Frequent rains this spring and early summer have created favorable conditions for hollyhock rust. Hollyhock rust is caused by the fungal pathogen Puccinia malvacearum, which infects hollyhocks and related weeds like roundleaf mallow (Malva neglecta).
Early symptoms of hollyhock rust are easily missed. Small waxy yellow bumps form on the lower surface of the lower leaves of the plant. With age, these pustules turn reddish brown and a bright orange spot develops on the upper leaf surface. In wet years, spores from these early infections easily spread to infect leaves, stems, petioles and even flower bracts. Heavily infected leaves turn yellow and may wither and curl. This significantly reduces the plant's ability to do photosynthesis. The hollyhock rust fungi can survive from one season to the next in infected live crowns, as spores in infected plant debris, or on seed from infected plants.
Unfortunately it is too late to prevent hollyhock rust this season. Keep plants as dry as possible by avoiding sprinkler irrigation and pulling weeds to improve air circulation around the plants. This will help to reduce spread of existing infections. Gardeners with infected plants should cut off the plant at ground level after flowering is complete. Infected plant material should be removed from the garden and buried, placed in a compost pile that heats up or taken to a municipal compost facility. Next year, mulch around the base of the plant to reduce the spread of spores from plant debris. Scout plants in early spring. Look for yellow waxy pustules on the lower leaf surface. Infected leaves should be removed and buried or composted.