Hollyhocks are familiar, old-fashioned flowers that have graced European and American dooryards and gardens for hundreds of years. Although they're classified as a biennial, many varieties bloom every year because they re-seed themselves easily.
Typical hollyhocks grow anywhere from 5'–9' tall. Dwarf varieties grow about 1/3 that size. At maturity they'll become 2' or 3' feet wide.
Hollyhock leaves are large, hairy, or felt-like to the touch. They're medium green and deeply lobed, like maple leaves, with three, five, or seven rounded lobes. They cluster at the base of the plant, but also grow on the flower stalk.
The five-petaled rose-like hollyhock blooms emerge along the top half of their tall flower stalks, which develop the second year. Relatively long blooming, hollyhocks bloom from June–August or September. The lowest flowers on the stalks open first, expanding to 3"–4" across. Flower colors may be white, yellow, pink, rose, red, or almost black. Some types have double and ruffled flowers. The flowers, while unscented, attract bees.
The Right Place for Hollyhocks
Hollyhocks are hardy north of New England and into Canada. They're comfortable as far south as the central Gulf States, but can't handle the extremely hot regions of Florida and southern Texas. Choose a sunny site with well-drained, rich soil, such as a border area in front of a wall. They prefer soil that is moderately acidic.
How to Use Hollyhocks in the Landscape
Use hollyhocks for screening along fences and as background plants in borders and beds. Cluster them at corners of buildings to soften harsh architectural lines.
- Shelf Life: Plant in the garden when night temperatures stay above 45°F.
- Preparation: Remove the plastic bag and sleeve from around the potted plant(s). If you can't plant it into a garden or a larger pot within a few days, make sure it stays well watered.
- Potted Plants: Hollyhocks prefer to be placed directly in the garden as opposed to pots or containers.
- Soil Preparation: If your soil is clayish, amend it with a standard garden soil for adequate drainage.
- Planting Depth & Spacing: Plant separately, spacing about 2'. Dig holes twice the width of the root ball and about 5"–6" deep. Place them in their holes.
- Watering: Water thoroughly upon planting, as well as a couple of times per week throughout the summer.
- Fertilizer: This helps maintain flower size and count from year to year. For best results, use twice a month all summer long.
- Lighting: Full sun is preferred.
- Blooming: These plants will bloom mid-summer through autumn yearly.
- Temperature Zone: Zones 2-8. These are hardy down to -40°F.
- Winter Dormancy: After the first frost, cut plants back to the ground.
- Propagating: These roots will re-bloom every year. They can be subdivided in early spring after 2–3 years.
- Cutting Flowers: These prefer to stay in the garden rather than cut for vases.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do the flowers need to be staked?
A: The flowers of the taller varieties require staking unless they're up against a wall and out of the wind. Dwarf varieties don't require staking.
Q: What can I do with the seeds that form?
A: Each flower stem will have upwards of 75 flowers. Each flower will produce a seed pod with 15–20 pea-size seeds. To encourage new growth in the same area, shake the stalks profusely to make the seeds fall to the ground. Otherwise remove pods and shake seeds out in another part of the garden. A large percentage will grow the next season. In the following season, they'll be blooming too!
Q: Why didn't my plants bloom the first year?
A: This can be the rule, but not the norm. The plants will bloom with extra vigor the next year.
Q: Why do some leaves get holes in them?
A: Each leaf has a fuzzy, hairy-like texture. If the leaves are wet from early morning rain or dew, the sun will often cause these holes. There is little you can do except refrain from misting the foliage in the hot sun. The flowers aren't affected by these holes.