Are Hollyhocks Considered Annual, Biennial, or Perennial Plants?
Thinking of planting hollyhocks, but aren't sure how long they will stick around once planted? How they are classified can be a bit tricky, depending on your climate. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley shares everything you know about the life cycle of a hollyhock plant.
Hollyhocks are beautiful and delicate plants that tower above a flower bed or along a building. For centuries, many classic varieties have graced cottage gardens, outbuildings, and farmsteads. Their large, showy blooms come in an array of colors.
These classic plants are easy to grow and low-maintenance once established. Sow them at the right time and watch them bloom for years. Ensure they receive enough sunlight, water and are planted in well-draining soils.
You may be curious if hollyhocks are an annual, biennial, or perennial. You may be surprised at the answer. Let’s consider the life cycle of a hollyhock and what you can expect.
The Short Answer
Although they may seem like a perennial, hollyhocks are actually a biennial. Grown in USDA Zones 3 to 8, the first year of the plant’s life is spent growing and storing energy. Classic varieties won’t bloom until the second year.
In zones above 8, hollyhocks may produce flowers if started early enough in the spring. Flower production is based on variety as well. Some varieties may bloom in the first year if spring conditions are ideal and soil temperatures are warm.
The Long Answer
Annual flowers have a very short life cycle and complete their growing process in one season. When they die in the winter, their seed will drop, and they will not return the following spring. In contrast, perennials continue to grow year after year.
Hollyhock is actually a biennial and completes its life cycle in just two years. They may appear as a perennial because of how well they produce seeds – they can readily self-seed, which makes it seem like they return year after year!
Hollyhocks produce thousands of seeds in a single season. Once the seed matures, it drops into the soil, germinating and growing new hollyhocks. This cycle continues throughout the season, and new hollyhock will soon fill the area the following season.
Hollyhocks are tall towering stalks of color that are sure to impress. Understanding their growth habits is important for the proper care of hollyhocks.
Hollyhocks are a member of the Malvaceae family and the genus Alcea. There are over 80 species in this genus. Hollyhocks are closely related to hibiscus, cotton, and okra. The most common hollyhock is Alcea Rosea, a well-known and cultivated species.
Hollyhocks are tall, delicate, and beautiful flowering biennials. They produce colorful blooms in reds, pinks, whites, and yellows. They are an excellent addition to fences, along buildings, or as a back border in a flower bed. The average height of a hollyhock is 6 to 8 feet tall. Some newer varieties can be shorter, at around 4 feet tall.
Hollyhock is a prolific self-sower; this is how you get new growth each year. The seeds drop into the soil and germinate in ideal spring conditions. Let’s discuss what you can expect in the life cycle of a hollyhock.
Establishing a hollyhock can be a waiting game. They won’t produce blooms until their second year, so don’t panic if you don’t see blooms when you first establish them. The first year is all about growth. The hollyhocks appear as a low cluster of large, fuzzy leaves in the first season.
In the second year, you will start seeing those tall stalks of flowers emerge. This is also the year the hollyhocks will produce seed. This year is important because it’s creating the next generation of hollyhock. Your original hollyhock will die in the fall, and its seeds will grow in the spring.
Being biennial plants, you will have to do a second sowing the following year to have flowers every year. If you don’t sow seed two years in a row, you will only have flowers every other year. Once you have established your hollyhock, they will be fairly low-maintenance, and all you have to do is enjoy their blooms.
Growing as a Biennial
Biennials are plants with a two-year life cycle. The first year is spent on root growth and storing nutrients. The second year is when their impressive blooms will begin to show. This can be confusing for beginner gardeners wondering why their hollyhocks aren’t blooming the first year they plant them.
Planting the seed in late summer may yield blooms the following spring. This can be tricky because the weather is unpredictable and may pose a threat to hollyhocks. Frost can become an issue if you plant too late in the summer. This method is recommended in zones above 8 because frost is less likely to be an issue.
Frost is the biggest threat to hollyhocks. If you live in northern regions where the first frost is unpredictable, consider sowing your seeds in late fall to avoid them germinating and being killed by the frost. Sowing late in the fall will allow the seed to lay dormant in the soil until spring, when it can germinate.
If you are impatient and want blooms the year you plant, consider finding a garden center that carries second-year hollyhocks. These hollyhocks have already undergone a dormancy period and will flower the year you plant them. This is a great option for impatient gardeners.
Hollyhock are prolific seed producers, which means they will produce thousands of seeds in one growing season. This is the reason hollyhock may seem like a perennial plant. The seed drops from the spent flower and directly into the soil.
Once conditions are ideal in the spring, the dropped seed will germinate in a few weeks. This process continues for years and years in ideal conditions.
If you want to slow the spread of your hollyhock, cut or pinch off dead flowers before their seed drops. This is recommended if the area you have hollyhock planted is becoming overcrowded. Overcrowding is a breeding ground for disease.
To save seeds from your hollyhocks, tie a fine mesh bag over the flower stalks as they start to fade, securing the bag tightly to the stem. Once the flowers dry and the seeds mature, cut the flower stalk off and shake the bag to release the seeds.
Towards the end of the season, allow some flowers to go to seed. If you prune all the spent flowers, little to no seed will be available for the next growing season.
Best Time to Plant
You sow your hollyhock in the spring or in the fall. This is great news if it takes all winter to decide what you want to plant. You have options, and you can’t go wrong with either.
If you choose to plant in the spring, starting them indoors is recommended. Sow your seed 6 to 8 weeks before the anticipated last frost for the season. Like most plants, hollyhocks are sensitive and can be easily damaged or killed by frost. Once the risk of frost has passed, plant your seedlings outdoors in your desired location.
When planting in the fall, sow your seeds into the ground and wait till spring. If your region experiences hard frost, consider covering it with mulch or straw for additional protection. When spring conditions are ideal, the seed will germinate in 10 to 14 days.
Hollyhocks are a great choice for a beginner gardener or an expert. They are definitely not for the impatient, as they take a while to bloom. Once they bloom, you will not be disappointed in their dramatic height and soft blooms. Low-maintenance plants, once they are established, you can expect colorful towers of flowers from your hollyhocks for years to come.