Plant of the Week: Hollyhock
The hollyhock, a beloved cottage garden flower, has a long history of chivalry. Back in a time before indoor plumbing, hollyhocks were planted by the outside “loo” so a female visitor would not need to ask where the outhouse was. Instead, she could remain ladylike by asking where to find the hollyhocks, never having to reveal her true intention.
Luckily for us, these tall beauties have proudly graduated from the outhouse to the manor house, gracing some of the finest gardens in the world. And that world includes our gardens right here in the Valley of the Sun. Planted as a backdrop to larkspur, dianthus, bachelor’s button and roses, stately hollyhocks make a superb choice to give your garden the English style. Hollyhocks are equally at home in a native garden with penstemons, salvias and sage.
Growing guide: Full sun exposure.
One important point to understand about hollyhocks: Most varieties are biennials, taking one season to grow another to flower. Most beginners find that their seeds come up, but that the resulting plants seem to sit, stalled, through spring. At summer’s end they look brown and dead, so beginning gardeners pull them out, thinking they’ve failed. Instead one should just trim off the dead leaves and stems, and wait. The plant will winter over, then boom into spring bloom. If two years is too long to wait, there are annual varieties available.
My strongest hollyhocks have been grown from seed, but my seed-fearing garden friends can grow them from transplant. Plant in fall or early spring.
Choose a spot with eastern or western sun, preparing soil for annual/ perennial planting.
Most hollyhocks grow tall, reaching heights of up to 9 feet. Leave room between plants for air circulation.
Water transplants, seedlings and adult plants at the soil line, avoiding overspray onto the foliage. Water deeply, allowing a slight drying between waterings.
Mulch to retain moisture as the temperatures rise in summer.
Maintenance and Harvest:
Watch for rust, a common hollyhock disease. Remove affected leaves and toss them (don’t compost). Organically treat to prevent rust with Serenade Disease Control, OMRI listed (buy it online).
Hollyhocks will look shabby by summer’s end. After the flowers have dried, seeds are plentiful for collection or for the wind to distribute.
You may get a bounty of hollyhock seedlings in places you don’t want them — if so, just pluck them out of unwanted areas. Then, trim down spent plants to the ground. Once you get a stand of hollyhocks to grow, you will have reseeded beds that will endure for years.
The most common hollyhock grown is the Alcea rosea. However, the fig-leafed Alcea ficifolia and the deep, dark black/purple colored Alcea nigra are growing in popularity and variety.
Some of my favorites include Black Watchman (pair it with Delft blue larkspur), Indian Spring (heirloom), Carnival (annual), Apricot (double blossoms) and Happy Lights (fig-leafed with some rust resistance).
*note the growing guide applies to gardening in the Phoenix Metro low or subtropical desert with minimum temperatures of 25-30º F and 151-180 days with temps above 86º F. USDA Hardiness Zone 9b, Sunset Climate Zone 13 and AHS Heat Zone 10.