In the Garden:
This single maroon-black flower looks amazing when backlit by the morning sun.
Hollyhocks Take Center Stage in August
I have an old-fashioned cottage garden alongside my garage which 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 garden 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. Some of my favorites include 'Marjorette'. With double lacy flowers and available in a mixture of colors, it grows only 2 feet tall and flowers the first year from seed. 'Nigra' has chocolate-maroon flowers. 'Pinafore Mixed' grows to 3 to 3 1/2 feet tall with semi-double flowers. 'Charter's Double' has double, ball-shaped red, pink, white, or yellow flowers. 'Indian Spring' is a mix of white, pink, red, and yellow single flowers 'Powderpuffs Mixed' are double flowers a full inch larger than other double hollyhocks with flower colors of yellow, white, pink, scarlet, and salmon. 'Summer Carnival' is the largest in my collection, growing 4 to 5 feet tall. An early bloomer available in a wide color range, I think 'Summer Carnival' is my absolute favorite.
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.
From Seed to Bloom
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 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 with rock phosphate or bone meal to encourage healthy root growth.
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