Canadian Classic: Hollyhocks

Because hollyhocks have graced country and cottage gardens across this country for so long, one would think that hollyhocks are native to Canada.  Interestingly, though, they are not.  Hollyhocks actually originate from southern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia.  Hollyhocks have the Latin name, Alcea. These tall, stately flowers can be from 3-10 feet tall.  They add structure and vintage charm to any garden showing off their single or double peony-like blooms.  Let’s talk a bit about the details on who hollyhocks are and how to grow them.

Are hollyhocks annuals or perennials?

  • Hollyhocks are a little challenging to classify. Most correctly, they are biennials.  Biennials are plants that grow from seed and in their first year of growth, have green leafy growth.  During this first year they are establishing a good root system and fortifying themselves to live through the coming winter.  The leafy growth dies back and it regrows from the ground the following spring.  Biennials then bloom and produce seed in their second year.  Most hollyhocks self-sow.
  • The seed overwinters and freezes in a necessary process called vernalization. Having had their cold period, the seeds germinate the next spring, the plant produces green leafy growth and the cycle repeats.
  • The way to get blossoms every year is to plant Hollyhocks 2 years in a row, and then you will get a succession of flowering while some plants are blooming and others are just having green growth.
  • The thing that makes it difficult to categorize Hollyhocks is that some Hollyhocks actually perennial over for a time and some bloom in their first year of growth. When clumps of Hollyhocks bloom year after year, it gives the illusion that the Hollyhocks are perennial.

What zone are they?

  • Check tags for zone ratings on the perennials or perennial seeds you purchase. Some Hollyhocks are tender zone 5 flowers, but there are a lot of options in the zone 3 category.
  • As a general guideline, single trumpet shaped flowers are more hardy that the double flowered varieties, but there are doubles that live in our area too.

How to care for Hollyhocks?

Hollyhocks are quite easy to grow – they have few diseases and are bothered by few pests.  They are a great addition to a garden because they attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.  Bees love their pollen.  They are occasionally bothered by a disease called Rust, but pick varieties that are resistant to rust.

Exposure:

  • Hollyhocks love full sun – 6 or more hours a day, so plant them on the east, south, or west of your home.

Flowering:

  • Hollyhocks have a long bloom cycle – they bloom for 4 weeks or longer.
  • They bloom from the bottom of the stalk upward.
  • Bloom colors are in almost every colour of the rainbow except for blue.
  • Single blossom varieties have blooms that look like trumpets.
  • Double blossoms look like old fashioned wedding car flowers.

Soil requirements:

  • Hollyhocks thrive in good quality, rich, well draining soil.

Watering requirements:

  • Water newly transplanted clumps as they are dry to keep them from wilting.
  • Use mulch to decrease water evaporation and to control weeds. The Magic of Mulch?
  • Fertilize new transplants weekly or biweekly for a month or two.

Staking

  • Depending on the variety, hollyhocks generally grow from 6 to 10 feet tall and clumps can be 3 to 5 feet wide. There are dwarf varieties but they tend to be a little more tender than the taller varieties.
  • Because of their height, they can lean over and the wind could blow them over – to offset this, stake them with a large, sturdy tomato cage. The leaves can poke through the cage and eventually you don’t even see it as the leaves weave through the wire once they hollyhock gets established.

Hollyhocks are a great plant when you are looking for a flower with impressive dimensions.  They are hardy and easy to grow in our Edmonton area.  Come by and check out the varieties we have grown in our perennial department.  If you have any questions, feel free to email us via our website or call us at 780-904-3514.  We love to talk plants.

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