In the Garden:
I love the old-fashioned look of hollyhocks against this weathered fence rail in my cottage garden.
My Colorful August Garden
My cottage garden takes center stage during the month of August, 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 can hide the hollyhock's bare stalks or diseased foliage.
There are many varieties of hollyhock to choose from. Here are some of my favorites. 'Chater's Double' is a double, ball-shaped red, pink, white or yellow flower. 'Indian Spring' is a mix of white, pink, red, and yellow single flowers. 'Majorette Mixed' are 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' are double flowers a full 1-inch larger than other double hollyhocks with 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 starts can spread rapidly so be sure to remove infected leaves as soon as you notice orange, yellow, or purplish-brown dots on the underside 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 8 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 over winter 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 with rock phosphate or bone meal to encourage healthy root growth.
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