My hollyhocks are finally starting to bloom. They line a fence that separates our backyard with the driveway to the back pasture. I find the driveway unattractive and like to block it from view. There is a foot path on the back-yard side of the fence, so I don’t have room for tall bushes and instead make use of tall flowers and morning glories to create a wall.
I have an odd assortment of old fashioned and double hollyhocks that have been grown from seeds, crowns, and collected seeds, some of which have since cross pollinated. The whitish ones in front have the faintest tint of pink to them; they are probably the product of the white and pink hollyhocks growing nearby. Some suggest only planting one type of hollyhock to avoid cross pollination, but I enjoy surprises! (To actually ensure that their isn’t any cross-pollination, no other variety of hollyhock could be grown with in at least a 1/4 mile).
They are happiest in a sunny, well ventilated area. They prefer rich soil, but it is more important for them to be planted in well drained soil. I just add lots of rich compost to my sandy soil and they are quite content. They are susceptible to rust, so I water from below to minimize their risk to the the fungus. I am hoping my husband is able to find time to install a drip line as hollyhocks like an inch of water a week and our high desert clouds cannot produce that much.
They are easy to start from seed. I sow mine outdoors in the fall a little more than a 1/4 of an inch deep, but you can sow the seeds indoors 6 weeks before the last frost. You can also sow them outside one week before the last frost just beneath the soil. Most hollyhocks only produce leaves the first year, so you need to be patient if you want to enjoy their beautiful flowers. Mulch them well in the fall and the following year enjoy their blooms. The flower spikes can grow up to 6 – 9 feet high, so growing them next to a fence or building provides them with some support and allows you to easily anchor them with twine if you live in an area with high winds.
They are short-lived perennials (mine usually live 3 years) so I always have new plants starting through out the bed. It is recommended that you allow at least 2 feet in between plants and I follow that rule for the older, larger hollyhocks. However, I do allow the seedlings to develop closer to the older plants that I am hoping to replace. Hollyhocks are pretty hardy and can withstand transplanting if you find you have several seedlings growing too close together.
Hollyhocks can also be started from crowns purchased at a garden supply store. These crowns have already gone through their flowerless, leafy year and usually produce flowers the first summer after you have planted them. Some of my hollyhocks were purchased as crowns and they are on their second year of flowers for me.
I have read suggestions to dead head the plants after they are done flowering as a way to increase their chances of blooming again the next year. I have not done that as I would rather collect the seeds, but my hollyhocks still come back and bloom a third year. I am not a horticulturalist, I only play one in my backyard, but I think the best way to ensure several seasons of blooms is to mulch the flowers well in the fall to protect the dormant terminal buds from damage during freezing temperatures.