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!