Rising hollyhocks: fairly pollinator companions

Growing hollyhocks can be one of the most beautiful and rewarding gardening chores you can do. There is nothing like hollyhock flowers at the height of their growth. Its bright flowers are perfect as a classic cottage garden. They attract hummingbirds and are a great addition to any garden.

Most people love hollyhocks for their ability to bring hosts of pollinators and their variety of colors. They are versatile in their ability to withstand varying amounts of sun and shade. Their flowering can take until early winter, and their perennial nature helps them return in spring.

Hollyhocks also grow in a variety of climates. Given their versatility, you might want to grow your own garden with gorgeous flowers, including hollyhocks. What is needed for the cultivation, you ask? Let's cover the basics so you can plant hollyhock seeds in the spring.

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Brief instructions for care

Growing hollyhocks to attract pollinators is wonderful. Source: Jimforest

Common names Hollyhocks, hollyhocks
Scientific name Alcea spp.
family Malvaceae or the mallow family
Height & Spread Up to 8 feet tall and 5 inches wide
Bright Full sun
floor Moist, rich, well-drained
water 1 inch per week
Pests & Diseases Rust, powdery mildew, spider mites, nudibranchs, Japanese beetles

Everything about hollyhocks

Collection of flower budsHollyhock buds form in clusters, as can be seen here. Source: Crowcombe Al

Hollyhocks are diverse in their genus (Alcea), but the most common types of hollyhocks grown in North America are that of the Alcea rosea, or the common hollyhock. With over 80 species, gardeners are sure to find at least one hollyhock that is right for them. Hollyhocks originated in China and came to the Middle East and then Europe via English soldiers during the Crusades. Crusaders used hollyhocks to make an ointment that was applied to the hocks of horses injured in battle.

Hollyhocks grow on the sides of tall stems that grow to between 5 and 9 feet tall. Their base is covered with about 5 to 12 inches of heart-shaped leaves that shrink as they grow out of the central stem. Their flowers form and bloom in mid to late summer after their second year of growth, but some bloom by fall, into the first half of winter. Hollyhock flowers sit on the stem of the plant and reach a width of up to 3 inches. The flower is cup-shaped and available in many colors.

After the hollyhock blooms and dies at the end of the growing season, the petals fall and flat black seed heads form. As the pods dry, they open and disperse their disc-shaped seeds on the surface of the soil below. Since hollyhocks easily sow themselves and only live a few years, they are considered a tender or short-lived perennial. When hollyhock seedlings emerge, their plant roots extend well below the surface. Like other members of the mallow family, hollyhocks have long tap roots that extend deep into the earth.

Hollyhock plants are often grown in cottage gardens to delimit the back of a garden bed. People also breed hollyhocks to attract hummingbirds, wasps, bees, butterflies, and beetles, which help with pollination. That's why they're a great flower to grow next to a vegetable garden. Growing hollyhock flowers also means you have a source of medicine.

Just as crusaders treated their horses with the flowers, breeders may also treat topical skin abrasions with them. The flower can also be made into a lovely medicinal tea that is purported to treat the respiratory and digestive tracts. The flower stalks are also a great addition to a summer bouquet.

Plant hollyhocks

If you're wondering when to plant mallow seeds, look no further! Since hollyhock plants are summer flowering, you should start sowing a week before the last frost date. Plant hollyhocks in a location with plenty of sun and fertile, well-drained soil. They also grow easily in containers that are deep enough. When growing hollyhocks, remember that you are growing a plant with a long taproot. Whiskey barrels are the recommended container of choice for them.

Rake the garden bed where you want to sow hollyhock seeds. Spread them thinly and evenly, trying not to overcrowd the bed with them. Then rake them in and add soil if necessary to make sure they are covered ¼ inch. You can also plant hollyhocks from seeds indoors and transplant them outdoors in your cottage garden. If you do this make sure you have a grow light to give them adequate sunlight and a good potting mix. After around 9 weeks of growth, they can be planted outdoors.


Hollyhock flowerEvery hollyhock is a ray of light in the green. Source: Deanster1983

Once you've planted seeds or grafts, growing hollyhocks is easy. While this guide talks about their optimal conditions, hollyhocks can tolerate a wide variety of soil, temperature, and water levels.

Sun and temperature

Hollyhocks prefers full sun, around 6 hours a day. Partial shade is also sufficient. The harsh afternoon sun in a hot climate can be a little too harsh for flower production. So try to provide more shade in these areas while keeping the minimum of six hours. The USDA growth zones for hollyhocks range from zone 2 to 10. These short-lived perennials love temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees.

They don't need cold hours, but thrive best when the nighttime soil temperatures are between 60 and 65 degrees during their flowering period. Hollyhock plants are sensitive to frost damage and should be protected with a generous layer of mulch in winter or spring frost. Too much heat will stop flowering and prevent seed heads from forming. You can cover your hollyhocks in early spring and winter, but they will die and come back on their own.

Water and moisture

Water hollyhock plants in the morning at the base of the plant rather than above it. Your leaves are prone to powdery mildew and rust, so water at the base of the plant to avoid diseased leaves. However, there are some varieties of hollyhocks that are susceptible plants and some that are rust resistant. Water daily in warmer seasons.

Water several times a week in more moderate seasons. Because of their delicate leaves, hollyhocks are best suited with soaking tubes or drip irrigation. Avoid watering when it has rained a lot. Although hollyhock is not drought tolerant, it can occasionally handle some dry soil.


Most of the plants in the mallow family are tolerant of different types of garden soil. Optimal soil conditions for hollyhocks are well-drained, fertile garden soil. A little bit of sound is fine too. Poor quality soil is fine, but a small layer of compost on the planting area will help these plants bloom beautiful flowers. Starter plants need particularly rich soil or starter mix. The best pH range for hollyhocks is 6.0 to 8.0.


Hollyhock leavesHollyhock leaves have a recognizable shape and curvature. Source: John and Anni

Hollyhocks enjoy a fertilizer twice a year in temperate seasons. Balanced pellet or liquid fertilizers are great. Check your local garden center for a fertilizer with an N-P-K of 10-10-10 or 15-15-15. Do not use foliar fertilizers as this promotes rust disease. Infected plants can transmit disease to other susceptible plants, so avoid doing this if possible.


One of the coolest things about hollyhocks is that they will bloom multiple times in a season if treated properly. Dead-headed hollyhocks are the key to multiple blooms. After the hollyhocks bloom, cut off the used flower with sharp and clean hand scissors. You can also pinch them off with your fingers. Then, drop the seed head and sow it yourself in the next growing season, or save the seeds collected this way for later.

There are many options for storing and planting seeds when decapitating hollyhocks (whole pods, separate seeds, and spreading seeds right in the garden beds). If the mother plant turns brown in autumn, use scissors to cut it all the way to the ground. You can also leave some stems to nest for hibernating bees and beetles.


The only way to propagate hollyhocks is through their seeds from seed pods. You can collect the seeds throughout the season and spread them out in your garden a week before the last frost in spring. You can also plant the seeds in rich soil starter pots that are in full sun.

Starting hollyhocks is pretty easy compared to other plants. After they germinate, put them in full sun 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost to harden them for a few weeks. Then transplant them in the garden under other plants with flowers in a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball and just a little deeper. They should be set up within a week or so.


Hollyhocks grow fenceWhile not necessary, some assistance can help the hollyhocks thrive. Source: roseypinguin

When you grow hollyhocks, you'll find that they're not too fussy. They are host plants for pollinators, but they are also hosts for fungal diseases and vermin. Let's shut them down!

Growing problems

When you grow hollyhocks, protect them from strong winds. Tall plants like hollyhocks can break in half in strong winds. While they don't require stakes, it may be worth planting hollyhocks – which can grow up to 9 feet tall – in an area protected by a garage or fence. The same goes for heavy rain. Hollyhocks 5 to 9 feet tall are sensitive to rain and hail.

If you grow hollyhocks in an area with poor drainage, they can be more prone to powdery mildew. The same problem occurs when they grow too close to other plants. Hollyhocks need good air circulation in order to bloom and produce seeds. Full sun is also needed in the rainy season to prevent bacterial growth on the leaves.


Spider mites are insects that like to feed on hollyhock sap and spin tight, dense webs in late stages. They cause stains on the leaves and eventually leaf waste. They usually enjoy dry hot weather so look for them during warmer seasons. To treat them, first use a powerful stream of water from a hose to push them off the plant. Once the plant has dried, apply neem oil to all surfaces of the plant to prevent re-infestation.

Japanese beetles feed on the leaves of the hollyhock. Whenever you grow hollyhocks you should look for any signs of it, especially when hollyhock flowers are in bloom. This is the high point of the beetle life cycle. Take some time to hand-pick bugs from the plant and flowers before they have time to cause damage. Spreading beneficial nematodes (particularly Heterorhabditis bacteriophora) on the ground can also reduce overwintering of the beetle larva population.

Snails are another pest that likes to feed on the plant material of many hollyhocks. You will know they were in your garden overnight when you see their slimy tracks around the 1.5 meter high spines. Control them with diatomaceous earth sprinkled in the area where you are growing hollyhocks. Organic snail bait is also incredibly effective.


When growing hollyhocks, you may have to deal with powdery mildew and hollyhock rust. Each is a fungal disease that originates from excessively wet and warm conditions.

Powdery mildew can be controlled by avoiding wetting of the foliage during watering. You can also remove moldy leaves as they are damaged. This type of powdery mildew doesn't often reach a point where an entire plant needs to be removed, but in close proximity to other plants, the powdery mildew can spread. Neem oil or copper fungicide can reduce the risk of spread

Especially in Hollyhock rust, Fungal spores spread and cause relatively even dot formation on hollyhocks. You can avoid this completely by planting rust-resistant seeds and plants. Some forms of rust can be treated by removing infected material and spraying the rest of the plant with either sulfur fungicide or copper fungicide.

Unfortunately, the most commonly sold hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) are not rust-resistant. So if you need to work with Alcea rosea in your garden, keep the area weed free. Cut the plant at the end of the season. In the event of a fungal attack, Alcea rosea should be treated with a fungicide every 7 to 10 days, which is applied in spray form. If that doesn't help, remove and discard the entire plant.

frequently asked Questions

Hollyhock budsHollyhock buds peek out from the leaves. Source: ms.Tea

Q: Do hollyhocks come back every year?

A: Most are tender perennials and return annually, but there are some varieties that are annual and only live for a year.

Q: What is the best place to plant hollyhocks?

A: Plant them in full sun with rich, well-drained soil.

Q: How long does it take for hollyhocks to grow?

A: They are two years old and don't bloom until their second year. Seedlings are ready for transplanting in 9 weeks. The full life cycle of a perennial strain is at least a couple of years, and possibly a lot more if you leave it blank!

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