Hollyhocks, Alcea, have been associated with cottage gardens since the 15th century. Perfect for the back of a border, they grow up to 2m in height. Each stem bears masses of open, bee-friendly flowers measuring up to 10cm in diameter, from July to September. Hollyhocks are biennial or short-lived perennials. In the first year, they put on root and foliage growth and in the second they flower, set seed, and then die.
Single varieties of hollyhock are better bee pollinators than double hollyhocks. If creating a bee-friendly garden stick to single varieties, where you can see the central part of the flowers. Grow hollyhocks in moist but well-drained, light soil in a sunny spot. Taller varieties may need staking
Hollyhocks often self-sow, producing a legion of volunteers the following year. August and September are good months to plant from seed or to transplant seedlings.
Hollyhocks are not fussy and survive in many spots but do best in soil that has been amended with compost. They do not like dry soil. With adequate moisture and good drainage, hollyhocks can thrive in full sun or partial shade. Try them in a few different spots in your yard and see where they are happiest.
Spring Sowing: Hollyhocks are easy to grow from seed in spring. Prepare a seed tray with seed compost and water well, allowing the water to drain. Space evenly on the surface. Place them about 1.5cm apart. Sprinkle compost over the seeds. Ideally, place the tray in a propagator set at about 15-20°C.
In about 2 weeks you should see signs of germination. It can take a further five weeks before plants are ready to prick out. The plants should be ready to plant out in June but won’t flower until the following year.
Fall Sowing: Sow seed in summer, and plant out in autumn. These plants should flower the following year.
Hollyhocks can be susceptible to hollyhock rust. This is easy to spot as the leaves and stems will be covered in orange-brown spots. In extreme cases, the plant will die. The first signs of the problem are visible on the undersides of the leaves.
Remove infected leaves as soon as you spot them and burn them. In autumn clear away and destroy any fallen leaves as the fungus will overwinter in the soil.
Replace plants every two years.