Cutting and Displaying Hollyhocks – They Don’t Make it Easy for You

June 6th, 2012

Hollyhocks are one of my very favorite flowers.  I have a strong preference for tall stalky flowers as well as flowers that bloom for long periods of time, require little to no effort and that appear in at least one Nancy Drew mystery.  Hollyhocks fill all of these requirements, plus I grew them from a paper bag of seeds that a friend gave to me from her own garden and I always feel more protective and more allegiance to the plants that I grow from seed.

Sadly, Hollyhocks are prone to developing a fungal disease called rust and over the past two years, mine have developed a very bad case.

Why, you may be asking???

Well probably because I didn’t remove the diseased foliage from the plants as they grew and I did not remove the diseased dead plant material from around the base of the plants over the winter months either!  In other words, my hollyhocks grew up in a world of disease and as a result, they looked pretty awful this year.  In an effort to cure my plants of their bad case of rust, I cut them all the way to the ground and removed all the diseased plant material.  If I am lucky, they may even re-grow by the end of this season.

You can see here that they are already sprouting new leaves.  (And it’s not diseased!).

Over the past few years, I have tried on several occasions to cut and display a bouquet of hollyhocks in the house.  But the cut flowers always drooped almost immediately after I cut them.  To prevent this, I tried hauling a bucket of water out to the garden with me so I could instantly plunge the cut stalk in water, but that did not help at all.  So I gave up on hollyhocks as a cut flower and just enjoyed them blooming in their bed by the screen porch.  But since I was cutting them all down this year, I decided to try and display them one more time.  I was sure that the internet would offer some sound advice on how to cut and display beautiful hollyhocks.

The first article I read, insisted that hollyhock stems are hollow and must be turned upside down and filled with water prior to displaying them.  So I grabbed a stem, clipped it off with a hose at the ready, turned it upside down to fill with water only to find that the stem was not even remotely hollow.  Instead, it was filled with a pithy white substance.  There was no way to fill the stems with water.  I went back inside to do some further research.

The next article I read said that I needed to submerge the hollyhock stems in boiling water for one minute to prevent a milky white substance from leaking out and sealing off the hollyhock’s ability to transport water up the stem. I gave this a try.  I brought the cut hollyhocks inside the house, re-cut the ends of the stems and stuck them in a pot of boiling water for about a minute.  Then I submerged the flowers in a vase and waited for the plants to revive.

Nothing happened.




So I went with plan C.

Following the advice of a third article, I once again re-cut the ends of the hollyhocks and burnt the ends over the open gas flame on my stove  until they were  blackened.  The same article also instructed me to slit the hollyhocks up the side a few inches after I charred them so that the water could get up the stem via the cuts in the side.  Or at least that is what I assumed.  It wasn’t really explained very well.

I put the burnt hollyhocks back in the vase and waited for them to arise.

They didn’t budge.

At this point, I came very close to throwing out the entire lot, cleaning up the wet, burnt mess in my kitchen and never cutting a hollyhock again, but then I looked at that vase full of drooping flowers and visualized how pretty they would be if they would just stand up straight and I decided to read a few more articles and see if I could find any other advice on how to get these depressed looking flowers to cheer up!

Finally, the last article I read mentioned changing the water in the vase every few hours and rinsing off the sticky substance that the hollyhocks secrete out of the bottom of their stems from each stalk.  I tried it.  Every few hours, I would pull the burnt ended hollyhocks out of the water, rinse the sticky, syrupy like substance off their stems, fill the vase with new water and re-submerge them.

Over time, (several hours) I began to notice a slight difference.

And over the course of several days, the stems eventually arose to their full height.

They uncurled and unfurled and even began to bloom more up and down the stem!

I have no idea what eventually caused the hollyhocks to straighten up.

Was it a combination of the boiling, the burning, and the rinsing?

Or did I only really need to do one of these things and just wait longer for the magic to happen?

I plan to keep experimenting with my hollyhocks.  Surely there is a way to get these flowers to look good in a shorter time span.  They are such a dramatic flower and make a fabulous display.  Completely worth the effort.  I may even have to plant some more!  They are terribly hard to display, but extremely easy to grow.  I just need to make sure and keep ahead of the rust problem.



  • Kait:

    Where I grew up we had Hollyhocks all down one side of the house and Peonies in the front. My Mom was no gardener. I think they had been there a hundred years. Anyhow, we cut the Peonies and shook the ants off but we never touched the Hollyhocks. Come fall those Hollyhock remains would beat against the side of the house with the wind and sound like skeletons trying to come in.
    I am really surprised Martha Stewart and her team of experts have never discussed displaying these flowers though.

  • Kathy from NJ:

    Absolutey beautiful, Rechelle. I’m so glad you persevered.

  • Wow! What patience and stick-to-it-tiveness you have. So glad your efforts were rewarded – they’re beautiful!

  • Gorgeous flowers. I know nothing, nada, zilch about flowers except I can tell you what a rose and tulip look like. Thank you for sharing your beautiful bounty. PBS’s Victory Garden should pay you a visit.

  • Jennifer:

    Thanks so much! I have hollyhocks and had wondered what to do to display them.

  • Is it true hollyhocks need to be in the ground a full year, or longer, before they’ll bloom? I love them, but we’ve moved so much I haven’t put any in the ground recently. They are gorgeous.


    Fighting Cancer;

    • Rechelle:

      Yes Jules. Hollyhocks are biennial plants which means they bloom every other year. They also drop seed and re-plant themselves like crazy so in a few years you will get blooms every year because there will be enough plants in the ground to result in a continuous display.