Hollyhocks are the epitome of cottage garden plants. These stately towers of flowers bloom for a long time in summer in a wide variety of colors. Chances are you’ve seen them alongside a barn, in front of a cute cottage-style house, or gracing the front of a white picket fence. This old-fashioned pass-along plant has absolutely caught the hearts of many.
If there's one defining feature to describe the hollyhock, it's height. With a range of 3 to 8 feet tall, even the short end of the height spectrum is big. When you have a mass planting of these stately beauties in full bloom, it's really quite a show.
The flowering stalks of the hollyhock, Alcea rosea, are covered in buds from the top all the way down to the rosette of foliage at the base. Once they are fully grown and ready to burst into color, these blooms start at the bottom and slowly work their way up, unfurling a little at a time. As the blooms continue to open, there will typically be several blooms per stalk all opening at once to create beautiful columns of rainbow-worthy color.
Hollyhock Care Must-Knows
If the striking pillars of blooms are what you're after, it'll take some patience. Many of the most common and available hollyhock varieties are biennials. This means that these plants spend their entire first year just growing foliage and storing up nutrients for the next year. In their second year, hollyhocks use all of their stored up energy from the first year to put on a spectacular floral show. As they bloom, they also use all of this stored up energy to create as many seeds as they possibly can. At the end of their blooming season, these plants have used up all of their energy and die. Luckily, seeds produced then shed and go back to the ground to start the whole process over.
If you plan on planting these from seed in your garden, know that you generally won't have blooms until the second year. Another important detail about growing hollyhock from seed is that they are easy to start by direct-sowing the seeds straight in the ground. Hollyhocks and many other members of their family have very long taproots. This makes these plants a little tricky to transplant. So if you want to get a head start by growing seeds indoors before spring, be sure to plant the seedlings outside while they are still young to prevent disturbing the taproot too much.
Hollyhocks are typically grown against something for support, whether it be against a wall, along a fence, or at the back of a mixed border. Having a support system is especially important for taller varieties.
Rust and Other Not So Fun-gis
If you have ever grown hollyhocks or ever been up close to admire the blooms, you may have also noticed some not-so-pretty foliage at the bottom. Unfortunately, hollyhocks are prone to rust, a type that preys only on members of the hollyhock family. The first sign of hollyhock rust is yellow spots forming on the lower leaves of the plants. As the rust progresses, you will usually see brown- or rust-colored bumps on the underside of leaves. Plants grown in high humidity or places with poor air circulation are especially prone to this.
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Keep an eye out for early symptoms of rust and other fungal problems. If you see a problem starting, remove the affected leaves and dispose of them by burning or sealing them away. 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 below leaves, if needed.