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Hollyhocks

Martha Stewart Living Television

By midsummer, the regal hollyhock (Alcea rosea) reaches anywhere from six to nine feet tall. Old-fashioned and romantic, hollyhocks are easy to grow. They come in myriad colors, and their flowers contain either one, two, or several full row of petals. But most hollyhocks are perennials and will grow only a low rosette of leaves the first year. There are some fast-growing hollyhocks, however, that will flower the first year from seed. Start them indoors or in a greenhouse; allow eight to ten weeks before transplanting.

To plant young hollyhock plants, which are available at any garden-supply center, dig a shallow hole for each plant, leaving ample space between them, so that the roots will have plenty of room to grow. Soften up the earth in each hole to aerate the soil. Hollyhocks need lots of sun and adequate moisture. The plants should receive a good supply of water, but make sure the soil isn't too soggy. Don't give your hollyhocks too much fertilizer, and stake the flower stalk on each plant as soon it emerges. The flowers are a prime target for the Japanese beetle. To protect your plants from these predators, knock off the beetles in the early morning into a can of soapy water.

Don't just plant these lovlies at the back of a border because of their looming height. Move them to the center and see what happens, or plant them beside a pathway or a gate for definition. Hollyhocks have a tendency to make their own way about the garden by self-sowing, and despite their imposing stature, they have a lovely, sweet rambling quality that recalls an earlier era.

When cutting hollyhocks for flower arrangements, to keep the flowers fresh longer, cauterize the bottom of the stem with a match until it blackens, or dip the end in boiling water for several minutes.