Learn About Hollyhocks
How to Sow
Hollyhock may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, or sown directly in the garden in early summer, or planted from potted plants.
Sowing Seed Indoors:
- Sow indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. In frost-free areas, sow in late winter indoors to flower the same year.
- In a warm well-lighted area sow seeds in seed starting formula and barely cover as light aids germination.
- Keep the soil moist at 70-75 degrees F
- Seedlings emerge in 10-14 days
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of true leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
Sowing Directly in the Garden:
- Sow hollyhock seeds in a cold frame or protected seedbed in the early summer.
- In rows 6 inches apart, just press seeds into the soil. Keep moist and protect from the sun.
- Seedlings emerge in 12-21 days.
Planting Potted Plants in the Garden:
- Select a location in full sun with well-drained, moist soil enriched with plenty of organic matter.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12, inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
- The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
- Plant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce transplant shock.
- Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
- Unpot the plant and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root growth. Be careful with hollyhocks as they have tap roots that may be easily damaged.
- Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
- Use the plant tag as a location marker.
- Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their germination.
- Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For perennials, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
- Careful watering is essential in getting perennials off to a good start. Water thoroughly at least once a week to help new roots grow down deeply. Soil should be damp at about 1 inch below the soil surface. You can check this by sticking your finger in the soil. Water early in the morning to give all leaves enough time to dry. One inch of rain or watering per week is recommended for most perennial plants. You can check to see if you need to add water by using a rain gauge.
- Until plants become established, some protection from extreme winds and direct, hot sunlight may be necessary. Good air movement is also important.
- After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer, as higher rates may encourage root rots.
- Taller varieties may require staking to prevent them from falling over in the wind.
- “Deadhead”, remove spent flower heads to encourage continuous flowering and prevent seed development.
- Remove and discard foliage after a hard frost in fall.
- In colder regions, apply another layer of mulch (1-2 inches) after the ground freezes in fall. Evergreen boughs (from Christmas trees) provide additional protection. Remove this mulch in the spring.
- Hollyhock does not divide well as it has a tap root which is easily damaged in transplanting. To propagate allow some flowers to go to seed and move any seedlings where you want them when they are small.
- Many gardeners do not cut back perennial flower seed heads in the fall, but wait until early spring before the new foliage appears. This provides food for wildlife over the winter.
- Be sure to give hollyhocks plenty of air circulation as rust can be a serious disease issue otherwise.
- Hollyhocks may be short lived perennials, but they often seed themselves.
Common Pests and Problems
Common Disease Problems
Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small brown spots are oblong, become lighter in the center. Spots may appear along the leaf midrib. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage, leaves and stems. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.
Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Root Rots: A number of pathogens cause root rots of seedlings as well as mature roots. Burpee Recommends: Practice crop rotation and do not plant related crops in the same area for several years. Pull up and discard infected plants. Make sure your soil has excellent drainage. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.
Rust: A number of fungus diseases that cause rust colored spots on foliage and stalks. It is particularly common on hollyhock. Burpee Recommends: Plant resistant varieties. Remove infected plants. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations. Do not save seed from infested plants.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Japanese Beetles: Burpee Recommends: Hand pick early in the morning into a bucket of soapy water.
Slugs: These pests leave large holes in the foliage or eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night and are mostly a problem in damp weather. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick, at night if possible. You can try attracting the slugs to traps either using cornmeal or beer. For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat. For a cornmeal trap, put a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar and put it on its side near the plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent but they cannot digest it and it will kill them. You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.
Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.
Weevils: This insect cuts irregular notches in leaf margins and grubs feed on plant roots, sometimes causing the death of the plant. Adults are approximately 5/16 inch long, dull black with dirty yellow marking on the wing cases. The grubs are c-shaped, 3/8 inches long, with light brown heads. Burpee Recommends: Handpick adults at night, shake the plants over newspaper to dislodge them. Check under pots where they hide during the day. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.
Do hollyhocks attract pollinators? Yes, they attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Are hollyhocks high maintenance? They can be. They are very susceptible to the disease, rust, and they usually need to be staked.
Why didn’t my hollyhock bloom this year? Hollyhocks do not usually bloom the first year from seed unless it is sown early. They also self-sow and the first year the seedlings will not bloom.
Can I use hollyhocks as cut flowers? Yes, they can be quite dramatic in arrangements.
Where can I plant my hollyhocks? Be aware that these are generally very tall plants and should be sited accordingly. They are great up against a house, along a fence and in the cottage garden for their old fashioned look.