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Q&A: Hardy hollyhocks offer variety in the garden

Q: Any tips on growing hollyhocks? This is something I’m planning to grow this spring.

• Jane from Columbiana

A: Yes, indeed. Actually, I have a sentimental attachment to hollyhocks. The house in which I grew up did not have formal flower beds and landscaping such as now surrounds our homes. One plant variety that grew and returned year after year was the sturdy, towering hollyhock, not only appreciated for its beauty, but was drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant and a real butterfly, hummingbird and bee magnet.

Even though we regard them as a perennial, they are actually a biennial. They reseed easily, but don’t get out of control. Hollyhock seeds can be started indoors or be sown directly in the soil.

Those homey, hardy hollyhocks of my fond memories are a common variety of Alcea rosea. Today, there are a great many different options and varieties, offering double, semi-double and single blooms in a phenomenal range of colors from pastels to deep purples and reds, even one that is black. Hollyhocks are a perfect choice to provide a plethora of heights, colors and distinction to your garden.

First, plan for success. Peruse the seed catalogs that will be gracing your mailbox in the next several weeks or buy bareroot plants. Check out the seed packets when you can go to your favorite garden center. Choose the cultivars that suit your fancy and find that perfect spot in your garden that has the right growing conditions.

Hollyhocks are adaptable but will be happier if planted in ground that has excellent drainage, a pH range from 6 to 8 and full sun. A soil test through the OSU Extension office will help determine if any soil changes are needed. Hollyhocks thrive when manure is used as an amendment and a cover of mulch is added at the base of the plants.

When planting, give them a space of 12 to 18 inches to help avoid diseases. This is tough because you want tons of blooms. Hollyhock plants are susceptible to the major fungal diseases of hollyhock rust, powdery mildew and anthracnose.

There are four types of bugs that feed on hollyhock plants. They are spider mites, thrips, Japanese beetles and sawflies. Prevention is the key to keeping the plants healthy. Adopting a protocol of best practices such as watering in the morning and avoiding getting the leaves wet are key to success.

If your plants do suffer from disease or insects, check out the appropriate products, and read and follow all the directions.

Hollyhocks are a beautiful addition to your garden and will reward your attention — you won’t regret adding a large bed of these.

For information on growing hollyhocks, visit http://go.osu.edu/hollyhock.

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