A lot of good gardening comes from one gardener sharing a gardening tip with another. I have received a good tip from a gardening friend that I want to share with you. Growing up in New Hampshire, there were always bright, beautiful flowering hollyhocks outside our kitchen window. As a kid, these plants seemed to me to be ten feet tall and quite magical!
I have tried hollyhocks here in my garden on the Cape and have always had a problem with hollyhock fungal leaf disease. Like most fungal infections, this disease is introduced into the garden by wind borne spores, the planting of infected plants, or from nearby infected weeds– especially those in the Mallow family.
Hollyhock rust starts out as orange or yellow spots on the lower leaves. Fruiting bodies grow into brown bumps, and the leaves eventually wither and die leaving a stem of flowers with no foliage, a rather unusual instead of beautiful addition to the landscape! Removing infected leaves at an early stage, applying fungicide sprays, and leaf and debris removal in the fall all resulted in limited suppression of the disease.
My gardening friend advised placing a layer of pine needles at the base of the plant as the plant emerges in the spring. To date, this practice has resulted in clean, beautiful hollyhock plants that are just now starting to burst into bloom. It may be that the needles suppress the fungal spores that are in the soil, it may be something else, but whatever the reason it is a great garden tip so pass it on!