Sunday, July 1

Delayed Gratification

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...

24 comments:

chuck b. said...

I bought some black hollyhock seeds too. No idea what to do with them, but when I saw them in the store I thought, "Dra-ma!"

MrBrownThumb said...

Hey that's pretty cool! I didn't know you could cut them back like that. I'll have to plant more and experiment.

Thanks for the update.

chuck b. said...

Scratch what I said. The most obvious, perfect thing to do with them just occurred to me and I went out and sowed the seeds. Done! Thank you for blogging hollyhocks.

The County Clerk said...

Great minds and all that...

I just received a couple of raspberry bushes (off of Ebay) and plant o plant them soon.

You gotta hate ripping out plants but... you gotta do what you gotta do. How tall is that Artemsia? (I grow the Silver Mound and love it... but it does not get tall).

And I actually love the leafy thickness of hollyhock growth... with or without blooms. Hollyhocks make me think my garden is "lush."

You are a busy girl.

Colleen said...

I will definitely keep this in mind. My little corner tends to be pretty windy, so hopefully this will both reduce the damage and give me extended bloom. Great tip :-)

I want to try verbascum here, too. Every time I see a photo of it, I think "I NEED that plant!"

Kristin Ohlson said...

I am pining for the drama of hollyhocks-- and have my eye on a few pots that someone is selling at the Shaker farmers market. I'm so glad I read this post about cutting them back for shorter bushier plants. I'll do exactly what you said at the end of your post!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

chuck b., I wasn't sure if it was my inner drama queen or residuals of my teenage goth chick phase, but those black hollyhocks sure called out to me, too! *grin* And WHAT, pray tell, is the "most obvious, perfect thing" to do with the hollyhocks? Don't hold out on me here!

mr brownthumb, I bet that you wouldn't loose too much drama with shorter plants if they were those double blacks. (Can you tell I'm still drooling about those?!) By the way, I haven't noticed any bugs or damage on mine but I do know that they are supposed to be a prime target for Japanese beetles. Have you seen any of those?

Hank, I know what you mean about the foliage. I do like that they have nice big, round leaves--I think that adds to the "lush" feel. About that artemisia, it gets about 3-4 ft wide and I have a nice clump growing in partial shade as well. I dug up clumps of this 2 years ago when the funky garden center where I worked went out of business. Because of the habit and flowers, I would SWEAR that it is artemisia absynthium except that I can't imagine where they would have gotten their hands on that. (They were the kind of people who would, though, if it were possible!) Otherwise it looks a bit like 'Powis Castle' in size, although the shape isn't as much of a nice mound.

Colleen, these would be wonderful in your cottage garden front yard! (Didn't I give you seeds? I thought I did...)

K-Oh, I'm glad to see you back! If you do stair-step them, please share pics because I'd love to see them. If you prefer to buy local honey at the Shaker market instead of those hollyhocks, you should be able to start some at the end of August/early September from seed. They were really easy... too easy, in fact, which is why I ended up planting more hollyhocks than I had planned.

The County Clerk said...

goth chick phase

HMMMNNN

Just the other night I spent several hours with a soon-to-be-groom in an LA Goth-Chick Strip Club. Part of the "FREAKSHOW LA" experience.

East Hollywood. Freakshow.

Except there is no stripping in LA. So it was sort of like an almost strip club... with Goth Chicks... and whips.

Very strange.

Jumbo's Clown Room

The women frightened the hell out me.

But some were hot.

Whatever. I am somewhat confused by the world.

And I'm actually REALLY glad to be back home in my garden where things make sense.

lisa said...

Funny, but I've been experimenting with my baptisa in the same way! It's really tall, and blocking sunlight from a hops vine I dumbly planted behind it, so I cut it down by half! Hope it still blooms, but at least it's still alive after "Dr. Botanstein" lobbed off its head...I'll post results.

Tracy said...

Kim: I'm just responding to your comment on my blog about swamp milkweed. I didn't intentionally plant it. Last year we had two for the first time, and this year I think there are six plants. All seem to be growing directly in the pond - in about 2-6" of water. Ironically, for the past 8 years I've scattered common milkweed seeds around the pond area and none have grown, yet this swamp milkweed just came in from seemingly nowhere and is setting up house. Try as I might, I guess I just can't manage the pond ecosystem myself!

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Kim I love those black hollyhocks too. I had them in my garden last year for the first time and they were amazing. This year they're back and just starting to flower now. I love them to bits. BTW on my holiday I went to a city where there were hollyhocks in the streets everywhere you turned. The pics are up now. I also discovered a new hollyhock that is really and truly the blackest of black. Absolutely wonderful!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Hank, Jumbo's Clown Room looks... interesting. I was a much more tame (and much more clothed) goth girl than any of those women seem to be. But it's funny that you say that, as when you were talking about the bar scene with the bitter 30 year olds it brought me back to my goth girl/clubbing phase. Lots of almost beautiful people all around!

Lisa, that's a wonderful idea. Hmm. Now I'm thinking about how I could incorporate that into my plants, too... Mwahahahaha!

Tracy, thanks for the info and answering my question. I'm thinking that my soil is so well drained and dry here (especially considering the conditions where yours is growing) that I'm not going to have to worry about it being happy enough to spread. :)

Yolanda Elizabet, glad to see you're back and hope that you had a nice holiday!

Ki said...

Your hollyhocks look great. Ours always phlomped to the ground in any wind/rainstorm as the blooms got too heavy for the plant. I though Artemisia was a drought tolerant plant. I just bought a yellow variegated one just for a dry location. Oh well.

Muum said...

It is great to hear about your ideas and strategies with your hollyhocks. Thanks for sharing and sparking new ideas for us!

snappy said...

Hi Blackswamp girl,your post about deadheading hollyhocks to encourage a second flower happens here regularly after the Chelsea flower show.I saw Monty don cutting the Berryfields perenniels with the intention of making a second blooming.I think this has traditionally happened in traditional english country gardens. Your idea is cool with two layers of plants, leggy ones at back, and chopped ones at front regrowing to cover the back ones legs.Genius!

Annie in Austin said...

Short black hollyhocks seem more like some exotic Malva variety than like real hollyhocks - maybe the height is an essential part of their appeal?

In Texas people grow the striped Malva zebrina and call them 'French Hollyhocks' but they didn't fool me, Kim, I recognized them right away ;-]

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Ellis Hollow said...

Talk about your 'Study in Contrasts' What a thread:

Hollyhocks, hollyhocks, hollyhocks, goth stripper clubs, baptisia, swamp milkweed ...

Hank: There's a very fine line between goth strippers and BDSM. In LA, that's probably a trainer club to test whether or not you're ready for the next level. BTW: You're supposed to be afraid of them.

Oh, and Kim (to keep up the contrasts): Don't forget to save me some of that black hollyhock seed. I'm trying to remember what I promised you in exchange. Probably some misc. verbascum? I've got a ton breaking out in flower now. I'll have a lot of seed.

Layanee said...

Kim: Great post on pruning and its' effects! I just decided today, after seeing my Mom's hollyhocks, that next year I will need some! I think I will adopt your technique for the front row.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Ki, they are quite drought tolerant--in fact, they get no supplemental watering from me. It really does illustrate how dry we are right now... maybe 3-4 inches below normal for the year already?

Muum, thanks for stopping by--i just visited your blog and am enjoying your posts as well! :)

snappy, you English gardeners are always way ahead of us! ;) I think that I might have read about these being cut back in an English garden, actually, and that's what sparked my interest to cut them back before they even bloomed to delay the bloom and keep them short. (I love some of your gardening magazines over there, particularly the one where Frank Ronan does a column in the back. I admit to having a teensy little crush on Frank Ronan.)

Annie, I don't guess they could fool you! *grin* I never thought of them looking like the malva clan when they're short like that, but you are absolutely right. And that cements my initial thought that the height really was part of the appeal--for me, anyway. Thank you.

Craig, *ahem*, my post was pretty consistent... it's the wonderful people who post comments who added such contrasting flavors to the mix! lol.

The black hollyhock seed is definitely yours (I'll go google now to figure out the best way to harvest it) and yes, I would love the verbascum (the taller, the better!) and maybe some purple ironweed, too...

layanee, thanks! I'm glad that my experimenting has given a few other people some ideas, too. :)

lucette said...

When I grew black hollyhocks I found that I'd like the idea of them more than the actual thing. It just wasn't a great color. I think in a bigger garden than mine (which is very small), they might have looked good with some white and silver or light pastel colors around them--from a distance.

Ottawa Gardener said...

I have a bad habit of ripping out plants too (ah well) for new plants or just moving them around.

Read in The Well-Tended Perennial Garden about the cutting back thing. I like the idea of doing half of some of my taller plants just to extend the bloom time, like monarda. I also like to say the title of the above book in mixed company (gardeners and the other kind) just cause it sound so uppity. Well tended perennial garden, oh yes, like mine, ha-ha ha. Pass the sherry.

Earth Girl said...

Thanks for the idea about cutting back hollyhocks. It's a perfect strategy for the historic garden where they tend to flop because of the wind from the lake. And in northern Indiana, malva zebrina are called Amish Hollyhocks and we don't have any goth strip clubs!

Colleen said...

Yep, you did send me some seeds, and I had several sweet little hollyhocks....until the goddamn squirrels got to the WS containers, right after I took the lids off when the worst of the weather was over. I may have cried. I don't remember, because I blocked it out :-)

Anyway, crying and demonic squirrels aside, I'm going to give them a try again next year. After seeing yours, I *must* have them in my garden :-)

Robin (Bumblebee) said...

Hi Kim,

I was fascinated by your hollyhock post. I planted a pastel mix as well as black hollyhocks that I ordered from Monticello. (I have a colonial theme garden.)

So far, the foliage is very pretty, and two 7' tall hollyhocks are blooming beautifully--all in white!

I'm wondering why all the others are taking so very long...

Patience, I suppose.

--Robin (Bumblebee)

P.S. - Glad to have found you!

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