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Hollyhocks: beautiful to look at, easy to grow

Tehachapi Gardener's Choice

Hollyhocks are one of the few ornamental flowers that naturalize so well in the Tehachapi Mountains that they can thrive without any care or supplementary watering -- you can often see beautiful examples of them growing on roadsides, vacant lots or other neglected areas. They are among the first flowering species to have been cultivated in gardens, and there are references to them in literature that date back hundreds of years. They are considered one of the prime choices for traditional cottage gardens and come in a wide variety of colors, from red to pink, apricot, yellow, white, lavender, purple, and near black, depending on the variety.

Hollyhocks are very drought-tolerant and prefer full sun, and they are able to grow in areas of the yard that are too hot for more sensitive plants. Their tall flowering stalks are also able to withstand Tehachapi winds, bending and swaying in the breeze even as their large soft flower faces continue to radiate beauty.

Gardeners are sometimes puzzled by hollyhocks that grow without blooming, but this is because many varieties are biennial -- they grow vegetatively the first year and then flower the following year.

Others are short-lived perennials, but because they self-seed, hollyhocks may grow in the same place for many years. They produce distinctive, coin-shaped seeds in rosettes that appear after the flowers fade, and hollyhocks are easy to start from seed -- in fact, most nurseries don't carry hollyhock plants, just the seeds.

Around Tehachapi, you can also keep your eyes open for hollyhocks growing in gardens or hardy volunteers growing on their own and gather the seed yourself in late summer or fall. They typically bloom from June through September in Tehachapi, and the flowering stalks may grow taller than you if they are in a good location.

Because of their height and unbridled appearance (hollyhocks are the complete opposite of the plant description "compact"), hollyhocks are often preferred along fencelines, side yards or the back of gardens. Wherever they grow, however, hollyhocks provide more beauty with less care than almost any flower you can choose.


Botanical name: Alcea species


Starting: Seeds or young plants.

Size: 4 to 9 feet long/tall.

Exposure: Full sun.

Watering: Occasional, deep watering.