When Should You Plant Hollyhocks this Season?
Hollyhocks are a cottage garden essential. Find out the best time to plant these tall, showy flowers with tips from gardening expert Paige Foley
When I think of hollyhocks, a bit of nostalgia is attached to them. Growing up, I remember seeing them around older homes and farms. Like me, many people remember them growing beside their grandmother’s house, bringing back many fond memories. You may wonder when to plant hollyhocks to add some rustic charm to your garden that harkens back to your younger years.
These lovely flowers are again growing in popularity as people seek farmhouse and cottage gardening styles. Their low-maintenance and versatility make them a good choice for beginner and experienced gardeners.
Choosing the right season to plant your seed will determine how your plants will grow and progress. In this article, we will establish the best time to grow hollyhocks and how to get them off to the best start!
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to planting hollyhocks. You can plant in either the fall or spring. There are some benefits to planting in the fall versus the spring. Hollyhock prefers to go through a cold stratification. Stratification helps break dormancy so seeds can germinate quicker in ideal conditions.
Hollyhocks are hardy 2-8. This makes them an excellent choice in regions with cold winters, although they will be dormant through the cool months.
For fall sowing, direct-sow two months before your first frost date. If choosing to start hollyhocks in the spring, wait for 1-2 weeks after your final frost date to get them going.
Hollyhocks can be biennial or perennial, depending on the variety, but most are biennial plants. While they typically do not flower until their second year, they are such vigorous self-sowers that once they’re well-established in a bed, you’ll likely see some flowering every year! It takes a couple of years to get to that point, but if you plant a mix of live plants and seeds, you’ll have flowers every year. Let’s take a deep dive into timing, seed harvest, and what you can expect.
When planting hollyhocks from seeds, it’s very possible to direct-sow in the fall. However, you’ll want to sow well in advance of that first frost date of the year. Sow your seeds two months before the first frost date is expected.
For these biennials, light aids in their germination, but they also need access to moisture. This can be a bit tricky to achieve, especially if you have warm weather persisting into the fall months.
Keep the soil evenly moist, and press the seeds firmly against the surface, leaving most of the top of the seed exposed to sunlight. Mist them regularly to ensure they stay damp. If you receive lots of rain over the winter months, skip watering, but if you experience dry weather, be sure everything stays damp.
While you’re unlikely to see much, if any, germination in the fall, that’s to be expected. Hollyhocks grow best after a period of cold stratification, and an early fall sowing matching when live plants would normally drop their seeds will provide ideal conditions for them to burst to life in the spring. Direct-sowing and exposing the seeds to winter’s chill provides plenty of cold stratification for them to germinate.
Spring planting is both easier and more difficult at the same time!
First and foremost, the plants still require some cold stratification to germinate. If you are direct-sowing into the garden, you should still have cold enough temperatures even after your final frost date occurs, so direct-sowing 1-2 weeks after your final frost date will work beautifully.
If you want to get a jumpstart on your growing season, you can start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your final frost date. However, hollyhock roots are very sensitive to disturbance, and they often do not like to be transplanted. It’s important to use a container that biodegrades into the soil so you don’t have to disturb those fine, tender roots.
With either method, remember that these seeds do need light to germinate. Press the seeds onto the soil’s surface and mist them regularly to keep them damp. Seeds started indoors can be misted, and then a piece of cling film can be laid overtop to keep the moisture against the seed without blocking its exposure to light.
Indoor seeds may not receive quite enough cold temperatures for good germination and may experience reduced germination rates. To prevent that, sow your seeds into your starter pots, then place them in the refrigerator for at least two weeks. Remove the starter pots from the refrigerator, allow them to come up to room temperature, and then treat them as you would other seeds.
There are gorgeous varieties in a rainbow of colors. Some of our favorites are pink and purple, which complement the cottage garden look.
No matter when you plant them, your hollyhocks may struggle to get off the ground if you don’t have good growing conditions. It’s important to give them the best chance you can at performing well and giving you those glorious flowers!
Full sun conditions are ideal, as these will yield the most flowers and enable the plant to grow at its most vigorous. These may tolerate partial shade conditions but often will not flower as heavily and may be less vigorous.
People in hot climates (zones 9+) should consider planting in a location where they have afternoon shade. This can reduce the damage caused by excessive heat.
While somewhat drought-tolerant once established, your hollyhocks will still need water to produce profusions of vivid flowers. These plants do not like overly wet soil, so only water when the soil begins to dry out about an inch down from the soil’s surface.
Most varieties of hollyhock will not bloom in the first year if started from seed. To get first-year flowers, starting from a live plant is ideal. Most nursery plants are second-year plants to ensure you get good flower production the year you plant them.
Consider cutting back spent flowers before they go to seed to experience a resurgence of flowering. If you deadhead spent flowers, you redirect the plant’s energy from seed production back into flowering so it can propagate its species.
Towards the end of the season, leave a number of spent flowers on the stalk. This is important to keep your hollyhocks regrowing year after year. These are self-sowing plants and will drop seeds that will come up in the spring.
Harvesting hollyhock seed is simple. The seed pods are large, and the seeds themselves are good-sized, which makes them easy to handle. The seeds will be in pods that form in the spent flowers and will appear dry and brown.
Cut the pod from the stalk and place into a bag to dry. You can leave the seeds in the pod until spring or open the pod and remove the seeds. Allow the pod or seeds to dry fully. Once dry, place into a paper bag or envelope and label the outside with the variety. Placing the seeds in a breathable container is ideal so you don’t kill the seed. Store in a dry, cold place until the fall or spring.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will hollyhocks bloom in their first year?
Many hollyhocks are biennials and won’t bloom until their second year, then will drop their seed and die off. There are a few varieties that will bloom their first year if planted early enough in the spring, but those are surprisingly rare.
When will my hollyhock bloom?
Hollyhock blooms from mid summer to late fall. Some varieties may bloom earlier in the season if planted early enough.
Where Should I Plant My Hollyhock Seeds?
Hollyhock prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Full sun will yield more flowers and increase the plant’s height. Frequent watering will encourage more growth but avoid soggy soils.
Starting hollyhock by seed is an easy and very cost-effective way to bring height and color to your garden. When choosing the right season to plant them, you can’t go wrong with fall or spring, but remember that sowing the seed is a little tricky! Cut back spent flowers, keep an eye out for rust, and enjoy these classic cottage garden beauties.