The Q&A Archives: Hollyhocks Won't Harden Off

Question: I planted hollyhocks indoors from seed inFeb. and I've been trying to harden them off, but they wilt every time i take them outside. The weather in typically irratic here, but generally it's in the 60's when I've taken them out. I first put them in my cold frame, but they wilted there quickly. They were there with a jillion other seedlings that were and are very happy. It gets pretty hot in there,so I tried them outside in the shade--same problem. I tried them at various times of the day with no luck. They become happy again overnight when I bring them back inside and place them about three feet away from a southwest window. I can't find the package, but I know they are Burpee seeds and I think they're heirlooms. I always keep my packages, so it must be buried among gardening stuff. Sorry to be so vague, but I 'm really at a loss for how I'm going to get these lovely things in the garden!! Also, they could be annuals that reseed, but not biennials, I don't think. Thanks, Kay from Overland Park, KS (zone 5)

Answer: Hollyhocks have very large leaves, so they lose moisture faster than some plants might. To condition them, place them in a shady location such as the north side of your house, then gradually move them eastward into morning sun, then once they are accustomed to sun all morning they should be ready for the garden. They may also need to be moved into larger pots so that they can develop a root system large enough to support that foliage. Finally, if your cold frame is heating up, it needs to be vented either by hand or automatically. Excess heat is harmful to the plants and can even cook them.
Some hollyhocks will bloom the first year from seed if started very early indoors, however most do not bloom until the second year. They are considered biennials but some individual plants may live longer than than just two years. There is an annual, Malva zebrinus, sometimes called a hollyhock, and this plant is shorter and has pink flowers over a long period in the summer.

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