In the Garden:
Old-fashioned hollyhocks add personality to any garden.
A Late-Season Riot of Color
My cottage garden takes center stage during the months of August and September, blooming profusely in a wide range of vibrant colors. My favorite August plants are the old-fashioned hollyhocks (Alcea rosea). Hollyhocks range in color from white to yellow, pink, lavender, red, and nearly black, and the flower stalks can grow to 7 or 8 feet tall. With a long blooming period from July to early September, hollyhocks are a great addition to any bed. They work best as a background plant growing against a wall or fence. I like planting hollyhocks near the back of the garden, surrounded by shorter plants that hide the hollyhock's bare stalks or diseased foliage.
There are many varieties of hollyhocks to choose from. Here are some of my favorites. 'Chater's Double' has a double, ball-shaped, flower in red, pink, white, or yellow. 'Indian Spring' is a mix of white, pink, red, and yellow single flowers. 'Majorette Mixed' has dwarf forms growing only 30 inches high with large, semi-double flowers in pastel colors. 'Nigra' has dark maroon flowers, turning almost black in the center. 'Powderpuffs Mixed' has double flowers a full 1-inch larger than other double hollyhocks and flower colors of yellow, white, pink, scarlet, and salmon.
Hollyhocks grow best with lots of sun and moist but well-drained soil. Planting in full sun in an area with good air circulation helps prevent rust fungal disease. This common affliction of hollyhocks can spread rapidly so be sure to remove infected leaves as soon as you notice orange, yellow, or purplish brown dots on the undersides of leaves. Since the tall flower stalks can be a little top-heavy when in full bloom, provide stakes for support, especially in windy areas.
When and How of Planting
I sow seeds indoors in early March and set transplants in the garden eight weeks later. I also sow seeds directly in the garden in late spring for blooms the following summer. Hollyhocks are perennials or biennials, depending on our winter weather. They often overwinter in the Pacific Northwest and bloom for several years, especially if the bed is mulched each fall with a protective layer of straw or leaves.
Keep Them Growing
To make your plants produce more flower stalks, pinch out the growing tips once or twice in early spring. This makes for shorter plants with more branches. Once the blooms have finished, I cut them back, but leave a few to set seed and self-sow.
Once the leaves have died back in fall, you can give your plants a side-dressing of rock phosphate or bone meal to encourage healthy root growth.
Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!