I really like hollyhocks (Alcea is the Latin name) but last week, I was out in the side perennial garden wandering around trying to decide what to do with the area. It was four years ago now, I grew tired of the incessant hollyhock rust and its splotchy leaves so started pulling the plants.
Four years later, seeds are still germinating in this area. This plant just never gives up.
Hollyhocks, or as the Latin purists will have us Alcea species, are wonderfully easy perennial flowers for the beginner gardener. But while they are indeed easy to grow, there is one decidedly potential problem with the plant.
A disease called Hollyhock Rust, (the real name is Puccinia malvacearum – now you know why we simply call it “rust”) can disfigure the leaves under severe infestations making them look scabb
Indeed, the thriving hobby of breeding new varieties was all but ended when this rust struck the horticultural world.
Rust shows up as reddish pustules (raised bumps) on the leaves and if you grow hollyhocks, you ‘ll have rust. It is that widespread. It even overwinters in cold climates by infecting the plant crowns.
Treatment for Hollyhock Rust
Some experienced gardeners remove the first two leaves from the plant in an effort to reduce the numbers of overwintered spores and claim this works well
Others continually spray with lime sulfur to reduce the spread.
While there is no cure for this disease and all hollyhocks get it, it usually only kills and really bothers those plants that are under stress
Also, feed your plants with lots of compost and don ‘t allow them to dry out in the summer time to reduce the stress levels.
My experience with this is that all this work might delay the disease but it never really prevents it. I gave up growing this plant and now dig out any seedlings that appear.
I’m leaving this article intact “just in case” something changes and we can solve this problem
How To Grow
As I said, this plant is easy to grow and I started my thriving colony by sprinkling some seeds along the fence in early spring and allowing them to start themselves. I probably lost a few to mice but you ‘d never know it from the way they are thickening up now.
Full sun and fertile soil will do nicely for this plant. It may have trouble with clay soils and overwintering if those soils are wet during the winter.
As biennials, they will not usually flower the first year from seed. They need to grow that first year, survive the winter and then send up those huge flower stalks the second year. Unfortunately, the mother plants then die after flowering is finished. I have seen some plants defy this rule and bloom for several years in a row.
I also note that some hollyhocks will live and bloom for more than a single year – it’s not uncommon for this to happen but don’t count on it.
Self Sowing with Help
I collect all the seed pods and crush them in my hand to spread the seed where I want it in my garden and then pull out the old stocks and plant crowns to try to reduce the disease overwintering.
While I ‘m not sure I ‘m doing anything in this regard, it does make me feel better. The stalks that are still in my garden are mute accusers that I didn ‘t quite finish off my fall cleanup
So, if you want to start your own colony, a seed package spread on the soil and lightly covered (1/8 inch deep) and kept damp until germination occurs will quickly colonize your garden.
Commonly Available Varieties
- The most common variety you ‘ll find in the seed catalogues is Alcea rosea. ‘Chaters Doubles Hybrids ‘ is a very popular variety because it has double flowers and still stands up well in heavy winds.
- A. rosea ‘Nigra’ is a very dark maroon colour that is often sold as a black color. After you see it with the sun behind it, you ‘ll quickly see it is maroon and not black.
- ‘Indian Spring ‘ is a single bloomer in mostly rosy shades of red with a few yellows thrown in for good measure.
- ‘Summer Carnival ‘ is also quite popular as it is a dwarf variety. I ‘ve never liked the dwarf varieties (I like my plants huge) but a lot of gardeners with smaller gardens grow them.
- A plant that I have enjoyed for the last few years in the Alcea ficifolia, the Fig-leaved Hollyhock. The leaves are slightly different than the commonly grown A. rosea hybrids and the flowers are a pale lemon yellow. Otherwise, they are the same. I let this one self sow around the garden and simply remove excessive seedlings in the spring. The best flowering plant this year was one that escaped into the pathway and threw a dozen stalks or more flowering stalks.
After the plants have bloomed, simply cut off the flower stalks (after the seed pods have gone brown and are splitting open). Then crush the pods to separate the seeds out and scatter them throughout the garden for next year’s blooms.
These are biennial – flowering in the second year from seed and then mostly dying afterwards. Moving seedlings in the spring or moving first year plants in the fall of their first year is fine. Moving second year plants very early will often delay their blooming by one year – but it can be done.