Create Your Garden

Hollyhock: How to Grow and Care with Success

Hollyhocks attract pollinators and are cherished for their old-fashioned charm, making them a favorite in cottage gardens

Hollyhock, Hollyhocks Hollyhock Flower, Alcea rosea.

Hollyhocks: Graceful Garden Beauties

Hollyhock, scientifically named Alcea rosea, is a timeless favorite among garden enthusiasts. Originating from Asia, particularly China, this plant has gracefully adorned gardens around the world for centuries. Characterized by its tall, majestic spires adorned with large, disc-shaped blossoms, the hollyhock is a sight to behold. The vibrant flowers bloom in an array of hues—pink, white, red, purple, and yellow—offering a delightful visual treat in summer.

A member of the Malvaceae family, which includes plants like mallow, hibiscus, and linden, hollyhock generally grows as a biennial or short-lived perennial. In its initial year, it focuses on producing a basal rosette of rounded, slightly fuzzy leaves. By the second year, gardeners can expect a towering growth, sometimes reaching up to 8 feet or even taller in ideal conditions.

Beyond its ornamental charm, hollyhock is a valuable asset to the ecosystem. Its nectar-rich flowers are a magnet for pollinators, drawing in bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. However, gardeners should be aware of its prolific self-seeding nature. If not managed, hollyhocks can produce many new plants, which some might find overwhelming.

In cultural contexts, hollyhocks hold significant importance. They’ve been utilized not just for their beauty but also in traditional medicinal practices and as sources for natural dyes.

In essence, hollyhocks are a blend of beauty, history, and utility, making them a cherished addition to gardens worldwide.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Heat Zones 3 - 10
Climate Zones 1, 1A, 1B, 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Plant Type Perennials
Plant Family Malvaceae
Genus Alcea
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Height 5' - 8'
(150cm - 240cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Cut Flowers
Tolerance Deer, Rabbit
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Wall-Side Borders, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Coastal Garden, Informal and Cottage, Traditional Garden
Alcea rosea ‘Chater’s Double Maroon’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rugosa (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Spring Celebrities Lilac’ (Hollyhock)

What is Special About Hollyhock?

Hollyhocks (Alcea species) are special for a variety of reasons:

Historical Significance: Hollyhocks have been cultivated for centuries and have a rich history of use, both ornamentally and medicinally. They’re often associated with traditional cottage gardens.

Architectural Presence: Their towering spires can reach heights of 6-8 feet (180-240 cm) or even taller, making them a dominant presence in any garden. This height can provide a backdrop to garden beds or be used as a living screen.

Variety of Colors: The blooms come in a wide range of colors, from white, yellow, and pink to red, purple, and nearly black.

Attracts Pollinators: Hollyhocks are loved by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, making them a fantastic choice for pollinator gardens.

Easy Propagation: Hollyhocks easily reseed themselves, ensuring their presence in the garden for years to come. This can be a boon for gardeners looking for low-maintenance plants.

Adaptability: While they prefer full sun, hollyhocks can tolerate a variety of soil types and conditions, making them versatile for different garden situations.

In essence, the hollyhock’s blend of beauty, utility, and resilience makes it a cherished plant for many gardeners worldwide.

Alcea rosea ‘Chater’s Double Red’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Fiesta Time’ (Hollyhock)

When to Plant Hollyhock

From Seeds: Sow seeds outdoors anytime from spring (after all danger of frost has passed.) until 2 months before the first heavy fall frost. If you prefer to start them indoors, do so about 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost date in your area.

Seedlings or Young Plants: Plant these in the spring after the danger of frost has passed.

Where to Plant Hollyhock

Sunlight: Hollyhocks prefer a location that receives full sun, which means at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. However, in hotter regions, they will appreciate light afternoon shade.

Protection: Given their height, it’s ideal to position them where they are protected from strong winds—along fences, walls, or among other sturdy plants.

Soil: Hollyhocks are not overly fussy about soil but do best in well-draining soil. Consider amending your soil with compost or well-rotted manure if it is very sandy or clay.

Spacing: Due to their size and spread, ensure you space the plants or seeds about 18-24 inches apart (45-60 cm).

How to Plant Hollyhock

Prepare the Soil: Loosen the soil to a depth of 12-15 inches (30-37 cm) using a garden fork or tiller. Mix in a layer of compost to enrich the soil.

Seed Planting:

  • Sow seeds on the surface of the soil, lightly pressing them in. They need light to germinate, so don’t cover them deeply.
  • Water gently and keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.

Planting Seedlings or Young Plants:

  • Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot.
  • Remove the plant from its container, gently teasing out the roots if they’re circling at the bottom.
  • Place the plant in the hole, ensuring it’s at the same depth it was in the pot.
  • Fill the hole with soil, patting down gently to remove air pockets.
  • Water thoroughly.
Alcea rosea ‘Chater’s Double White’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Henry VIII Red’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Halo Blush’ (Hollyhock)

Landscaping with Hollyhock Flowers

Landscaping with hollyhock flowers can transform ordinary garden spaces into old-world, cottage-style retreats. Their tall spires adorned with large, colorful blooms create an impressive visual impact. Here’s how to effectively incorporate hollyhocks into your landscape:

Background Beauties: Due to their height, hollyhocks are perfect for the back of a border or flowerbed, where they can tower behind shorter plants, providing a dramatic backdrop.

Against Structures: Plant them along walls, fences, or garden sheds. These structures will provide support against the wind, and the hollyhocks will soften the look of buildings and create a vintage ambiance.

Naturalize in Informal Areas: Allow hollyhocks to self-seed and naturalize in wildflower meadows or informal garden areas. Their spires will punctuate the landscape with color.

As Focal Points: Use them as specimen plants, creating focal points at specific junctions in the garden or at the end of pathways.

In Groupings: Plant clusters of hollyhocks together. Using varying shades of one color or mixing different colors can create a visually appealing mass of blossoms.

Cottage Garden Classic: Combine hollyhocks with other cottage garden favorites like roses, foxgloves, lupines, and delphiniumss for an authentic and charming cottage garden look.

Filling Empty Spaces: Because of their vertical growth, hollyhocks can be utilized to fill in narrow spots or empty corners, making the most of vertical space.

Attract Pollinators: Plant them in areas where you want to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Hollyhocks are excellent for pollinator-friendly gardens.

Along Pathways: Line garden pathways with hollyhocks for a garden walk that feels like a journey through a fairy-tale.

Alcea rosea ‘Spring Celebrities Pink’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Spring Celebrities White’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Spring Celebrities Purple’ (Hollyhock)

Companion Plants

Companion planting can be a beneficial strategy to enhance your garden’s overall health and appearance. When selecting companions for hollyhocks, consider plants that complement their height, bloom time, and potential pest or disease issues. Here are some ideal companion plants for hollyhocks:

Foxgloves (Digitalis): Like hollyhocks, foxgloves add height and old-world charm to the garden. Their bell-shaped flowers complement the hollyhock’s circular blooms.

Roses: The classic pairing of roses and hollyhocks evokes a timeless cottage garden feel. They share similar growing conditions, and the combination of rose bushes with tall hollyhock spires creates layers in the garden.

Lupines: Another tall spire-like flower that can mirror the verticality of hollyhocks but with a different floral shape.

Delphiniums: Another tall flowering plant, delphiniums can create a layered look with hollyhocks and offer blooms in shades of blue, which can complement hollyhock flowers.

Yarrow (Achillea): Yarrow’s feathery foliage and umbrella-like flower clusters add a different texture and form to the garden, complementing the bold hollyhock leaves and flowers.

Coneflowers (Echinacea): The daisy-like flowers of coneflowers pair well with the circular blooms of hollyhocks and attract pollinators.

Lavender: The grey-green foliage contrasts beautifully with the lush leaves of hollyhocks, and its purple flowers create a harmonious color palette.

Cosmos: These plants have a delicate, airy structure that contrasts well with the bold presence of hollyhocks. They also bloom profusely, providing a sea of colors.

Catmint (Nepeta): The soft, mounding growth of catmint, combined with its blue-purple flowers, provides a lovely contrast to the tall spires of hollyhocks.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia): Their bright, daisy-like flowers can light up the base of tall hollyhock plants.

Daisies: Their simple and bright flowers can act as a cheerful foreground or mid-ground to the towering hollyhocks.

Salvia: The spiky blooms of salvia plants can mirror the height of hollyhocks, adding another layer of vertical interest.

Mullein (Verbascum):  they share similar cultural needs and aesthetic features, making them potential companion plants in a garden setting. 

Verbena : Especially Verbena bonariensis, with its tall, slender stems and clusters of purple flowers, can complement the hollyhock’s vertical growth habit.

When planning your garden and choosing companion plants for hollyhocks, it’s essential to consider the growth habit, color palette, and growing conditions of each plant to create a harmonious and beneficial garden ecosystem.

 

Alcea rosea ‘Mars Magic’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Blacknight’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea PEACHES ‘N’ DREAMS™ (Hollyhock)

How to Care for Hollyhock

Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially for young plants. Mature hollyhocks are more drought-tolerant but still benefit from regular watering, especially during dry spells. Water at the base to keep leaves dry and prevent fungal issues.

Fertilizing: In rich soils, hollyhocks may not need additional fertilizing. However, in poorer soils, applying a balanced fertilizer in early spring can boost growth.

Staking: Due to their height, hollyhocks can sometimes require staking, especially in windy areas or if they’re not receiving adequate sunlight.

Pruning: Remove spent flowers to encourage more blooms and to prevent self-seeding if undesired. At the end of the season, cut back the stalks to ground level.

Overwintering: Hollyhocks are biennials or short-lived perennials, meaning they usually flower in their second year and then set seed and die. However, they can self-seed readily, giving the appearance of perennials in the garden. In colder zones, a layer of mulch can protect the roots during winter.

Propagation: Hollyhocks can be propagated from seeds. You can sow them directly in the garden anytime from spring until 2 months before the first heavy fall frost. Do not cover, as light aids germination.

By providing the right conditions and regular care, hollyhocks can be a show-stopping addition to any garden, adding height, color, and old-world charm.

Alcea rosea ‘Spring Celebrities Carmine Rose’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Halo Cerise’ (Hollyhock)
Alcea rosea ‘Radiant Rose’ (Hollyhock)

Pests and Diseases

Hollyhocks are susceptible to several pests and diseases. Here are some of the most common ones:

Anthracnose: This fungal disease causes brown spots on leaves, often leading to leaf drop. Ensuring good air circulation and removing affected leaves can help in management.

Leaf Spot: This is a fungal disease that can affect hollyhocks. Small to large dark brown or black spots appear on the leaves. Over time, these spots can merge and affect larger leaf areas, eventually causing it to turn yellow and drop off. Ensure proper spacing between plants to improve air circulation. Remove and dispose of infected leaves to reduce the spread. Apply fungicides if the infestation becomes severe, but always follow label instructions carefully.

Rust: This is one of the most common diseases affecting hollyhocks. It’s a fungal disease that results in yellow or orange spots on the undersides of leaves. To prevent rust, ensure proper spacing between plants for adequate airflow and avoid overhead watering.

Japanese Beetles: These pests love hollyhocks. They feed on the leaves and can cause considerable damage. Hand-picking and using insecticidal soaps or neem oil can help manage these beetles.

Spider mites: These tiny pests suck plant juices causing stippling on leaves. In severe cases, they can cause leaf drop. Increasing humidity and using insecticidal soaps can help control spider mites.

Practicing good garden hygiene is crucial to protect hollyhocks from pests and diseases. Regularly inspect plants, remove and dispose of affected parts, and consider natural or chemical treatments only as necessary.

Companion Plants for Hollyhock

Achillea (Yarrow)
Delphinium
Digitalis (Foxglove)
Echinacea (Coneflower)
Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender)
Leucanthemum x superbum (Shasta Daisy)
Lupinus (Lupine)
Nepeta (Catmint)
Phlox paniculata (Garden Phlox)
Rosa (Rose)
Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-Eyed Susan)
Salvia (Sage)

Frequently Asked Questions

When to Plant Hollyhock Seeds

Sow seeds outdoors anytime from spring (after all danger of frost has passed.) until 2 months before the first heavy fall frost. If you prefer to start them indoors, do so about 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost date in your area.

Are Hollyhocks Perennial?

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) are primarily biennial, which means they spend their first year growing foliage and then bloom in their second year. After flowering and setting seeds in their second year, they typically die. However, because they can self-seed readily, new plants often sprout up from fallen seeds, giving them the appearance of being perennials. Some varieties are true perennials and can live and bloom for several years.

Is Hollyhock Poisonous?

Hollyhocks are not considered highly toxic to humans or pets. In fact, some parts of the hollyhock plant have been used traditionally for herbal remedies. However, it’s always a good idea to prevent ingestion by pets or children, as individual reactions can vary. Also, always wash your hands after handling plants, as some people may develop skin irritations.

Do Hollyhock Bloom the First Year?

Traditional hollyhocks usually don’t bloom until their second year (as they are biennials). However, there are certain varieties, often referred to as “annual hollyhocks,” which are bred to bloom in their first year if planted early enough in the season. If you’re sowing standard hollyhock seeds very early in the spring, there’s also a chance of getting some blooms in the first year.

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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Heat Zones 3 - 10
Climate Zones 1, 1A, 1B, 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Plant Type Perennials
Plant Family Malvaceae
Genus Alcea
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Height 5' - 8'
(150cm - 240cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Cut Flowers
Tolerance Deer, Rabbit
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Wall-Side Borders, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Coastal Garden, Informal and Cottage, Traditional Garden
Compare All Alcea (Hollyhock)
Compare Now
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