Grow Hollyhocks from Seed: A Gardener’s Guide

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grow hollyhocks from seed

This blog post is specifically crafted for gardeners who are eager to learn how to grow hollyhocks from seed. Get ready to embark on a descriptive, story-telling journey that will guide you through the process of nurturing these stunning flowers from tiny seeds to vibrant blooms.

grow hollyhocks from seed
My pink and peach hollyhocks, in the middle of their 3rd summer. Image by author

For me, I love a garden that has color, depth, height, and visual appeal through all seasons. The classic Hollyhock flower is terrific flower that provides height and long lasting summertime blooms. It is very easy to grow hollyhocks from seed, so if you can’t find a live plant available at retail, rest assured! You can grow as many reaching-for-the-sky bloomers as you want!

The Life-Cycle of Hollyhocks

Basics of Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks, scientifically known as Alcea, are old-fashioned garden favorites that add a touch of nostalgia to any garden. These towering beauties are known for their tall spikes of colorful, saucer-shaped flowers. Some blooms resemble paper flowers. Hollyhocks can be found in a variety of hues, from classic pinks and reds to stunning whites and even blackish maroon.

Towering is a very apt descriptor of hollyhocks! It's always great fun to watch and see them reach for the sky in the spring
Towering is a very apt descriptor of hollyhocks! It’s always great fun to watch and see them reach for the sky in the spring. Image by author

Perennial or Not

Hollyhocks are typically considered biennials or short-lived perennials, but they often self-seed, making them seem perennial in your garden. In terms of USDA growing zones, they generally thrive in zones 3 to 8, so they can be successfully grown in a wide range of climates.

Emerging in Spring

When spring starts to work its magic, hollyhocks burst forth from the ground with lush green foliage. These plants are real showstoppers, growing both vertically and horizontally. They can reach impressive heights, often up to 6 to 8 feet or even taller, depending on the variety.

A hollyhock plant in my backyard, mid spring. This is its second or third growing season
A hollyhock plant in my backyard, mid spring. This is its third summer. Image by author

Growth Characteristics

Hollyhocks grow vertically along their sturdy stalks, but what’s interesting is that they have a gradual progression of flower buds up the stem. The lower buds open first, working their way up over time, creating a beautiful cascade of blooms. This staggered blooming is a part of what makes hollyhocks so charming.

Types of Hollyhocks

There are various types of hollyhocks to consider, each with its own unique charm. You’ll find cultivars that feature single, double, and even ruffled blooms. Bloom times can vary, but generally, hollyhocks start flowering in early to mid-summer and can continue to bloom for several weeks, adding a delightful touch to your garden.

Should You Grow Hollyhocks?

It’s always good to weigh the pros and cons before adding any plant to your garden. Here’s an honest appraisal of the risk and reward breakdown you might consider before deciding to grow hollyhock in your garden:

The Rewards

  1. Gorgeous Tall Blooms: Hollyhocks are renowned for their tall, elegant spikes of flowers. They can add a touch of whimsy and nostalgia to your garden, making them a real showstopper.
  2. Variety of Colors: You’ll find hollyhocks in a wide array of colors, allowing you to choose shades that complement your garden’s theme.
  3. Self-Seeding: Hollyhocks often self-seed, making them a “set it and forget it” kind of plant. They’ll surprise you with new growth in the following years.
  4. Cottage Garden Charm: If you’re into cottage or English garden aesthetics, hollyhocks fit right in. They provide that quintessential cottage garden charm that many gardeners adore.
why should you grow hollyhocks
Hollyhocks have been well loved for many generations, and their unique blooms and height are the reason why. The single blooms on my hollyhocks here resemble paper! Image by author

The Risks and Maintenance

  1. Pests and Diseases: Hollyhocks can be susceptible to pests like Japanese beetles and diseases like rust. You’ll need to keep an eye out and be proactive in dealing with these issues.
  2. Tall and Top-Heavy: Their impressive height makes them vulnerable to wind and rain. Stake them to prevent bending or breaking.
  3. Occasional Pruning: Deadheading spent flowers is a bit of work, but it encourages new blooms. Hollyhocks also benefit from occasional pruning to remove old leaves.
  4. Space Requirement: Hollyhocks can be large and space-consuming. Ensure you have adequate room in your garden.

The Verdict

In the end, whether you should grow and care for hollyhocks depends on your personal preferences and your gardening style. If you love the look of tall, old-fashioned blooms and are willing to put in a bit of effort to maintain them, hollyhocks can be a rewarding addition to your garden. The unique charm they bring, along with their self-seeding nature, can make them a delightful part of your green space. Just be prepared for occasional pest and disease management, and make sure you have the room for these tall beauties. Ultimately, the risk is manageable, and the rewards are worth it for those who appreciate their beauty and charm.

3 Ways to Start Hollyhock Seeds

Growing hollyhocks from seeds is really fun. Collect some seeds from their pods at the end of their blooming season in the late summer. The seeds are aranged in a circular cartridge like pod, just under where the bloom was on the stalk.

Hollyhock seed pods are torus-shaped. This seed pod is clearly not ready to have its seeds harvested, because they’re still green. Image by author

For a full discussion of starting seeds, read on. Better yet, read my full article about growing seeds the professional way.

How long does it take to grow hollyhocks from seed?

Their seeds germinate strongly and within a short amount of time, within 2 weeks if they’re kept somewhat warm and out of the elements.

Direct Fall Sowing

Sowing hollyhock seeds directly into the garden soil is a natural and often simpler approach. It works well for hollyhocks, because they have specific need for cold stratification (exposure to winter temperatures) to break dormancy.

Starting Hollyhock Seeds Indoors

sowing hollyhock seeds and growing seedlings in a mini greenhouse
This is my first go at starting hollyhock seeds in a mini greenhouse. This picture was taken in late March, about 3 weeks after sowing. Image by author

Starting seeds indoors gives you greater control over how and when they germinate. Whether you’re using a mini (portable) greenhouse or a larger one, both options provide a stable environment with consistent temperature and humidity levels. This creates the perfect conditions for successful germination.

Direct Spring Sowing

This is the least desirable method. As discussed above, hollyhock seeds need to experience a cold season in order for them to reach their potential the first season. They will most likely not bloom the first year if sown in the spring, without experiencing cold stratification.

what hollyhock seeds look like
Hollyhock seeds separated into single seeds. Image by author

Also in my experience, hollyhocks’ overall growth the first season without cold stratification will be stunted and less than impressive.

What month do you plant hollyhock seeds?

Like most seeds, you should wait until all threat of frost has passed in order to directly sow the seeds in the spring. If you want to directly sow in the fall, it should be done before the frosty evenings come and the soil is still workable.

Recently-transplanted hollyhock seedlings now growing in their permanent bed
Recently-transplanted hollyhock seedlings now growing in their permanent bed. Image by author

If you want to start your seeds indoors, plan on giving the seedlings time to develop two sets of leaves before taking them outside, about 6 weeks. You don’t want to take your seedlings outside to their garden until the threat of spring frost has passed. In my region, Zone 8, I use April 15th as the last day for spring frost. I’d then count back 6 weeks from that day to determine when hollyhock can should be sown indoors.

Will hollyhocks bloom the first year from seed?

You’ll give them a the best chance to bloom the first year if you cold stratify their seeds before planting. Without cold stratification, blooming the first year is doubtful.

Where to Plant Hollyhocks in Your Garden

Choosing the right spot for your hollyhocks in the garden is essential for their success. Here’s a guide on where to plant hollyhocks:

Sun Exposure

Hollyhocks are sun lovers, so the key to their prosperity is to find a sunny location. These beauties thrive in full sun, which typically means they need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Ensure your chosen spot gets plenty of sunshine to encourage healthy growth and vibrant blooms.

Height Requirements

Considering their impressive height, it’s important to plan for enough vertical space. Hollyhocks can reach heights of 6 to 8 feet or even taller. So, choose a spot where they won’t be crowded by other plants or overshadowed by taller neighbors.

Hollyhocks loving the mid summer sunshine
Hollyhocks loving the mid summer sunshine. Image by author

Taking Advantage of Their Verticality

One of the unique characteristics of hollyhocks is their tall, vertical growth. To make the most of this feature, plant them towards the back of your garden bed or against a fence or wall. This placement not only showcases their majestic height but also creates a beautiful backdrop for other, shorter plants in your garden.

Providing Support

Hollyhocks can sometimes be a bit top-heavy, especially when they’re in full bloom. To prevent them from bending or breaking, it’s a good idea to provide support. Prepare to stake your hollyhocks early in the growing season to keep them standing tall. You can use bamboo stakes or other garden supports. Just be sure to secure them without damaging the plant, as hollyhocks tend to grow quite thick and sturdy stems.

By carefully selecting a sunny location, considering their height, maximizing their verticality, and providing the necessary support, you’ll create the ideal environment for hollyhocks to thrive in your garden.

Feeding and Watering Hollyhocks: Essential Care Tips

Watering

Hollyhocks appreciate consistent moisture, especially during the growing season. Water deeply when the soil becomes dry to the touch. Early morning is the best time to water, allowing the leaves to dry before evening and reducing the risk of fungal diseases. Avoid overhead watering to prevent water droplets from settling on the leaves, as this can encourage diseases. Consider routing weeper hoses for best results.

Fertilizing

To keep your hollyhocks healthy and thriving, apply a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer in early spring as they begin to emerge. You can use a slow-release granular fertilizer or a liquid one. Follow the package instructions for the right dosage. Avoid over-fertilizing, as it can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of blooms. To encourage more blooms, switch to a fertilizer with a higher phosphorous content.

Pruning

Deadheading spent flowers is an essential task for hollyhocks. This not only keeps the plant looking tidy but also encourages continuous blooming. Remove faded flowers by snipping them off just above a set of leaves. In late fall or early winter, when your hollyhocks have finished flowering, you should cut them back to the ground.

Supporting

As we mentioned earlier, hollyhocks can grow quite tall and may require support to keep them upright. They are also more prone to wind damage. Use stakes or other garden supports to prevent bending or breaking, especially when they’re laden with flowers. Install the supports early in the growing season, so the plant can grow around them naturally.

Common Pests and Problems for Hollyhocks

Just like any garden, hollyhocks have their fair share of challenges. Here’s what you need to know:

Unwanted Guests

While hollyhocks are stunning, they can be irresistible to certain garden pests. One of the most common culprits is the hungry Japanese beetle. These shiny, metallic-green pests can munch away on your hollyhock leaves, leaving behind a telltale lace-like pattern.

Another critter to watch out for: hollyhock weevils. Aphids and spider mites are also potential troublemakers, causing leaves to wilt and yellow.

Fungal Foes

Hollyhocks can be susceptible to various fungal diseases, including rust and powdery mildew. Rust appears as reddish-orange spots on the undersides of leaves, while powdery mildew creates a powdery white coating on the leaves.

Keeping the foliage dry, providing good air circulation, and choosing disease-resistant varieties can help combat these issues. When watering your garden hollyhocks, water the base of the plant. Weeper hoses can be a great help to do this.


Leaf rust can be a pesky issue for hollyhock enthusiasts, but there are some eco-friendly solutions to keep it in check.

  1. One of the most popular remedies is Neem oil, a natural plant-based extract. Mix Neem oil with water and a few drops of dish soap, and then spray it on your hollyhock leafs, top and bottom. This helps control the rust and prevent its spread.
  2. Another option is soapy water, a simple and cost-effective solution. A mixture of mild liquid soap and water can be sprayed on the leaves to suffocate the rust spores.
  3. Additionally, milky water, a mixture of one part milk and nine parts water, can also be applied as a foliar spray to act as a natural fungicide. As the milk turns, it is known to ‘consume’ the fungal foes.

Remember to apply these treatments at the first signs of rust and continue regularly until the issue is under control. Now, take it from me, don’t fret. Your hollyhocks can continue to bloom and provide beauty even if they develop leaf rust.

Rugged Weather

Hollyhocks, despite their charm, may face weather-related problems. Heavy rain or strong winds particularly can cause these tall plants to bend or even break, especially when in full bloom. Staking or providing some support can prevent this, keeping your hollyhocks standing tall and proud.

Self-Seeding

While hollyhocks self-seeding can be a blessing, it can also lead to overcrowding in your garden. You might need to thin out the seedlings to ensure healthier growth and better air circulation among the mature plants.

Rabbits and Deer

Depending on where you live, furry friends like rabbits and deer might find your hollyhocks delectable. Fencing can be your best defense to keep these garden visitors from nibbling on your precious blooms.

Remember, a little vigilance goes a long way. Regularly inspect your hollyhocks for signs of trouble and take action as needed to keep these beautiful flowers thriving.

Hollyhocks’ End of Life-Cycle: What to Expect

Here’s what to do at the end of the hollyhock life cycle to prepare for a successful spring start:

Harvesting Seeds

When your hollyhocks have completed their blooming cycle, you’ll notice the formation of seed pods. These pods are where the future of your hollyhocks lies.

To harvest seeds, wait until the pods have turned brown and are starting to crack open. Carefully collect the pods and allow them to dry further indoors. Once they’re completely dry, gently open the pods to reveal the seeds. Store them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to sow them in the next growing season.

Hollyhocks do have their own insect menace: hollyhock weevils. These buggers like to burrow into the seed pods and attempt to feed on the seeds. You’ll see them, if you see them, inside the seed pod ‘skin’ amongst the seeds.

hollyhock weevil
The dastardly Hollyhock Wevil. Freeze them out of existence! Image by Patty O’Hearn Kickham, flickr

There’s a simple trick to rid your harvested seeds of these weevils.

  • Put the seeds into an airtight jar, tighten the cap.
  • Place the jar in the freezer for 48 hours.
  • Remove the jar, return to room temperature.
  • DO NOT OPEN THE JAR for at least 24 hours. This will introduce moisture. Cold and moisture will create ice, which will damage your hollyhock seeds.

The weevils should be dead!

Pruning Down


After your hollyhocks have finished blooming and you’ve harvested the seeds, it’s time to do some pruning. Cut back the tall, spent flower stalks to the ground, removing any dead or diseased foliage. Remove any diseased foliage to the refuse bin, do NOT let sit in your garden.

This not only tidies up the garden but also helps prevent diseases from overwintering on the plant. Proper pruning also encourages new growth and ensures that your hollyhocks return with vigor in the spring.

Fall Tasks


Consider these additional fall tasks to give your hollyhocks the best chance for a robust comeback in the next growing season:

  • Clean Up: Remove any fallen leaves or debris around your hollyhocks to prevent disease and pests from overwintering in your garden.
  • Mulch: Applying a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant helps protect the roots from extreme cold and provides some moisture retention.
  • Soil Amendment: If your soil needs improvement, consider adding organic matter, like compost, to enrich it during the fall. This gives your hollyhocks a head start when they wake up in the spring.

By following these steps at the end of the hollyhock life cycle, you’re ensuring that your plants have a well-deserved rest during the winter and are well-prepared to delight you with their vibrant blooms once spring arrives.

What To Do Next

Hollyhocks, with their majestic beauty and charming presence, can be a delightful addition to any garden. With proper care and attention to their unique needs throughout their life cycle, from planting and nurturing to harvest and winter preparation, you’ll be rewarded with a garden graced by these towering floral wonders year after year.

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  • Tall Shasta Daisies
  • Dianthus (“Sweet William”)
  • Hollyhocks
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I’ve grown most of these beauties for a few seasons now, and hand harvest their seeds.

I’ll add more plants and flowers as I grow them successfully. Coming: Rucbeckia, Anise Hyssop, Columbine, Dusty Miller, Lupines…

Happy gardening, and may your hollyhocks bloom brilliantly in every season!

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Author

After years of denying it, Donald finally admits one passion in life is gardening. More specifically: growing seeds, plants, flowers and edibles and helping them to be the best possible. Neighbors call him a Green Thumb. He lives in Western Washington with his wife of 24+ years and three cats.

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