Cottage Garden Favorites: Hollyhocks
Hollyhocks have been a cottage garden favorite for centuries.
Often found in early English cottage gardens, hollyhocks are not native to Great Britain. They are originally from China and were imported to England before or during the 15th century. No one is sure of the exact time period.
Hollyhocks were popular with herbalists because they believed that they could be used as a laxative, an anti-inflammatory, as a mouthwash to cure bleeding gums and to stop bedwetting.
Here in the US, thanks to their height, hollyhocks were frequently planted around outhouses to hide them.
Hollyhocks are hardy in zones 3 through 8. They are biennials, meaning they live for two years. The first year, the plant germinates from seed and grows only foliage. The second year, the plant comes back from the roots and develops flowers. They readily self-sow, giving the impression that they are perennials when in fact, you are seeing new plants not the old ones.
The flowers grow on stalks, opening from the bottom of the stalk to the top. They range in color from white to deep red, including pink, orange and yellow and come in single or double form. They bloom from mid-summer to early fall. Butterflies and hummingbirds are reputed to favor red flowering hollyhocks. Hollyhocks are quite tall, growing 6- to 8 feet in height depending on the variety. They grow best in full sun but will tolerate part shade. They like moisture but prefer well-drained soil. Keep them watered during dry periods.
Because of their height, hollyhocks need support. Plant them in a protected area where they will not be blown around by the wind. If you have a lot of them, plant them along a fence or wall rather than trying to stake up each individual plant.
Hollyhocks are easily grown from seeds. They can be direct sown in your garden in either the fall or spring. They can also be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. Both indoors and outdoors, the seeds should be surface planted. They need light to germinate. Wait until after all danger of frost to move your seedlings outdoors. They should be planted 18 inches apart to provide good air circulation.
Hollyhocks are very susceptible to rust which is caused by a fungus. You can purchase a fungicide at your local nursery but the best way to control rust is through proper sanitary practices. At the first sign of rust, remove the infected leaves and either throw them out or compost them. If a plant is covered with rust, remove the entire plant. In the fall, remove all plant material from your garden so that the rust doesn't overwinter to infect your plants again in the spring.
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© 2014 Caren White