Poker Plant Care: Growing And Caring For Red Hot Torch Lilies

If you’re looking for something grand in the garden or something to attract wildlife friends, then look no further than the red hot poker plant. Growing and caring for torch lilies is easy enough for newbie gardeners too. So what is a red hot poker torch lily and how do you grow red hot pokers? Keep reading to find out.

What is a Red Hot Poker Torch Lily?

The striking red hot poker plant (Kniphofia uvaria) is in the Liliaceae family and is also known as poker plant and torch lily. This plant thrives in USDA zones 5 through 9 and is an upright evergreen perennial with a clumping habit. Over 70 known species exist of this South African native plant.

Torch lilies grow to be up to 5 feet tall and attract hummingbirds, butterflies and birds to the garden with their bright flowers and sweet nectar. Attractive sword-shaped leaves surround the base of a tall stem upon which red, yellow or orange tubular flowers droop down like a torch.

How Do You Grow Red Hot Pokers?

Red hot poker plants prefer full sun and must be given adequate spacing to accommodate their mature size.

Although poker plants are not fussy about the type of soil in which they are planted, they do require adequate drainage and do not tolerate wet feet.

Plant torch lilies in the early spring or fall for best results.

Most of these plants are available as potted transplants or tuberous roots. They can also be seed grown. Start seeds indoors anytime. Seeds do best if they are chilled before planting.

How to Care for a Red Hot Poker Plant

Although this beautiful plant is hard and moderately drought resistant, regular water is required in order for the plant to reach its full potential. Gardeners should be diligent with watering during hot and dry spells.

Provide a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to help with water retention and for protection during cold winters.

Cut foliage off at the base of the plant in late fall and remove spent flower spike to encourage more blooms.

Poker plants can be divided in the fall for new plants. Do not bury the crown of the plant any deeper than 3 inches. Water new plants thoroughly and cover with a liberal amount of mulch.

Kniphofia

A fine architectural plant with striking vertical blooms, topped by blazing red, orange and yellow tapering flower heads, that really do resemble fiery hot pokers. Kniphofia are tough, long-lived plants, with a long flowering season (spring to late autumn).

Family: Asphodelaceae
Botanical Name: Kniphofia
Common Names: red-hot poker, torch lily
Foliage: Perennial evergreen. Mid-green strap-like leaves.
Flowers: Tall striking flower spikes that appear above the foliage on thick stems. The densely packed, pendent, tubular flower heads range in colour from yellow to orange, pink and bright red (depending on variety).
Flowering Period: April to October.
Soil: Moist, fertile, well-drained soil. Best in sand or loam. Acid or neutral pH.
Conditions: Full sun. South or west facing aspect. Exposed or sheltered position.
Habit: Tufted.
Type: Herbaceous perennial.
Origin: Southern and eastern Africa and Madagascar.
Hardiness: Hardy to half-hardy in the UK.

Planting and Growing Kniphofia

Plant in early autumn or spring. Best grown in a well-drained, but not over rich soil. Choose an open sunny situation for best flowers.

Easy to grow given the right conditions. No staking required. Excellent for city and coastal gardens. Ideal for borders, pots and containers. Dwarf forms are available for the rockery.

The tall stiff stems are loved by flower arrangers.

Taking Care of Kniphofia

Water container-grown plants regularly over the summer. Protect more tender species with fleece during cold periods. Apply a light fertilizer in spring or early summer.

Pruning Kniphofia

Deadhead after flowering. Leave the old foliage on the plant to protect the crown over winter. Tidy plants in spring by pulling away dead and damaged leaves a the base.

Pests and Diseases

Generally disease free. Can be damaged by slugs and snails. Regularly check for these pests hiding in amongst the leaves.

Propagating Kniphofia

Easily propagated by division in the spring or by taking offshoots from the crown.

Seed can be sown in late winter under glass. Grow-on in a cold frame and plant out the following spring (Note: named cultivars will not come true from seed).

Kniphofia uvaria

Popular Varieties of Kniphofia Grown in the UK

There is an extensive range of Pokers available, ranging from tall to medium and dwarf height. Not all kniphofia flowers are red however, there is a wide selection of named varieties that provide a flowering season from April to October, in colours varying from white through all the shades of yellow, red and orange.

K. caulescens (S. Africa) is one of the most striking species with evergreen long grey leaves and pinkish-red flower spikes that fade to cream. This is the only fully hardy kniphofia in the UK. Height 4ft (1.2m), spread 2ft (60cm).

K. galpinii has drooping, red orange flame coloured spikes. Height 3ft (1m), spread 1ft (30cm).

K. galpinii Bressingham Torch flame red ageing to orange yellow. Height to 3ft (90cm).

K. citrina has light yellow flowers that appear in late summer. Height 3ft (1m), spread 1ft (30cm).

K. northiae a good variety for its foliage, the agave-like leaves provide an exotic feel. Hardy. Height up to 70in (170cm).

K. rooperi – unusual rounded flowers in orange, red and yellow. Blooms from September in the UK. Height from 2 to 5ft (60-155cm).

K. triangularis has flame-coloured flowers in late summer. Height 2ft (60cm), spread 1ft (30cm).

K. thomsonii var. thomsonii ‘Stern’s Trip’ has delicate, widely-spaced vertical flowers in red and orange that become brighter in colour as they open. Not fully hardy in UK. Height 3 to 4ft (90-120cm).

K. uvaria has various forms that can grow up to 5ft (1.5m), in a range of bold colours. One of the most commonly grown and hardiest red-hot poker species.

K. uvaria ‘Nobilis’ (syns. ‘Grandiflora’, ‘Maxima’) is taller and earlier flowering, with deep orange flowers.

K. ‘Alcazar’ bears bright red flowers. Height to 5ft (1.5m).

K. ‘Bees’ Sunset’ – soft orange flower heads that fade to yellow on colourful bronze stems. Height to 4.5ft (130cm).

K. ‘Bees’ Lemon’ has heavy spikes of luminous lemon yellow (August to September) Height to 4ft (120cm).

K. ‘Border Ballet’ is in various shades from cream to pink. Height to 2ft (60cm).

K. ‘Brimstone’ has green buds that open to yellow flowers (late flowering). Height to 2ft (60cm).

K. ‘Buttercup’ has green buds which open into yellow flowers (early flowering). Height to 3 ft (1m).

K. ‘Early Buttercup’ has large spikes of bright yellow flowers (early flowering). Height to 3 ft (1m).

K. ‘Fiery Fred’ blazing orange-red flowers. Height to 3 ft (1m).

K. ‘Green Jade’ bears cool green flowers. Height to 3 ft (1m).

K. ‘Ice Queen’ has cream flowers tinged with green. Height to 3 ft (1m).

K. ‘Jenny Bloom’ has cream and coral-pink flowers (late flowering). Height to 3 ft (1m).

K. ‘Little Maid’ has ivory flower spikes tipped with yellow. Dwarf variety, reaching only 22in (55cm).

K. ‘Percy’s Pride’ has green and yellow flowers. Height to 2ft 8in (80cm).

K. ‘Samuel’s Sensation’ bears long spikes yellow flowers that change to red at the tips (late flowering). Height to 5ft (1.5m).

K. ‘Sceptre’ has bright yellow flower spikes. Height to 3ft (1m).

K. ‘Strawberries and Cream’ pale yellow and rich pink. Height to 1.5ft (45cm).

K. ‘Sunningdale Yellow’ bears yellow flowers (long flowering period. Height to 2.5ft (75 cm).

K. ‘Toffee Nosed’ has cream flowers tipped with brown. Height to 3 ft (1m)

K. ‘Yellow Hammer’ has pure yellow flowers. Height to 2 ft (60cm).

K. ‘Tawny King’ an unusual variety with bronze stems and tall flower spikes that change from deep orange though apricot to creamy white. Height 3-4ft (90-130cm)

How to Grow Red Hot Poker

Growth Habit: Red hot poker plants are specimens in the garden. The sword-shaped, pointy leaves grow in a round clump and the bottlebrush-like flower stalks emerge from the center of the clump in succession starting in early summer. At the end of the flower stalks are tube-shaped, colorful flower clusters that are tapered, resembling a torch. Hence, the common name torch lily.

Staking: Red hot poker plants have strong flower stalks that rarely need staking to stay upright. However, avoid planting tall varieties in a windy location so the stalks stay straight.

Watering: Although established red hot poker plants can withstand dry periods in summer, lack of adequate watering will cause the flowering to be decreased. Provide red hot poker plants with 1 inch of water every week during hot summers. Make sure the water saturates the soil 5 to 6 inches deep each time, but let the soil dry out between waterings.

Fertilizing: Amend the soil at planting with a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of compost. Each spring thereafter, apply a dry granular, balanced, organic fertilizer.

Trimming & Pruning: Deadhead spent flowers in summer as they fade to encourage more flower stalks to form. If left to go to seed, the plant will slow down new flower production. Cut blooms at any time for indoor flower arranging. In late fall in warm areas, tie the leaves into a canopy over the crown to prevent water from accumulating in the center of the plant in winter. The water can cause the crown to rot. In early spring, cut the foliage back to 3 inches off the ground to clean up the plant and allow new foliage to emerge. In cold locations, cut back the foliage in late fall instead.

Mulching: Red hot poker plants benefit from a 2- to 3–inch thick layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark, placed around the plant in spring. This helps maintain soil moisture and prevent weed growth. In USDA zone 5 and 6 gardens, mulch the crown of the plant in late fall to help protect it from the cold with a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of the same bark mulch.

Horticultural Haircuts

SERIES 28 – Episode 13

If your strappy-leafed plants are looking shabby, why not give them a radical new look?

Plants like Dianellas will benefit from a good cut back every 3 to 4 years to tidy them up and promote future growth. Autumn and spring are the ideal times to get cutting!

Cutting back strappy-leafed plants

  1. Use sharp hedge shears to cut back the plants. If you have lots of plants, you can use a brush cutter with a metal blade.
  2. Don’t be tempted to use a powered hedger as it will tear the ends of the leaves.
  3. Aim to cut back the plants 10 – 15 centimetres from the ground. If you cut them too low, there is a chance the plant won’t recover.
  4. Remove the cut, trimmed growth from plant.

Plants like the Winter Flowering Iris are normally trimmed to around 10 centimetres with the first autumn rains. This will allow their low-growing flowers to be more prominent amongst the foliage.

When plants like the Red-hot poker have finished flowering, cut them down to just above ground level.

The prunings don’t have to be destined for the compost – they can be dried and used to make string, rope or woven into baskets!

How to grow red hot pokers

Kniphofia are better known as red hot pokers.

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They’re easily recognised from their distinctive vertical spikes topped with bottlebrush-like flowers in a range of fiery colours. From red and orange through to yellow and lime green, kniphofia flowers emerge from a clump of long, narrow foliage that’s attractive in its own right. They have a long flowering season and look great planted en masse in hot-coloured borders growing alongside plants that enjoy the same sunny growing conditions.

They’re a popular choice for dry borders and coastal gardens. Combine them with other hot-coloured flowers such as rudbeckias and heleniums or shrubby Euphorbia mellifera.

Get the know-how you need to grow red hot pokers, below.

Where to grow kniphofias

Red-hot poker growing with achillea ‘Walther Funcke’, phlox and verbena ‘Bampton’

Grow kniphofia in moist but well-drained soil in full sun.

Planting kniphofias

Toby Buckland planting red-hot poker ‘Nancy’

Dig a generous hole, adding a handful of grit for added drainage.

Video: Monty Don plants kniphofias

Propagating kniphofias

Dividing a clump of red-hot pokers (Kniphofia) in spring)

There are many different kniphofia cultivars, but these won’t come true from seed saved from the flowers and some are sterile. Division in spring is the best means of propagation.

Kniphofias: problem solving

Kniphofias are generally quite trouble-free. However slugs and snails might overwinter among the leaves and feast on new spring shoots, so check plants or put protection in place. If conditions are damp, plants can be affected by root rot and should be dug up and discarded.

Caring for kniphofias

Faded red-hot poker (Kniphofia) flowering stems

Kniphofias don’t like winter wet, so plants may need some protection over winter for the first year or two established. In autumn remove the faded flower spikes and apply a deep, dry mulch around the crown or leave the foliage until spring to provide additional winter protection. Divide and replant congested clumps in spring.

Red hot pokers to grow

Kniphofia ‘Sunningdale Yellow’ Advertisement

  • ‘Percy’s Pride’ – with greenish yellow flower spikes, this looks good planted with Euphorbia mellifera that enjoys similar growing conditions
  • ‘Nancy’s Red’ – produces bright red flower spikes between June and October. Team with other hot-coloured flowers, such as heleniums, rudbeckias and perennial grasses
  • ‘Ice Queen’ – this is one of the palest red hot pokers available. It bears tall, green-tipped, white flower spikes between June and October
  • ‘Sunningdale Yellow’ – an early-flowering red hot poker, bearing slender flowers in warm yellow, from June to October
  • ‘Limelight’ – a compact red hot poker, producing short spikes of acid lime-green flowers. Its slightly curled leaves add an extra touch of drama

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