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November 2008
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Hollyhocks – old-fashioned cottage garden flower

If your garden needs a riot of colours, growing the flower known as Hollyhocks may just be the best option. With its white, pink, cream, yellow, red and purple flowers, the hollyhock is a visual delight wherever it is planted — at a key position by the front door, the garden gate or back of borders. Hollyhock produces tall and showy, heart shaped blooms. Some varieties will grow 8-10 feet tall. Single or double blooms come in white, yellow, crimson, pink, purple, rose, and red.
Hollyhocks come in a number of different varieties, and each variety will have different features including height, longevity, and color. Depending upon the variety, hollyhocks can either be annuals, biennials or perennials, although the perennial versions can sometimes be fairly short lived compared to other perennials. Hollyhocks tend to reseed themselves and if let go can develop into hollyhock patches over time. Botanically, there are two plants listed as Hollyhock. The first is the Althaea – better known as Mallow while the plant more commonly known as a Hollyhock is an Alcea. The tall showy ones are Alcea. Althaea are shorter.
Originating in the Mediterranean and Western Asia, Hollyhocks have been grown in the west since the mid 1500’s. Reaching upto 6-8 feet ( 60-250cm) in height, Hollyhocks are used in many cut flower gardens and borders, forming an integral part of these gardens. The plants can spread to 24” ( 40-60cm) with large rough leaves that feel slightly prickly to the touch. The large, inviting blossoms are held up in large spikes.
Full sun and fertile soil will do nicely for this plant. The plant may have trouble with clay soils if those soils are wet during the winter. Hollyhocks do best in moist, well-drained areas. They prefer a rich soil with abundant organic matter and in rural areas often bloom profusely in old, moist manure piles. Add fertilizer as needed in early spring to help the plants flourish. The plants are hardy form Zone 3 thru 8. They also are heat tolerant and bloom during the hottest part of the summer. Plant them where they are in full sun, as the plant dislikes shade of any kind.
As biennials, they will not usually flower the first year from seed. They need to grow that first year, survive the winter and then send up those huge flower stalks the second year. Unfortunately, the mother plants then die after flowering is finished, although this does not always happen and many plants continue to thrive.
The easiest way to establish hollyhocks is from seeds. All of the old-fashioned varieties produce viable seed that you can collect in the fall and plant in your garden or share with friends. Seeds germinate in 2-3 weeks at 60°F.
Try spring sowing or plant in August to produce flowering plants next year. If you have the right growing area, start seeds started indoors as bedding plants for bloom the following summer. Add a general purpose fertilizer once a month. Keep soil moist, especially in dry weather.
Early in the season, pinch back the plants to promote bushier growth. But, allow plenty of air circulation to minimize the risk of plant disease. After the plants have bloomed, simply cut off the flower stalks (after the seed pods have gone brown and are splitting open). Then crush the pods to separate the seeds out and scatter them throughout the garden for next year’s blooms.
Hollyhocks must establish a root system first, and then they can produce the stalk(s) of flowers you love so much. Often they are planted in the fall to give them a chance to establish a system during the winter months. While other plants are loafing and going into dormancy, the hollyhock foliage is still green! When spring arrives, your fall planted babies will burst into growing and produce blooms that summer. This is why most people plant them in the fall, but it is not a must. It is vital that you keep your baby hocks watered regularly to ensure a strong and healthy root system to carry it through the winter cold.

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