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Hollyhocks: Beautiful and easy to grow

Hollyhocks are easy to grow plants that are old favourites and are getting new attention as gardening trends evolve.

Hollyhocks are easy to grow plants that are old favourites and are getting new attention as gardening trends evolve.

Hollyhocks are the quintessential cottage garden flower. The resurgence in Hollyhock popularity comes from several factors. Renewed interest in cottage gardens, a desire for drought and heat tolerance in garden flowers and the introduction of many new varieties are all helping fuel their new popularity.

The old-fashioned Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) we know so well, came from Western Asia where they thrived on rocky sites and in dry grassy wastelands. They are loved for their size and flower displays, as well as for being drought tolerant, although they bloom better in moist soils.

Hollyhock plants are a fun and easy to grow flowering plant. It’s an old time favourite. Hollyhocks are a large plant with big leaves and big blossoms. They produce a profusion of big flowers from summer through autumn. They are perfect to fill large areas, and the back of a flowerbed. Hollyhocks can be used in perennial, biennial and annual applications depending on the type and treatment.

Hollyhock produces tall and showy, heart shaped blooms. Some varieties will grow 3m tall. They are often used as a screen to hide undesirable views. Indeed, hollyhocks are sometimes called outhouse flowers because they were often planted to hide outhouses.

CHOOSING VARIETIES

Single or double blooms come in white, yellow, crimson, pink, purple, rose, and red. More recently a ‘black’ hollyhock has been developed. Single-flowered hollyhocks are often sold as Old Fashioned Mix or Country Mix. Sometimes single colours are offered, but after a few years you will find your reseeded plants will be a variety of colours.

Indian Spring is a single variety that will bloom the first year. Happy Lights is a hybrid variety with single flowers about 7,5cm across that is rust resistant and will bloom the first year. Crème de Cassis has single and semi-double flowers of rich plum red in the centre that shade to pink on the edges. Summer Carnival has semi-double to double blooms in a variety of colours and it 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.

GROWING HOLLYHOCKS

Hollyhocks are easily propagated from seed. Plant the seeds in full sun in average soil. Water and fertilise hollyhocks throughout the growing season for the best appearance and bloom.

Hollyhocks bloom from the bottom up so remember to deadhead spent hollyhock flowers to encourage the development of new blooms. If you want the plants to reseed themselves you have to let some of the heads return to the ground. The hollyhock will reestablish itself with little encouragement and the large seeds will germinate about anywhere they drop. Perennial varieties can be cut to the ground in the fall being careful to save the new crowns. Mulch over winter to protect. In planting be sure to leave sufficient space between plants. This will help air flow between them and give them room to take up sufficient nutrients. Hollyhocks are heavy feeders.

If rainfall is less than 25mm a week, hollyhocks should be watered. Try to water at the base of the plant and avoid wetting the leaves since hollyhocks are prone to fungal disease.

Scratch a balanced granular fertilizer into the soil around plants when new foliage is 5cm high, then switch to a high-phosphorus, water-soluble formula such as 10-30-20. Apply the water soluble formula to the tops and undersides of leaves twice a week. Tall varieties can be cut back once or twice to create shorter plants that don’t need staking. Cut back by half in mid-summer. Plants will be about half the normal height and will flower several weeks later. After plants have flowered, remove all old flowering stems and old foliage around the bases of the plants.

PESTS AND DISEASES

The major disease problem that hollyhocks face is rust, a fungal disease. It starts as orange, powdery looking spots on the bottom leaves. These spots turn into holes on the leaves. The plants continue blooming but begin to look very ugly. Using a floral fungicide, starting as soon as the weather gets warm in your area, can control rust. Some newer varieties of hollyhocks are being bred to be rust-resistant.