Growing hollyhocks from seed
Growing hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) from seeds can be a rewarding and relatively straightforward process. Hollyhocks are known for their tall spikes of colourful flowers and are commonly grown in cottage gardens In England. They are a particularly well known feature of the pretty lanes known as locally as lokes in the villages on the North Norfolk coast in summer and autumn where they flower profusely. We first came across native holyhocks growing wildly and in abundance when we vsited Blakeney, a pretty coastal village on the Beautiful North Norfolk coast.
Our experience growing hollyhocks
Our enchantment and fascination with the splendid native hollyhock, a quintessential English cottage garden flower, started in Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast.
Around 20 years ago, during my first ever visit to Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast for a camping holiday, the captivating display of hollyhocks lining Blakeney High Street against the myriad of charming cottages left an indelible impression. These vibrant flowers flourished in every available nook and cranny of the pavement. As an avid cottage gardener, I was inspired to bring the charm of the Blakeney hollyhocks to my own garden in Nottinghamshire. Upon returning home, I procured some lovely healthy potted hollyhocks from our local garden center, but unfortunately much to my dismay, they failed to thrive and eventually perished. Undeterred, the following year, I tried growing hollyhocks from packets of seed again purchased from the local garden centre, meticulously following the instructions, yet success again eluded me.What was I doing wrong I wondered.
Admitting temporary defeat, I concluded that hollyhocks might be exclusive to North Norfolk's soil and climate and just not suited to Nottinghamshire. Nonetheless, my love for North Norfolk persisted, and every holiday brought me back to this beautiful county and the marvellous hollyhocks. Summer after summer, I continued to marvel at the resplendent hollyhocks gracing every corner of the North Norfolk coast, reinforcing the idea that they were seemingly reserved for this picturesque region.
In 2004, our acquisition of Gardeners Cottage in Blakeney once again sparked my determination to cultivate hollyhocks in my garden. Despite initial skepticism from my husband, who doubted our garden's suitability due to the absence of hollyhocks in both our garden and neighbouring ones near Blakeney high street on or on Coronation Lane, I embarked on thorough research. Discovering that hollyhocks thrive in challenging conditions, requiring ample sunlight and preferably positioning against a sunny, warm wall for shelter due to their height, I also learned that their seeds benefit from exposure to frost and dislike competition. Now I finally knew why they had not thrived in my heavily planted, shady garden in Nottinghamshire.
In late August of the same year, when Blakeney's hollyhocks were setting seed, I gathered ripe seeds from the hollyhocks outside the former Blakeney Cottage Company offices, previously located halfway up Blakeney High Street (the office has now relocated to Blakeney Quay at the High street's bottom end overlooking the Quay). Back at cottage, I scattered the hollyhock seeds on the sunny gravel surface of the cottage garden, leaning against the house. Patiently tending to the area with occasional watering and ensuring no other plants competed for space, I awaited for any signs of growth.
Nearly ten months later, just when hope was waning, the first tiny hollyhock plants emerged, marking a thrilling moment. Since then, I've successfully cultivated hollyhocks each year, sharing seeds with friends who have likewise achieved success. Over the course of the last 20 years, I've consistently collected and distributed seeds, making hollyhocks a cherished and enduring part of our garden's legacy.
Free Blakeney Hollyhock seeds by post
I have also run a free hollyhock seed give way for the last few years ad posted free packets of Hollyhock seeds out to anyone in the UK, who asks for them and sent me a stamped addressed envelope. This year I finally got myself organised with an online shop and you can now order packets of Blakeney hollyhock seeds online. The pack of 50 is still free you just pay fopr the postage. The larger packs you pay for.
Here are my top recommendations for successfully growing hollyhocks from seed in your garden:
Here's a step-by-step guide on how to grow hollyhocks from seeds that are directly sown:
- Seed Collection: Collect hollyhock seeds from a friend's hollyhocks in late summer or early autumn. If possible, gather a whole spike of seed heads and lay it on the desired germination area. Alternatively, spread loose seeds where you want them to grow. You could also buy a packet of Hollyhock seeds from a garden centre or order them online.
- Planting Location: Choose a sunny position with clear ground. Young hollyhocks struggle with competition, so select an area where they can receive ample sunlight. For optimal germination, consider planting on gravel against a sunny wall. While they can grow in shadier spots, they may lean towards the light, requiring staking or tying to a wall.
- Winter Preparation: Leave the seed heads in place throughout winter. Hollyhock seeds benefit from exposure to frost, even though it may appear messy. Alternatively, spread the seeds where you want them to germinate.
- Patience in Spring: In spring, tidy up old seed heads and scatter seeds in the desired area. Water the hollyhock seeds occasionally, keeping the area weed-free. Be cautious not to disturb emerging baby hollyhocks.
- Early Growth: Around May or June, tiny baby hollyhocks will emerge. Water them well, especially during dry periods, as they are slow growers and unlikely to flower until the following year.
- Adult Growth: Approximately 18-21 months after sowing, hollyhocks will reach adult size and reward you with tall spikes of flowers. Note that they do not seed true, so flower colours may differ from the parent plant. If you desire specific flower colours, opt for pot-grown plants or named varieties of seeds, which usually produce double flowers.
- Thinning and Transplanting: When seedlings appear, thin them out, leaving the largest and healthiest ones. Extra seedlings can be gently dug up and either relocated or potted for later planting. Handle the tiny hollyhock seedlings with care, as damaging the tap root during transplanting can jeopardise the plant's survival.
- Harvesting and Seeding: After flowering (which continues all summer), leave the flower heads on the plant to form seeds. Hollyhocks are biennials, and while some may flower for several years, new generations are essential for replacement. Once the seeds have dried, gone brown, and burst from the pods (usually around early to mid-September in Blakeney), tidy up the plants. Leave new flower spikes for ongoing blooms.
- Rewarding Results: Despite the effort and patience required to grow hollyhocks from seed, the sight of hollyhocks in full bloom each summer is a magnificent reward. They continue to produce new flowers until the first frosts, with the potential for flowering even into late October or early November in milder climates. This year we had a very late autumn in Blakeney and they were still flowering in December. I cut the last Hollyhock flower spike down just before Christmas.
North Norfolk, being in the United Kingdom, generally experiences a temperate coastal climate with mild winters and cool dry summers that are well suited to growing hollyhocks. The soil is light , free draining and pebbly and sandy which hollyhocks love and the narrow streets and passageways in Blakeney village presents the perfect microclimate for hollyhocks to flourish against the cottage walls.
Here's our guide tailored for growing hollyhocks in balcony containers or small garden spaces:
- Container or Garden Bed: If you're growing hollyhocks on a balcony, choose large containers with good drainage. In garden beds, ensure the soil is well-draining.
- Soil Preparation: Use a well-draining potting mix for containers or improve the garden soil with organic matter to enhance drainage. Adding some grit to the mix may help with drainage.
- Sunlight: Hollyhocks thrive in full sun. Choose a location on your balcony that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily.
- Planting: If starting from seeds, follow the steps mentioned in the general guide. Place the containers in a sunny spot on the balcony or sow the seeds directly in the garden bed.
- Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during dry periods. However, avoid waterlogging, as hollyhocks prefer well-drained soil.
- Fertilising: Being a native wildflower Hollyhocks like tough conditions, and in our experience do not need a lot of feeding. If you do feed them do so sparingly and use a balanced, all-purpose fertiliser when planting and again during the growing season. Follow the package instructions for application rates. Over feeding could cause them to produce too much leaf and not enough root. They need a good strong deep root system to keep them stable as they grow tall.
- Support: Hollyhocks can grow tall, and windy conditions can cause them to lean or break. Provide support with stakes or a trellis, especially if your balcony is exposed to strong winds.
- Pruning: You can pinch back the tips of young plants to encourage bushier growth. Deadhead spent flowers regularly to promote continuous blooming unless you are going to collect seed. It is always a good idea to let some seed heads form, so that you can grow more hollyhocks, as hollyhocks are not long lived, particularly when grown in pots.
- Pests and Diseases: Monitor for pests like aphids or caterpillars and treat them promptly. Adequate air circulation can help prevent fungal diseases. The main disease we find is rust which is almost ubiquitous with hollyhocks. We do not use any pesticides in the garden so we manage it by removing the worst affecting leaves and disposing of them.
- Overwintering: In North Norfolk, hollyhocks are generally hardy. If you are in avery cold area you may consider adding a layer of mulch around the base of the plants in late fall to protect the crown during the winter. Its lawys worth harvesting some seed every autumn in case you have a particularly hard winter, although our hollyhocks have come through -10 without us losing more than a couple. Hollyhocks in pots may be more vulnerable to the effects of freezing as they are above ground. Water logged pots can be a problem in winter to. If you have an unheated greenhouse, it may be worth bringing your pot grown hollyhocks into the greenhouse, or putting them in a sheltered position next to house.
- Local Considerations: Take into account the specific microclimate of your balcony. Balconies can have different exposure to wind and sunlight, so adjust your care accordingly.
By following these steps and considering the local conditions, you should be able to grow hollyhocks successfully on your balcony or in your garden, bringing vibrant colours and a touch of cottage garden charm to your outdoor space.
What is Rust in Hollyhocks
Rust in hollyhocks refers to a fungal disease caused by the pathogen Puccinia malvacearum. This common plant disease affects various members of the Malvaceae family, including hollyhocks (Alcea species). Rust is characterised by orange to rusty-brown pustules or spore masses on the undersides of leaves.
Here's some information on how to identify, manage, and prevent rust in hollyhocks:
- Symptoms: Look for small, raised pustules or bumps on the undersides of hollyhock leaves. These pustules may appear orange, rust-colored, or brown.
- Leaf Damage: As the disease progresses, the upper side of the leaves may show yellow or orange spots, and severe infections can lead to premature leaf drop.
Management and Prevention of Rust in Hollyhocks:
- Prune affected leaves: This is our chosen method of management of Rust disease. At the first sign of rust, remove and destroy infected leaves to reduce the spread of the disease. Be sure to dispose of the affected plant material away from the garden.
- Provide adequate air circulation: Rust tends to thrive in humid and crowded conditions. Ensure good air circulation around hollyhock plants by spacing them appropriately and avoiding overcrowding.
- Water at the base: Water the plants at the base rather than overhead to minimise moisture on the leaves. Watering early in the day allows the foliage to dry before evening.
- Choose resistant varieties: When purchasing hollyhock seeds or plants, consider selecting varieties that are resistant to rust. Some cultivars may show more tolerance to the disease.
- Crop rotation: If possible, avoid planting hollyhocks or other susceptible plants in the same location each year. Practice crop rotation to reduce the risk of soil-borne diseases.
- Remove overcrowded plants: Hollyhocks often self-seed. Remove any surplus hollyhock seedling plants that may be growing in the vicinity of established hollyhocks to prevent the spread of rust.
- Monitor regularly: Keep a close eye on your hollyhocks throughout the growing season. Early detection and prompt action can help manage the disease more effectively.
- Fungicides: As a last resort you can apply fungicides that are sold for rust control on hollyhocks. Follow the instructions on the product label. We do not use pesticides in our garden, as we prefer to work with nature.
If you have found this page helpful and You would like to see our hollyhocks that we grow at our farm In Norfolk, and hear and see our top tips for how to grow hollyhocks from seed, pop onto our You Tube Channel Gardners Cottage Blakeney