disposal.

Anthracnose

This highly damaging fungal disease causes leaf spots and black splotches on the plant's petioles (the leafstalks) and stems. It may also attack the roots and the section of the stem closest to the ground. Hot, humid conditions predispose plants to anthracnose infection, and watering and rain can spread the fungal spores. If you spot diseased foliage, remove and burn it, then apply a fungicide to the plant as needed. Proper spacing of plants will reduce the risk of this disease.

Leaf Spot

Also caused by a fungus, leaf spot is characterized by small, gray spots dotting the leaves. As the diseased areas die, holes may appear on the foliage. Remove any infected leaves, burn them, and apply a fungicide as needed.

How to Propagate Hollyhock

If you plan on growing hollyhocks from seed, know that you typically won't see blossoms until the second year. Although these plants require patience, they are easy to grow by direct-sowing the seeds. You can scatter the seeds in the spring all the way through the summer, about 2 months before the first fall frost. Don't cover them with soil—you want sunlight to reach the seeds and encourage germination.

If you want to start seeds indoors before spring, begin growing them about 6 to 8 weeks before the final frost. Make sure you move the seedlings outside while they're still young to avoid damaging the taproot.

Although transplanting hollyhock is difficult due to the plant's delicate taproot, it can be done in early spring. Start by cutting back the stems and foliage, leaving about 6 inches above the ground. Dig on all sides of the plant with a spading fork; pry the plant out of the ground, then shake off the excess dirt. Cut the plant into several sections, and divide the taproot with a knife, peeling it almost like a potato. Each section should have a piece of root with at least a couple of "eyes." Plant the sections as quickly as possible.

Types of Hollyhock

'Chater's Double' Hollyhock

Alcea rosea 'Chater's Double' Hollyhock
Denny Schrock

'Chater's Double' offers frilly double blooms in a variety of colors, including peach, pink, scarlet, purple, yellow, and white. This cultivar is hardy in Zones 3–8.

'Creme de Cassis' Hollyhock

Alcea rosea 'Creme de Cassis' Hollyhock
Lynn Karlin

'Creme de Cassis' bears striking raspberry-hued flowers with white rims on 6-foot stalks. Unlike many varieties, this one blooms in its first year. It's hardy in Zones 3–8.

'Indian Spring' Hollyhock

Alcea rosea 'Indian Spring' Hollyhock
Bill Stites

'Indian Spring' produces single pink, rose, yellow, or white flowers. Formerly known as 'Outhouse Hollyhock' for the privacy it provides, this plant towers at 8 feet tall. It's hardy in Zones 3–8.

'Old Barnyard Mix' Hollyhock

Alcea rosea 'Old Barnyard Mix' Hollyhock
Rick Taylor

'Old Barnyard Mix' originated in a Vermont barn and was bred to yield 3- to 5-inch wide flowers in a range of vibrant hues: deep red, pink, yellow, maroon, salmon, even bicolor. This mix is hardy in Zones 3–8.

'Peaches 'n Dreams' Hollyhock

Alcea rosea 'Peaches 'n Dreams' Hollyhock
Mike Jensen

'Peaches 'n Dreams' brings feminine beauty to your cottage garden with its ruffled, double peachy-pink blossoms, laced with raspberry and apricot hues. It grows 4 to 6 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 3–8.

'The Watchman' Hollyhock

Alcea rosea 'The Watchman' Hollyhock
Susan A. Roth

'The Watchman' stands guard over your garden with its 6- to 8-foot-tall stems. The velvety maroon blossoms look black from a distance. This type is hardy in Zones 3–8.

Hollyhock Companion Plants

Clematis

detail of blue Clematis and foliage
David McDonald

Clematis is one of the most versatile vines you can grow. Few other climbers offer such a broad range of bloom colors, shapes, and seasons. Dwarf clematis is ideal for containers or on decks and patios; medium-size varieties look great intertwined with small trees. Most types of clematis prefer full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Be aware: All parts of the plant are toxic to people and pets.

Shasta Daisy

Leucanthemum superbum Shasta Daisy flowers
Peter Krumhardt

Shasta daisies are a garden classic, featuring white flowers in a range of sizes (depending on the cultivar). The sturdy stems and long vase life make the flowers unbeatable for cutting. Shasta daisies thrive in well-drained soil that isn't overly rich. Taller types may need staking.

Shrub Rose

detail of Rose 'Knock Out' shrub
Justin Hancock

Shrub roses combine the best of the hardiest rose species with modern traits, such as 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 that need little to no maintenance.

Garden Plans For Hollyhock

No-Fuss Sun-Loving Garden Plan

no-fuss sun-loving garden plan illustration
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

This garden is the solution for your yard's sunniest spots. It's full of texture and color, including a hollyhock that adds height to the back row of the bed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do hollyhocks spread?

    Since hollyhocks are adept self-seeders, they readily spread. Even though they're biennials (that means they last only two years), people often mistake hollyhocks for perennials since they may appear year after year due to self-seeding.

  • Do hollyhock seeds require cold stratification?

    Hollyhock seeds germinate faster after a period of cold stratification. This can happen naturally if you plant the seeds outside in the early spring or fall when the soil temperature is still cool.

  • Can you transplant hollyhocks?

    Seedlings can be transplanted since their taproot isn't fully developed. However, mature hollyhocks don't move well because the taproot burrows very deeply into the soil, making it difficult to dig them up.

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