How to grow hollyhocks from seed

Have you ever wondered how to grow hollyhocks like the wonderful Blakeney hollyhocks from seed

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Our love affair with the magnificent cottage garden flower, the hollyhock, started in Blakeney on North Norfolk coast

The first time I came to Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast on a camping holiday about 16 years ago, I was blown away by the sight of so many glorious hollyhocks flowering up and down Blakeney high street against the cottages. They were growing out of every conceivable crevice and crack in the pavement, and as a very keen cottage gardener, I wanted to be able to grow them in my own garden in Nottinghamshire. On my return home from my holiday I went to our local garden centre and purchased some pot grown ones to grow in my own garden, but sadly they did not thrive and eventually died. The next year I purchased some hollyhock seed and sowed it as per the instructions and still was not successful. I have to admit that after that i gave up , and decided hollyhocks would just not grow in Nottinghamshire and that they were obviously a Norfolk plant. I continued to come to Norfolk every holiday as we had fallen in love with this beautiful county and every summer I marvelled at the wonderful hollyhocks that we saw everywhere we went.

If you want to grow hollyhocks from seed, prepare to be patient

In 2004 we bought Gardeners Cottage In Blakeney, and I decided that now I would grow my hollyhocks. My husband was very sceptical as to whether we had the right conditions as there were none growing in the cottage garden at the time we purchased the house and none in the neighbour's gardens even though we are just off Blakeney high street on Coronation lane. I did my research and found that hollyhocks like tough conditions , and lots of sun and ideally like to be against a sunny warm wall as they are tall and this affords them shelter. I also learned that the Hollyhock seeds need to be frosted, and that hollyhocks do not like competition. Then I waited until late August when the hollyhocks are setting seed and then collected some ripe seed from the hollyhocks growing outside the old Blakeney Cottage Company offices, which used to be about halfway up Blakeney high street ( they have since moved to a much larger office at the bottom of the high street on Blakeney Quay) I took my Hollyhock seed home and scattered it on the gravel on the sunny aspect of the cottage garden, and against the house, and I waited and waited. Every so often i would water where i had planted them, and I avoided planting any other plants there. About 10 months later when i had nearly given up hope of anything germinating my first tiny hollyhock plants began to appear.

Since then i have grown hollyhocks successfully every year and shared seed with friends who have also managed to grow them successfully. I have now been growing them for over 14 years, and I collect seed every year to sow and give away.

Our tips for growing hollyhocks successfully from seed

  • Collect seed from a friends hollyhocks in late summer or early autumn

  • If you can take a whole spike of seed heads and lay the section on the ground where you want to seeds to germinate. Alternatively just spread the loose seed where you want it to germinate

  • Make sure to choose a sunny position where the ground is clear. Young hollyhocks do not cope well with competition. i find they germinate best on gravel aganist a sunny wall. They will grow in a more shady position, but they will always be leaning to the light, and you may need to stake them or tie them in to the wall.

  • Leave the seed heads there all winter. To get successful germination the seeds in my experience need to be frosted. This can look somewhat messy but I have found this gives the best germination rate. Alternatively spread the seed onto the ground where you wish them to germinate.

  • Now ignore your seeds

  • Come spring you may want to tidy up the old seeds heads and scatter the seed in the area you wish them to germinate

  • Water the area where you have sown the seeds occaisonly and keep it free of weeds. Be careful not to weed out your tiny baby hollyhocks

  • Around May or June, sometimes earlier you will start to see your tiny baby hollyhocks emerge. At this stage you will need to give them a good water about once a week if it is dry.

  • You have to be very patient with hollyhocks. At this stage they are quite slow growing. These babies are unlikely to flower until the following year.

  • About 18-21 months after you sewed your seeds your hollyhocks will have reached adult size and will reward you with beautiful tall spikes of hollyhock flowers. They do not seed true, so the flowers may not be the same colour as the plant from which you obtained your seeds.

  • If you want a specific colour of hollyhock flower then you wll need to buy either a pot grown plant or a named varierty of seeds. The only difference is that the flowers will be doubles. In my experience pot grown hollyhocks do not establish as quickly as when they are seeded in the flowering position. This is because hollyhocks produce a very deep tap root, which is what makes them so drought resistant and able to grow in crevices in between paving slabs. When they are pot grown it is harder for them to grow a good tap root and when you transplant them you risk damaging the tap root. Having said this it can be done. You just have to water them well until established and accept you may lose a few.

  • When you seedlings begin to appear you may find you have more than you want. Now it is time to thin them out and just leave the largest healthiest ones. You may be able to gently dig up the spare ones, and either move them elsewhere or pot them up into pots and grow them on a bit. Be aware though that if you break the tap root the plant will probably not survive being moved. Any that you manage to pot up and grow on can then be planted into borders later in the season or given away to friends.

  • Afer your hollyhocks have flowered (and they flower all summer long ) leave the flower heads on the plant to form seed. Hollyhocks are biannuals and although some of them will go on flowering year after year , you will also lose some of them each year and so you need to have the next generation coming on to replace them.

  • This may all sound like quite a lot of work, but you will be rewarded by the most glorious sight every summer once they start to flower. They really are magnificent and will keep popping up new flowers right until the first frosts. In a very mild winter I have still had hollyhocks flowering in the cottage garden at Gardeners Cottage in December, but this is unusual. They will usually carry on until about late October/ early November

  • Once they have set seed and the seed has dried out and gone brown and is bursting from the seed pods, then you can tidy them up. This is usually around early to mid September in Blakeney. Sometimes earlier if we have had a particularly hot, sunny and dry summer as we have this year. Leave any new flower spikes to come on as they will keep producing new flowers for at least another month.

Frequently asked questions about growing hollyhocks from seed

Can you transplant hollyhocks?

Yes if you are very careful when you dig them up and make sure that you do not damage to deep tap root. This is best done when they are very young plants or seedlings. Once the plant has become established it is very difficult to transplant them without killing them in our experience.

How deep do you need to plant the hollyhock seed?

The hollyhock seed should not be planted deeply. We find hollyhocks germinate very well if you just scatter the seeds on the surface of the ground where you wish them to germinate. If you wish you could then rake a little soil or gravel over the seeds but they should be mo more than a 1/4 of an inch deep i.e. very close to the surface.

How far apart should the hollyhock plants be?

When they are fully grown adult hollyhocks are large plants and will cover about 1-2 foot spread with their leaves. If you are planting pot grown hollyhock plants then plant them about 2 feet apart. If you are thinning out hollyhock seedlings, that have grown from seed in the planting position, I would leave about 10-12 inches between each one and its neighbour. You can always thin them out again later, if they appear too crowded, and you may lose some of the young hollyhock seedlings, so its always useful to have spares.

Should you water hollyhocks?

All plants need water but fully grown hollyhocks have a very deep tap root and are able to survive in very dry and poor soil conditions such as down crevices and at the foot of walls in rain shadows. You even see them growing out of the top of flint walls in Blakeney sometimes. When they are young seedlings they will need a good watering about once a week, if there are not getting any rain. Once they are established adult plants they should not need watering unless you get an exceptionally dry year, as we did last summer in Norfolk, where we had no rain for about 7-8 weeks and it was very hot and sunny with record temperatures.

When do hollyhocks bloom?

Hollyhocks will bloom all summer long , well into autumn and in a mild winter we have even still had a couple of flowers at Christmas. They are very reliable flowerers.

Do hollyhocks come back each year?

Hollyhocks will live for several years and reward you with lots of flower if you look after them correctly. I used to think they were biannual ( i.e. only live for 2 years ) but this is misleading as they will live quite happily and flower for many years. After they have finished flowering you need to cut the old flower spike back to about an inch or two from the ground. This will stimulate the hollyhock plant to produce more flower spikes. In the late autumn when they have finished flowering give them a tidy up by removing any old flower spikes, and damaged or overly large leaves as this seems to help them go through winter and reducing the chance of them rotting. You may find that after a couple of years the plants will not appear as vigorous or flower as freely as the younger plants and occasionally one will die. When this happens remove the dead plant and either compost or burn it.

How do you get rid of rust on hollyhocks?

Rust is a red coloured mold that grows on hollyhock leaves in the summer months and can be quite unsightly and if left completely unchecked may weaken the plant. We do not use fungicides, herbicides or insecticides at Gardeners Cottage as we like to look after our wildlife so we have come up with our own solution for dealing with the rust. Every week I go around the hollyhocks and remove the worst affected leaves. By doing this it removes the worst of the rust and allows the plant to recover. It also stimulates new leaf growth and the new leaves seem to be less vulnerable to rust. Rust seems to prefer the big old leaves. We also remove the large leaves around the base and the dead leaves that have dropped to the ground as this allows better air circulation which also helps to reduce the rust. We never completely get rid of the rust but this method means that the load on the plant is not sufficient to kill it and they still flower spectacularly and our garden is teaming with wildlife as we avoid the use of toxic chemicals. Rust is often worse if you have a wet summer.

Do hollyhocks self seed?

Simple answer yes in abundance but they will not always seed true. We have found that the singles seed much better than the doubles. It seems to us that the closer they are to the native wildflower the more freely they self seed.

Would you like some Blakeney hollyhock seeds by post

I hope you have found this blog post useful and that it helps you grow hollyhocks from seed as we do at Gardeners Cottage in Blakeney. If you have any tips of your own please leave them in comments. We are collecting seed now from our hollyhocks in the cottage garden as we do every year, so If you would like some seed do get in touch. If you send us a stamped addressed envelope we will send you some of this years seeds for you to sow in your own garden. Get in touch first to make sure we have some left.

 

 

 

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