Photo by: Ole Schoener / Shutterstock.

A classic cottage garden staple, hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) bloom mid-summer with numerous flowers on tall spikes. Many of the most common varieties are biennials, meaning they complete their lifecycle over 2 years. The first year is spent growing foliage and storing energy. In the second year, the stalks shoot up, flowers bloom and seeds form. However, there are also many varieties that behave like short-lived perennials and will flower in their first year when planted early enough in spring or started indoors in winter.

Other than staking and cutting the stalks back after flowering, hollyhocks really don’t require much maintenance, but they do need to be protected from insects and fungal diseases such as rust. Hollyhocks support the lifecycle of painted lady butterflies as a host plant for their caterpillars and also attract other pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds. If you’ve got a cottage garden, it’s just not complete without a few hollyhocks gracing the edges.

On this page: Hollyhock Basics | Planting | Care | Pictures | Gardening with Hollyhocks

HOLLYHOCK BASICS

Zones:

3-8

Height/Spread:

6-8 feet tall, 1-2 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun to part shade

Bloom time:

June-August

Color and Characteristics:

The single or double, cup-shaped flowers have little or no stalk and bloom on tall spikes. Hollyhocks come in a wide variety of colors: blue, pink, purple, red, white, yellow and even black. The tall spikes are covered with blooms from top to bottom. Hollyhock leaves are large, coarse and palmate in shape.

Toxicity:

Hollyhocks aren’t noted as being poisonous when ingested. However, the stems and leaves can cause skin irritation when the small glass-like fibers on them are touched or brushed against.

PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS

How and when to plant hollyhock seeds:

Hollyhocks are easily started from seed indoors or out. Seeds can be sown directly outdoors about a week before last frost. Sow at just ¼ inch deep and about 2 feet apart. Hollyhocks have long taproots, so if seeds are started indoors, use tall, individual pots and transplant early to avoid damage. Start indoor seeds about 9 weeks before the last average frost date. Seedlings can be placed outside two to three weeks after the last frost. Also, bear in mind that some are biennials and may not bloom until their second year.

Where to plant:

Plant in a well-draining area with full sun to partial shade. Due to their height, protect from damaging winds and provide support such as a fence, wall, trellis or stake. Hollyhocks will readily self-seed if left to their own devices, so locate them in an area where this won’t be a nuisance. Also, hollyhocks are one of very few plants that can be planted in proximity to black walnut trees because they are tolerant of the chemical juglone that is leached into the soil by the tree.

HOLLYHOCK CARE

Pruning:

Hollyhock flowers can be removed when they fade and stalks can be cut back after flowering. This will prevent seed heads from forming and reseeding. Although, if you’d like to have seeds set for next spring, leave the flowers and a few stalks until the seeds have dropped. They’ll die back in winter and all stems and leaves should be removed to prevent rust disease from overwintering.

Soil:

Provide rich, moist, well-drained soil for hollyhocks.

Amendments & Fertilizer:

Hollyhocks can benefit from a light application of fertilizer or compost in the spring.

Watering:

Provide regular water and keep soil moist for starting hollyhocks. However, once well established, they are fairly drought tolerant. Water from below and avoid wetting the foliage, as this can lead to diseased leaves.

Propagation:

Hollyhocks are best, and easiest, grown from seed and they will readily self-seed if flower stalks are left in place.

Diseases and Pests:

They are prone to hollyhock rust, a fungal infection that first shows as yellow spots on leaves, then develops into brown or rust colored bumps on the underside of the leaves. Preventing rust is much easier than trying to tame an outbreak. Watering from below, good air circulation and thorough late fall cleanup will go a long way in stopping rust from forming. Any leaves that show signs of rust should be removed from the plant and disposed of to prevent further spread. There are cultivars that have been developed to be more rust resistant, such as Alcea rugosa varieties.

Slugs, snails, spider mites and Japanese beetles can be problematic as well. Hollyhocks are seldom browsed by deer.

Over-wintering:

In areas that get hard freezes, hollyhocks can be grown as annuals, starting seeds in containers and over-wintering indoors. Water sparingly over the winter and gradually reintroduce them outside when the weather begins to warm up.

In other areas where they can be left outside, prune them back to about 6 inches above ground level in the fall. Cover with 4 to 6 inches of straw or mulch over the root zone and base of the plant. In spring, gradually remove in layers to slowly acclimate the roots. Once new growth is emerging, remove all the straw or mulch. Recover in case of a spring freeze.

PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Garden World Images Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo.

Alcea rosea ‘Queeny Purple’

Zones: 3-8

Height / Spread: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Mid to late summer

Color: Deep purple

One of the shortest varieties, its 3- to 4-inch, frilly-edged flowers bloom with season-long color. Its compact size makes it perfect for smaller gardens and containers. Will flower the first year if planted in February.

Photo by: Garden World Images Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo.

Alcea rosea ‘Chater’s Double’

Zones: 3-8

Height / Spread: 5 to 7 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Mid to late summer

Color: Available in a variety of colors: yellow, pink, purple, red, white and salmon (shown).

These tend to be true biennials, blooming in their second year with fluffy double hollyhock flowers.

Photo by: Gardeningpix / Alamy Stock Photo.

Alcea rosea Indian Spring Mix

Zones: 3-7

Height / Spread: 5 to 8 feet tall, 12 to 18 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Early to mid-summer

Color: A mix in various shades of pink and white.

Old-fashioned hollyhocks with single or semi-double flowers will bloom the first year if planted early in spring. Cut back after flowering and you may get a second round in the fall.

Photo by: aaor2550 / Shutterstock.

Alcea rosea Majorette Mix

Zones: 5-8

Height / Spread: 2 feet tall and wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Mid-summer

Color: A mix of colors (shades of pink, yellow, orange, red and white)

This dwarf variety has a bushy habit and fringed, semi-double flowers. Excellent for front or middle of borders or in containers. This variety will also bloom the first year if planted early enough.

Photo by: Walters Gardens, Inc.

Alcea rosea ‘Blacknight’

Zones: 3-9

Height / Spread: 5 to 6 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Mid-summer

Color: Purple-black

The darkest of the Spotlight series, this almost black hollyhock is a standout in the garden. Other colors in the series are red, pink, yellow and white. This variety behaves more like a short-lived perennial than a biennial.

Photo by: Walters Gardens, Inc.

Alcea rosea ‘Fiesta Time’

Zones: 3-9

Height / Spread: 3 feet tall, 18 to 24 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Mid-summer

Color: Cerise pink

A relatively shorter version with double, fringed blossoms that will bloom in the first year. Its shorter stature makes it a good choice for courtyard gardens and containers.

Photo by: Walters Gardens, Inc.

Alcea rosea ‘Mars Magic’

Zones: 3-9

Height / Spread: 5 to 6 feet tall, 2 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Mid-summer

Color: Shades of red

Another cultivar from the Spotlight series that offers single red flowers.

Photo by: Walters Gardens, Inc.

Alcea rosea Halo Series Cerise

Zones: 3-9

Height / Spread: 5 to 6 feet tall, 2 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Early to mid-summer

Color: Bicolor, cerise pink with deep purple center

The Halo series blooms with single, bicolor flowers with either lighter or darker centers. Others in the series are candy, blush, and lavender.

Photo by: Walters Gardens, Inc.

Alcea rosea Halo Series Blush

Zones: 3-9

Height / Spread: 5 to 6 feet tall, 2 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: Early to mid-summer

Color: White with fuchsia halo and yellow center

A bright and colorful addition to a cottage garden or border.

Photo by: ArgenLant / Shutterstock.

Alcea rugosa

Zones: 4-8

Height / Spread: 4 to 9 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun

Bloom Time: July to August

Color: Light yellow with darker center

An old garden favorite that originated in Russia, flowers with 4-inch blooms that attract hummingbirds and are edible. Also proven to be more disease-resistant than other species.

GARDENING WITH HOLLYHOCKS

  • Hollyhocks add drama and height, making an impressive backdrop to shorter perennials.
  • Attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden.
  • Plant with companions such as dahlia, clematis, Shasta daisy, shrub rose, baby’s breath, black-eyed Susan, phlox, sweet William and climbing roses.
  • Include denser plants in front of them to hide their sometimes unattractive legs.
  • Hollyhocks can be tricky to transplant due to their long taproots, so locate them accordingly so they won’t have to be moved.

RELATED:
Ideas for an Enticing Cottage Garden
English Garden Design

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