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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved
Read my column in next Friday's Deseret Morning News
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The old-fashioned hollyhocks we know likely came from Western Asia where they thrived on rocky sites and in dry grassy wastelands. For their size and flower displays, they are drought tolerant although they bloom better in moist soils.
The scientific name of the hollyhock is Alcea rosea, making it a member of the Malvaceae family which includes hibiscus, okra, lavatera and even cotton. All have funnel-shaped flowers and the older varieties have five petals with large floral parts in the center. Many new cultivars have double flowers.
The botanical classification is simple but the growing habit is not. Many books classify hollyhocks as perennials. In truth, most are biennials that appear to be perennials because their seeds germinate and grow in the same place.
A few hollyhocks are annuals that germinate and flower the first year from seed. During the first year, flowering is sparse, but the second year they show their glorious flowers from May until August.
Several perennial hollyhocks are available. Although these plants may live and flower for several years, these rarely flower as much as new plants started from seed. Fortunately, the seeds are easy to start and grow so you never need to be without these plants in your garden. The plants are hardy form Zone 3 thru 8 so they thrive in all areas of Utah. They also are heat tolerant and bloom during the hottest part of the summer. Plant them where they are in full sun, as the plant dislikes shade of any kind.
The rainbow has serious competition from these lovely plants. The range starts with white and goes almost to true black. In between are pinks, reds, purples, yellows, coral and almost any other color except true blues.
The height range is just as amazing. Some of the newer dwarfs grow less than two feet high while some of the old-fashioned varieties will grow to nine feet or more in height. That makes them perfect background flowers in borders, along fences or walls.
The easiest way to establish hollyhocks is from seeds. All of the old-fashioned varieties produce viable seed that you can collect in the fall and plant in your garden or share with friends. Seeds germinate in 2-3 weeks at 60°F.
Try spring sowing or plant in August to produce flowering plants next year. If you have the right growing area, start seeds started indoors as bedding plants for bloom the following summer. Right now, look for them as plants in local nurseries. Check my website next Friday at www.larrysagers.com for hollyhock cultivars that grow well in our area and produce wonderful, showy blossoms.