Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) belong to the mallow family. The botanical name comes from the Latin word “altheo,” which means “to cure,” because some hollyhocks have medicinal properties. The old-fashioned hollyhocks are hardy perennials but they are short-lived. They form foliage the first year and don’t produce flowers until the second year. Many of my hollyhocks will continue to flower for another two or three years after that without any special attention, and there are always younger hollyhock plants to take their place.

Many of the gardening experts advise planting the seeds in sandy soil in May, transplanting them to ten inches apart in the fall, and then finally moving them to their permanent location. Hollyhocks, even seedling hollyhocks, have a long taproot that can be very difficult to transplant. Hollyhocks will always do best if their roots aren’t disturbed. This is not a plant that likes to be moved around.

Hollyhocks can be planted in early spring or in early fall, but I have had the best results with fall plantings and with just scattering a few of my dried collected seeds over the area where I want them to grow. I think this method works so well because it is very much like the natural planting cycle. It helps that we heavily mulch the hollyhocks with a thick layer of leaf mold that the seeds can sink into.

Our growing season is so short, the seed pods on some of the hollyhocks, especially the later blooming ones, don’t have time to dry and release the seeds before a frost hits. So usually the night of the first predicted frost will find me outside in the near darkness picking still-green hollyhock seed pods off the stalks. I leave any already dried or opened pods on the stalks, and when I cut the stalks down a few days later I scatter those seeds over the soil. I take the green pods inside and spread them out on a flat surface in a warmish room. After a few weeks the seeds will be dry and can easily be separated. I have found that seeds collected and dried this way have an astounding germination rate, even after several years of storage. Just make sure the seeds are completely dry before you store them, otherwise they have a tendency to mildew. I store the dry seeds in small individually labeled envelopes inside a glass jar in the freezer.

According to my reference books, hollyhocks bloom in June, July, and August, but here they don’t start blooming until late July or early August and usually continue into early September. Supposedly plants from hollyhock seeds are true to color and type, although growing hollyhocks the way I do… letting them reseed themselves and saving and planting seed… has resulted in a continually changing array of flower colors. Some years the colors will be more vibrant or more subdued, and individual flowers will have different color combinations than previous years.

For the past two years I have let the hollyhocks reseed themselves and haven’t planted any of my saved seed, and the flower colors have become predominantly pinks and more pastel than in previous years.

I’m hoping that planting some of my older frozen seeds will bring back more of the brighter colors of my earlier hollyhocks and more shades of peach and cream.

Hollyhocks are easy to grow if you give them deeply cultivated moist fertile soil and close to or full sun, but I have found that they don’t flourish equally well in all locations. I have hollyhocks growing in several areas that have seemingly the same soil, moisture levels, and sun exposure, but for some unknown reason one area always produces much more spectacular hollyhocks than the rest.

I have learned to plant hollyhock seeds where the plants flourish and look for another location if they don’t.

That seems to work out well for all of us!

Add Your Comment

All comments are moderated... your email address will not be published.

Talk to me! :o)

Comments

Jenessa

Thank you for the beautiful pictures! My grandmother used to grow lovely hollyhocks and I miss them now that she is gone.
By the way, what type of lenses do you primarily use?

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Jenessa, the camera I use is a very inexpensive Sony digital camera. I’m not sure what the lens is… it’s the one that is built into the camera. The camera is auto-focusing, which I do not like because it often will focus on something other than what I want it to focus on, and it doesn’t begin to take as nice a photo as the equally inexpensive Fuji I had earlier. When this camera gets the focus right, though, I think it does OK… although the next camera I buy will definitely not be auto-focus-only.

Robyn

Beautiful hollyhocks, great info too. Thanks for this wonderful blog!

Lisa

Thank you for these wonderful pictures and for such detailed information about growing hollyhocks. My mother’s hollyhocks always look so good and mine always look so stunted. I’m going to put some of your techniques to use right away. I love your blog!

Jo

Thank you Shirley for these wonderful pictures! I just got 2 packs of the old fashioned hollyhock seeds and am making a place to scatter some this week. Hopefully I will get results. I think hollyhocks did better in the old days when more people had horse or cow manure. What do you feed yours?

Now that I have read your blog, I think I will scatter one pack of seeds and put the other pack in the freezer. Then next fall, scatter the other pack. Wish me luck!

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Jo, I do wish you luck with the hollyhocks, but I’m sure they’ll do fine. I agree, I think EVERYTHING did better with cow or horse manure. We’re finding that things grow wonderfully well in pure leaf mold that has been composted until it looks like black soil. I have never seen anything else written about this, so we’ve been experimenting and our results have been fantastic. My most spectacular hollyhocks are growing in this leaf mold “soil” and that is all the fertilizer they get.

Shelley

Shirley:

My mom at 68 years young has always talked about these we are from Lincoln, NE. I never remembered these as a child until I seen this wonderful site-WOW beautiful! Pictures are owesome! I’m an Photo-hog on flowers, the little point and shoot work great! I now have the Canon T-2 has taken lots of practice! Back to mom said, in her days growing up they made flower dolls with them using tooth pics, how cool is that?

Susan

I have fond memories of hollyhocks growing on my great-uncle’s fence. We used to make little ‘ladies’ out of the flowers – although I don’t remember exactly how we did it.

I have started hollyhocks from seed for several years now. Although the plants do very well after planted out, I have never had a single bloom. I am trying a new location this year, so here’s hoping!!

Kent

Thank you for the info on hollyhocks. My grandmother grew them in North Dakota and relied totally on self-planting with some amazing results.

Howard

Thanks for all the very useful tips. I just bought a dwarf ruffled flowering hollyhock. I wonder if the plants grown from it’s seeds will be like the mother plant.

Grasshopper

Your hollyhocks are very beautiful. I have not had much success with them, although I have only planted potted plants from the nursery and not seeds. I find that slugs and snails attack them and often chew them off. I am curious about your beds. Do you mulch with any material other than leaf mold? If not, do you have trouble with weeds? I typically use pine needles for mulch as they do not wash away like shredded bark does. The pine needle mulch also stays thick enough to keep weeds out, but I find that self-seeding plants, such as poppies and datura, do not self-seed in the pine needles. They will self-seed at the bed edges and in cracks in the sidewalk next to the flower bed, so I know that they can and will. It just seems that the mulch interferes with that process.

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Grasshopper, thank you. We don’t mulch with anything except leaf mold. The mulch pile heats up enough so it kills any weed seeds, and we put on a deep layer so we really don’t have a problem with weeds. I haven’t tried pine needles as a mulch except for strawberries. I have never had much luck with purchased hollyhocks either. Single hollyhocks (from seed) grow best here, although I’m trying to introduce some double hollyhocks too.

Sandy

Your photos are lovely! I also adore hollyhocks. Ours line the porches of our old farmhouse, and have survived by re-seeding themselves for over 50 years. This year we were more efficient at mulching our flower beds, using bark mulch. Now I’m worried that maybe we’d better rake back the mulch or they won’t be able to re-seed through it. What do you think?

Linda

Thank you so much for this post and the beautiful pictures! I remembered hollyhocks my grandmother had beside her little house and wanted some, so last year I planted a purchased dried root. This year I have a plant with beautiful pink double blooms; it is 8 feet tall! I was so ignorant when I planted it, it’s a wonder that it lived! I was wondering how to ensure that I would continue to have hollyhocks, and I stumbled on your blog, so I’m going to use your methods. I am having to fight whitefly, which I’d never encountered in all my years of gardening ( but this is only my 2nd year in N. Alabama). Thus far I’ve just hand picked or sprayed with the hose and while they’re still there, I think It’s sufficient for now. Do you have any advice regarding this? I avoid pesticides and will live with a few pests unless it becomes an invasion. Now I know I need to keep adding nice, rich compost and mulch (our native soil is clay), so I am hoping for a permanent stand of this beautiful flower!