Red hot poker – Kniphofia

Bold red and yellow spikes. It is easy to see how this tall, handsome perennial, ideal for a sunny border, gained its common name. The fiery brand, formed at the top of a stiff stem, gives a torch-bright flame of colour to the summer garden.

ANNUAL CALENDAR

SPRING

April:

Plant out new plants, digging a hole large enough to allow room for roots spreading as they grow. Spread out the existing roots when planting. Water young plants in dry weather. Sow seeds and divide established plants.

SUMMER

June:

Give established plants a dressing of general-purpose fertilizer or well-rotted manure. July onwards: Remove the stems of faded flowers by cutting them off at the base to encourage continued flowering.

AUTUMN

September-October:

Plant new plants in mild areas (leave until spring in exposed areas).

Continue to cut down flowering stems as the blooms die.

WINTER

November-December:

When flowering has finished, prepare plants for winter by tying their leaves together to protect the crowns. Give young plants a thick covering of bracken, straw or dead leaves to protect from frost.

HEAVY SOIL

If you have clay soil, the earth may be too cold and wet in winter for red hot poker. Dig up the plants and overwinter them in a box of dry sand. Keep in a cool place and plant out again in April.

BUYING

It is easiest to choose plants by the grower’s description of colour and size, or to buy mixtures for Growing from seed. You can also collect seed from garden plants, but the new ones may not be identical to the parents.

The red hot poker is available in a range of vivid shades and mixtures of red, orange and yellow. There is also a more subtle, cream-coloured version.

Most red hot pokers grow very tall (up to 1.5m), and their sword-like leaves have a good spread round the high spikes of flowers. Even the more modest plants normally reach a height of about 1m.

In a mixed border, place them in a commanding position at the back, or dot them here and there to contrast with plants of more subdued colour, and with those with round, bushy shapes.

Planting and care

If you have room for a permanent seed-bed, you can grow red hot poker from seeds sown outside in April. Transfer the seedlings to a bed of their own in autumn, and plant out in their final positions the following spring.

If you do not have the room, or you would like a more immediate effect, buy ready-grown plants and plant out in early autumn or late spring.

You can also grow new plants from old by dividing the roots in April.

Unless it rains, keep newly planted red hot pokers well watered. Before the first frosts, cover the ground to protect the plants from severe cold.

POPULAR VARIETIES

Red hot poker cross-breeds freely, producing many hybrids, so individual plants may be called by slightly different names.

Name, Colour, Height (cm), Flowering period

Kniphofm, brilliant red/, 150, July-Sept uvana, green-yellow, ‘Samuel’s Sensation, bright red, 150, Aug-Oct ‘Ada’, orange/yellow, 100, June-July ‘Firefly’, orange/red, 90, June-July ‘Bees’ Lemon’, cool yellow, 110, July-Sept ‘Gold Else’, yellow, 75, June-July ‘Maid of Orleans’, pale cream, 75, July-Sept

Red hot poker-

SITUATION

Full sun is essential. In a position where they dominate: either grouped in a flowerbed, scaling down to smaller plants, or individually to give bold points in a sunny border.

SOIL

Any type, as long as it is fairly well drained and does not get cold and waterlogged in winter. Fertile, but not too rich or flowers may suffer.

CARE

In normal soils, apply a little general-purpose fertilizer or well-rotted manure around the roots in spring. Water new plants, and protect in winter. Otherwise, leave the plants undisturbed.

PLANT HEALTH

The red hot poker is generally trouble free once established in a place that suits it. You do not need to stake even the tallest plants, as the stems are stiff. Young shoots can attract slugs so keep a look-out for these predators and destroy them with beer traps when you see them. Thrips (thunderflies) can infest the flowers and leaves, making them mottled.

Severe attacks can affect growth. Control the pests with insecticidal soap, which is effective without harming beneficial creatures.

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