Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
March, 2010
Regional Report

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Little girls love making dolls out of hollyhocks. Use a flower for the skirt, use a bud to top the skirt with a head (attach with a toothpick) and put another flower on the head to serve as a bonnet.

Hollyhocks - A Summer Favorite

I don't think any other plant is more closely associated with old fashioned gardens than hollyhocks, which is just fine with me. I love quaint cottage gardens! But hollyhocks are just as much at home in contemporary gardens. At 5-6 feet tall, they can be used as a nice background plant in a sunny flower bed, or along a fence or wall, which is where I think they look best.

Annual, Biennial or Perennial?
The older varieties of hollyhocks are short-lived perennials, usually treated as biennials. The first year flowering is meager, but during the second year they come into their glory, flowering all summer long. Although established plants may live and flower for several years, they rarely flower as freely as new plants started from seed. Hollyhocks are self-sowing. Once they are established, this characteristic keeps them blooming like new each year. Cutting back the old flower spikes when the flowers are spent will encourage your hollyhocks to send up new flowering stems. This helps renew the plants and usually keeps them healthier and more disease-free.
You can sow hollyhock seeds outdoors in August or September and they will germinate and produce flowering plants in the spring, or you can start seeds indoors during the winter months to transplant them outdoors in the spring. These plants will bloom the following summer. Fresh seeds will germinate in 2-3 weeks when kept at 60 degrees F.

Hollyhocks do best in full sun, in moist but well drained garden beds. They appreciate fertilizer in early spring and will respond with vigorous new growth.

Avoiding Problems
Hollyhocks are tough plants, but they do have some insect and disease problems. Rust is the most common disease and appears on the undersides of lower leaves as lemon-yellow to orange pustules that darken with age. The top of the leaf usually shows bright yellow to orange spots with reddish centers. These spots may quickly come together and destroy large portions of the leaf.

Good sanitation can control rust. Pick off any rust infected leaves as soon as you recognize the pustules. As soon as flowering is over, infected plants should be cut back to the soil line. Be sure to remove all infected leaves and stalks from the garden and either bury them in an unused part of the garden or place them in the hot center of a working compost pile. The heat should destroy the pathogens.

Hollyhock problems usually cause the older leaves to look lousy, but the flowers still look good. Options can also include planting hollyhocks far enough away so you don't see the leaves, or planting something in front of the hollyhocks to hide the leaves.

Variety is the Spice of Life
Single-flowered hollyhocks are often sold as 'Old-Fashioned Mix" or 'Barnyard Mix' seed packets. Sometimes single colors are offered, but after a few years you will find your reseeded plants will be a variety of colors.

'Indian Spring' is a single variety that will bloom the first year if started indoors. 'Happy Lights' is a hybrid variety with single flowers about three inches across. This one is rust-resistant and will bloom the first year if started inside. 'Creme de Cassis' has single and semi-double flowers of rich plum-red in the center that shades to pink on the edges. 'Summer Carnival' has semi-double to double blooms in a variety of colors and will bloom the first year if started indoors. 'Peaches and Dreams' has lovely, huge double flowers in a blend of yellow, peach and pink. 'Queeny Purple' is a dwarf hollyhock with huge flowers of rich purple.

Newer strains of hollyhocks have fringed, ruffled or doubled petals. A bonus is that they are more disease-resistant than the old-fashioned varieties.

I hope you have a sunny spot in which to plant hollyhocks. You'll love them!

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