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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.
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.
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.
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.