Hollyhocks--How much do the hummers like them?

kristin_williams(6)February 18, 2007

The subject of the posting pretty much says it all. I'm planning my garden this year, and am considering growing some single-flowered, heirloom hollyhocks. They're big plants and would take up a lot of room and make a big statement. I think they'd look great with my holly tree as a backdrop. Holly and hollyhock--kinda cute, huh!

However, I don't have limitless garden space, and don't want to bother with them if the hummies will be unimpressed. There are other sure-fire things I might put there--like Salvia guaranitica, Salvia coccinea, and a pot of Dicliptera. I'm confident those will work.

I searched the forum before posting this, and was surprised to see that there were no postings exclusively devoted to hollyhocks. I know they have a reputation as a hummer flower, but do they work? Does anyone have any direct experience with them, especially with respect to Ruby-throated hummingbirds?

Thanks in advance for any input!

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penny1947(z6 WNY)

here is my lowly expericience with Hollyhocks
1. Some investigation but found other plants more desirable
2. Very susceptible to rust. I cut them back 2 yrs. in row
3. Japanese beetles love them and will infest them
4. More trouble than they were worth for me so I finally got rid of them.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 4:45PM
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Thanks, Penny. It sounds like I probably shouldn't bother with them. I suspected they might not be a favorite, but would still be interested to hear if someone else has had experience with them--good, bad, similar to Penny's, or otherwise.

Some day, I'd like to get something fairly tall to put in front of that big holly tree, but I may need to reconsider the hollyhocks. I'd love to do one or both of the native lilies--Lilium canadense or superbum, but I think they're probably pretty finicky and hard to grow. Still, I bet the hummingbirds would like them. What a beautiful sight that would be, a tiny little hummer dipping into those gorgeous orange lily blossoms. I've seen the red form of canadense growing wild in a nature reserve about 50 miles north of here. There are also Monardas growing there, and when I visited in late June the place was just buzzing with hummingbirds. I haven't been there in years, but remembering it makes me want to go back.

I've noticed those native lilies are almost impossible to find as bulbs, so I'd probably have to start them from seed and nurse them for 3-4 years before they got to blooming size. I don't know if I'm up for that!

Gee, I guess I rambled off the subject of hollyhocks!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 6:05PM
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Hi there - I was thinking of hollyhocks for this summer too, so may change my mind. I wanted a taller backdrop for smaller plants in front for a border garden, and was debating between hollyhocks and foxglove, which I also understand is attractive to hummers? I like bee balm (I should say our Anna's really like that), although it only gets to about 2-3 feet tall. Kathy

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 6:45PM
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Kathy, Both Penny and I are gardening in fairly similar climates, so her negative experience with hollyhocks might be more applicable to me than to you. It's possible that hollyhocks would do better for you. If you really want to try them, you should ask some local gardeners if they've ever grown them and if they did well. I'm thinking you wouldn't have the humid heat that Penny and I would get. Perhaps yours wouldn't be as prone to rust. You also have different species of hummingbirds than our Ruby-throat, and maybe the western hummers like hollyhocks better than the Ruby-throats. I really don't know, just something to think about.

Unless I hear a few rave reviews to counter Penny's experience, I'm probably going to pass on the hollyhocks. I'll think of something to put there.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 8:37PM
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penny1947(z6 WNY)

I have even done the Malva sylvestris (little french hollyhocks) wich get tall and bushy and are so cute with the smaller version flowers. Those don't have a problem with rust but the darn japanese beetle invade those also. I like those ast they reseed (a lot) and they will get about 3 to 4 ft. tall. In fact the japanese beetles were the only problem that I had with those. I ended up digging those out too. I am trying to grow things now that will be less to the liking of those darn beetles.

Hollyhocks do need very good air circulation to keep down the rust so they do best in a more open area if you can keep them standing straight and tall LOL! There is one lady here in town that plants hers on the outside corner of her property near the sidewalk so that they get air all the way around. I haven't seen them up close but they don't seem to have as much problem with rust grown in that environment.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 5:51AM
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When I lived in New York, the hummers were in my single-flowered hollyhocks quite a bit. I found they were a good addition to the back of my perennial garden for the hummers. I didn't have much of a problem with rust (only on some leaves), but yes, the Japanese beetles do love them. Bumblebees are also fond of them, which is good for benefiting native pollinators. Make sure you can stake them effectively if planted in an open area when exposed to wind as they can get damaged. Cutting back the main stalk after flowering can often result in a small flush of reblooms on the plants. Make sure to save some seeds for resowing, as the plants can be relatively short lived, only a few years.

That is my past experience with hummers and hollyhocks.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2007 at 1:11PM
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Thanks, BN! That's good to hear that you have had a fairly positive experience with hollyhocks. If I hear some more good reports, maybe I'll reconsider my decision not to grow them. I still have time to make up my mind. I may grow them in an out of the way spot just to use as models for my hummer feeders. They're pretty flowers that are at least somewhat attractive to hummingbirds, and it would be fun to model them in Sculpey clay. Maybe that is enough reason to grow them.

Sometimes I wonder if people have different experiences with the "same" flowers because the flowers maybe aren't really the same. Yes, they may all be single-flowered hollyhocks, the packet says so, but maybe the ones grown from one seed source have more plentiful or sweeter nectar than those from another. Even seeds within a packet might be different, or maybe sometimes one's growing conditions make the difference. So, I guess what I'm saying, is, I'm wondering if either genetic differences or growing conditions or both might account for the different experiences people have with the same flowers.

There might also be habituation issues for certain birds. I'm not sure how hummingbirds decide what is most desirable. Some of it must be genetically programmed, (like an attraction to red, I suspect) but much of it is probably learned. Maybe your birds had prior good experiences with hollyhocks and it was easy for them to see yours as a food source. Maybe Penny's birds just weren't used to them, or were more used to some of her other flowers. I wonder how much research has been done on this particular aspect of hummingbird feeding behavior. I don't know how you'd go about it, but getting inside their little heads (and I mean little!) would be tough to do.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2007 at 6:09PM
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A friend of mine had one single-flowered hollyhock plant that she got years ago and it had deep wine red flowers. She kept it in her garden for years, always making sure she had seeds in case it didn't make it one year, just because the hummers liked it so much.

I believe hummers visit flowers based on past experience. But, they also are genetically programmed to check out flowers in the red/pink/orange spectrum. Those colors contrast most with the color green (foliage), thus are the most easily seen by hummers. In addition, those colored flowers are rarely visited by bees since they see better in the ultra-violet spectrum and are attracted most to blue, white, and yellow flowers. Finally, many of the red/pink/orange flowers are tubular and can only be effectively pollinated by hummers. Because hummers need a constant supply of nectar to fuel their high metabolism, they probably will try to investigate any source of potential nectar. But, if flowers are available that they have had success with, they may not be willing to try "new flowers" as much.


    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 12:34PM
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I grew Summer Carnival Hollyhocks and the hummers liked them. Rust can be an issue but I tried to learn about it and here is what I found out. It is a fungus/spore type thing carried in the soil and is splashed up on the leaves. If you can keep it from splashing up on the leaves you can keep it from infecting the plants or at least cut down on it. Next year I plan on laying down some landscape cloth around the base of my Hollyhocks and then mulching over it so you can't see it. I love Hollyhocks and think they are so beautiful besides being a nectar source for the hummers so I don't mind taking a little extra trouble for them.

As far as Japanese beetles go they eat a lot of plants in the rose family besides Hollyhocks so I'll worry about them when and if they show up. They've been around where I live since I was a little girl which is too long to mention!!! I'm not going to let THEM determine what I plant for goodness sake!!!!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 5:59PM
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Thanks ghoghunter for the advice. I've decided I'm going to try to grow a small stand of single-flowered hollyhocks, but will put them in an old vegetable garden that's been mostly taken over by jerusalem artichokes. I won't really have a good view of them in that location, but I guess I could hang out my mom's bedroom window and see if I can see any tiny glittering green creatures buzzing around them.

I've never had much trouble with Japanese beetles. I used to see them a lot more when I was a kid, but then I never was all that into roses. I guess I'll be finding out if they're a problem.

I've also decided to grow them in the interest of getting a lot of diversity into the garden this year. I want lots of inspiring flowers and reference material for my home made hummingbird feeders. Hollyhocks have such pretty flowers, they would be fun to sculpt in polymer clay and I think would look beautiful made into feeders. The positive comments in this thread have shifted the balance towards trying them, in spite of the possible drawbacks of beetles, rust, and staking.

Thanks everyone for the feedback. I like the idea of posts about individual flower species. It's nice to be able to do a search and find a whole thread devoted to a particular kind of flower. To anyone else out there with hollyhock/hummingbird experience, please feel free to add more to this thread!

I may try to do some more single flower posts if my searches show them to be overlooked on this forum.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 7:10PM
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Well guess what??? I was just over at the Cottage garden and they have a thread going on Hollyhocks. Apparently Annie's Annuals carries a totally rust proof Hollyhock called Alcea Pallida. It is a pretty single so if you are interested you could go take a look. Here is the link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Alcea Pallida a Rust Proof Hollyhock

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 7:33PM
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Thanks, ghoghunter, but I think I've already blown my plant budget for the time being. I'll probably have to content myself with the standard, seed grown, rust prone hollyhocks I've already got. I'm going to do my usual heirloom tomato plant sale this spring, so might be getting some money in May to buy more plants. I might consider it then, if it's not too late.

I appreciate the tip, and maybe others who read it will consider trying it. I wonder if the hummies like it. Maybe they prefer the traditional rust prone ones, and will turn their beaks up at this pale pink rust free beauty! You just never know what will strike their fancy, but I'm trying as hard as my budget will allow to make them happy.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2007 at 11:12PM
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