In comments left on an earlier post of mine, MrBrownThumb mentioned that he was sad that his hollyhocks--he has a double black variety!--were already done blooming. That reminded me that I meant to make another post about a little experiment of mine.
As you can see from the first picture, the hollyhocks I had included in my "Notes to Self: June" post are over 7 feet tall and almost done blooming. (The artemisia in front of them is looking pretty sad, but that's more of an indication of the dryness of our summer and the water-stinginess of its caretaker.)
Most of these are going to be ripped out next week to make way for a raspberry bush and a few other items that I need to get planted. But that doesn't mean that I'll be without hollyhock blooms. In fact, some of my hollyhocks are just now beginning to bloom!
This spring, I read that you can effectively deadhead hollyhocks by cutting back the entire flower stalk after they bloom, which may encourage rebloom on shorter flower stalks. At the same time I came across this tidbit, I was also reading the new version of The Well Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy Di Sabato-Aust and getting some ideas on "managing" the bloom time of various plants.
Having planted more hollyhocks than I had planned (because the seed surprised me with great germination) I found myself with plenty of subjects for experimentation. And so I went out into the backyard and cut back the flowering stalks on two of my hollyhocks before they even got a chance to grow many buds.
The cutback plants looked terrible for about a week (I wish I had taken a picture) but then they put forth a flush of new leaves. Their foliage has held up much better than that of the taller untouched plants--most of the latter had gotten so ugly on the lower 2 ft of the plant that I de-leafed them and left the plants with bare legs instead. As you can see in the second picture, the cutback plants have just a few messy leaves but otherwise have good full foliage. They are just now beginning to bloom.
At this point, I'm not too sure what I think about the results my experiment overall. I love that the foliage on the cutback plants stayed nicer after that initial shock period, and that they are very full. 3-4 feet is a more manageable border plant to be sure, so the height is nice for the location where the cutback plants reside.
On the flip side, I'm no drama queen, but... okay, I have to admit that I planted black hollyhocks partly for the excitement factor, and cutting these plants in half greatly reduces that for sure. I find myself looking at them and saying, "Oh, that's nice," instead of the "Wow, check these out!" that their taller brothers and sisters inspired.
I'm not really sure that I'll ever grow hollyhocks again. Some of my other perennials are finally starting to fill out, and there are other interesting biennials and tall perennials to try. (Verbascum, here I come!) But if I do have hollyhocks again, I doubt that I will cut mine back-- unless maybe I plant one right in front of the other, and cut back the one in front so its pretty foliage hides the wreckage of the other one. Hmm... now that I thought about that, it doesn't sound half bad...