As a child, I recall hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) growing near an outhouse located on our farm. Ah, yes, we did have indoor plumbing. The outhouse dated back to the late 1800’s when the farm house was built. Towering spirals of hollyhocks with yellow and pink flowers returned year after year despite lack of care. Hollyhock picture above by Christine McIntosh, Flickr

My grandmother told me that “in the old days,” hollyhocks were planted near an outhouse so visiting ladies could ask to see the hollyhocks when they needed to use the toilet. My father called hollyhocks pretty weeds because the blooms converted to seed that adored the soil, sending up new sprouts every spring. As drought tolerant flowers, we never watered the hollyhocks yet they continued to thrive.

Planting hollyhocks
Follow nature’s habit and sow seeds in August or September. Choose a full sun location that drains well. Hollyhocks grow to about 5 feet tall. Check the variety though as some are as short as 2 feet or as tall as 9 feet. Cover the seeds with a meager layer of soil. My technique is to lightly press the seeds into moist soil and then pinch the soil closed over the seed. Hollyhocks are cold hardy in USDA planting zones 5 through 9 according to North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service. I lived in zone 4, however, and perennial hollyhocks survived the harsh winters.

In the spring, thin to about 2 feet apart when seedlings are about 1 inch tall. Seeds may also be started in pots in early spring to transplant in late spring. By tradition, the first year of growth hollyhocks results in few blooms and maybe no blooms. The second year is when the flowers really put out a show all summer long. Hollyhock picture below by partofasystem, Flickr.


If you prefer to fertilize, do so in the spring with a water-soluble fertilizer. Leaf mold instead of wood chip mulch is also an option to fertilize the plants while at the same time, block weed growth and retain moisture. If planting in an area prone to fungus infections such as a location where good ventilation is lacking, then apply a fungicide spray in the spring to help ward off rust disease.

Plant hollyhocks in large groupings of the same color for the ultimate impact. Hollyhocks are a good choice for a country cottage garden.

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