Red hot poker is a stately plant that adds drama to flower beds and borders. Belonging to the Kniphofia genus they are also known as torch lilies. Dwarf varieties of red hot poker can also be grown in container gardens.
The bright, nectar filled flowers of red hot poker plants are popular with butterflies, bees and birds, in particular hummingbirds. Despite the name, red hot poker, the flowers of the plant can also be yellow or orange. These tubular flowers sit on long stems, the base of which are surrounded by distinctive sword shaped foliage.
Tall and stately, torch lilies are a great way to introduce both color and drama to your garden. Their distinctive flowers are also a magnet for birds, butterflies and other pollinators.
Torch lilies thrive in USDA zones 6-9. These plants, which have a noticeable clumping habit, are evergreen perennials. Native to South Africa, there are over 70 known species. Their upright growth habit can see them reach up to 5ft in height.
Despite their dramatic appearance red hot poker plants are surprisingly easy to grow and care for. Here is everything you need to know.
Varieties of Red Hot Poker
As we have already noted there are a number of different varieties of red hot poker available. A traditional option is the 4 ft tall variety Timothy. This cultivar produces coral red flowers which sit on top of red stems.
For something more unusual try Tawny King. Reaching over 3 ft in height, this variety produces brown-orange buds that flower into cream colored pokers with a toffee colored glow. This variety tends to flower from June until October.
Bees’ Sunset has been on the market since 1960. Reaching up to 3ft in height, the apricot-orange flowers of this variety sit on top of long, bronze-green stems.
The different varieties of the distinctive fire torch flowers come in a range of colors. Most of these varieties favor the same growing conditions. This means that you can plant a variety of differently colored combinations. This allows you to add further interest to the flower bed.
Wrexham Buttercup is a yellow variety which can reach over 4 ft in height. Another yellow variety is Sunningdale Yellow. Reaching up to 3 ft in height, in favorable conditions it will flower from early June until November.
How to Grow Red Hot Poker Plants
Red hot poker plants can be purchased from nurseries as young plants. After hardening off you can plant them out, either into flower beds or containers.
Alternatively, you can grow the plants from seed. Seed growing may require more time and space but it gives you access to a wider range of varieties. It is also more affordable, particularly if you want a large number of plants.
How to Sow Seeds
Sow seeds from February until June for flowers that year. Many growers prefer to sow the seeds in September or October, growing them on undercover before transplanting out the following spring.
Chilling the seeds before planting helps to encourage germination however this is not strictly necessary.
Fill the seed tray with moist, seed compost. Scatter the seeds thinly on the surface and cover with a light layer of vermiculite or compost. Keep the seeds in a warm, light position, ideally the temperature will be between 59-68 ℉.
Sow seeds as thinly as possible on fresh soil. Light and warmth are both essential for germination. Place the seed trays in a bright location such as a windowsill or greenhouse.
Germination can take between 14 and 30 days. During this period keep the soil moist but not overly wet. Using a spray bottle allows you to gently water the soil without disturbing or drowning the seeds.
Following germination keep the soil wet and allow the seeds to grow on. When the seedlings are at least 3 inches tall transplant into larger pots. Grow on until the last local frost date has passed. Harden off before transplanting into their final position.
How to Plant Red Hot Pokers
These are full sun loving plants. They also grow in partial sun position, but flowering may not be as abundant. Red hot pokers do particularly well in city and coastal gardens. All varieties can be grown in borders and beds. Dwarf or smaller varieties can also be grown in containers or rockeries.
Red hot poker plants can be planted in early fall, before the first frosts of the season come. Otherwise they can be planted well after your last local frost date, usually from May until July. Planting in late spring or early summer gives the plants time to establish a robust root system before fall and cooler temperatures arrive.
Red hot poker plants prefer well-draining loose soil. Tolerable of poor soil, these plants dislike overly rich soil. Torch lilies are hardy in USDA Zones 6-9. They can also be hardy in USDA Zones 5 if they are well mulched and sited in well-draining soil.
Before planting dig over the soil. This helps to break up hard clumps and improves drainage. Work in a 3 inch layer of homemade compost to enrich the soil. Alternatively humus can be worked into the soil.
Work the soil over well before planting. Torch lilies thrive in loose, well draining soil. As you prepare the soil working in organic matter, such as compost, will further enrich the soil. This helps to give the plants a further boost.
Dig a hole in the soil large enough to hold the plant. The crown should be no more than 3 inches below the soil level. If you are planting more than one plant space them 18 to 24 inches apart. Larger varieties will require more space so consult the information on the plant label before planting.
Caring for Red Hot Poker Plants
Once planted red hot poker plants are pleasingly easy to care for.
Watering and Fertilizing
Once established red hot poker plants can withstand dry periods. However, a lack of water over a prolonged period of time will cause flowering to slow or cease.
During hot, dry periods provide about 1 inch of water every week. When watering aim to saturate the soil to a depth of up to 6 inches. Allow the soil to dry out before watering again. Remember that plants growing in containers require more water than those in the ground.
Red hot poker plants don’t require additional fertilizer. However each spring, as the plant begins to produce new growth, they will benefit from an application of a granular, balanced, organic fertilizer.
Applying an organic mulch such as homemade compost around the plants helps the soil to conserve moisture. As organic mulches break down they return nutrients to the soil. This gives the plants a further boost.
Staking the Plants
Red hot poker plants produce strong flower stalks. This means that they are capable of maintaining an upright growth habit without the need for staking. The tallest varieties, if they are sited in a windy position, may require some support.
Deadheading spent flowers encourages the plant to produce more flower stalks. Allowing the spent flowers to go to seed will also slow down new flower production.
Flowers can also be cut at any time for floral displays.
In warmer areas, as winter approaches, tie the foliage into a canopy to protect the crown from water accumulating in the center of the plant. Water accumulation over the crown can cause the plants to rot. This foliage can be pruned back in early spring as temperatures warm.
Cut the foliage back to about 3 inches above the ground. This neatens the appearance of the plant and helps to encourage new foliage to emerge. In colder areas cut the foliage back in late fall.
Apply a 2-3 inch thick layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant in early spring. Homemade compost or shredded bark are both ideal for purpose.
In cooler USDA Zones apply organic mulch to the crown of the plant in late fall, after cutting back the foliage. This helps to protect the crown from seasonal frosts and cold temperatures.
Particularly tender species should be covered with a fleece during the winter months.
Red Hot Poker Plant Propagation
The easiest way to propagate red hot poker plants is by division. A rhizome forming plant, if the rhizome becomes too large or old flower production may slow or cease. Division helps to renew the plant.
Division also helps to prevent the plant from spreading throughout a bed or border. This method can be used if you wish to move the plant to another part of the garden.
The best time to make divisions is in early spring before the plant begins to produce new season growth.
To divide, dig up as much of the root system as you can. Around the central crown you will notice younger plants or offsets. Carefully remove these with a knife or sharp spade. Replant each offset in a similar location.
You can also grow red hot pokers from harvested flower seeds. Simply allow the flowers to go to seed and harvest when ripe.
Sow the seeds undercover in the fall and transplant into the garden the following spring. Be warned, if these seeds are from named cultivars they will not grow true to type if sown.
Red hot poker plants make great companion plants for late summer perennials such as asters, rudbeckias and heleniums.
Popular with birds, butterflies and pollinators, torch lilies are often successfully incorporated into pollinator or bee friendly gardens. Finally, these plants also work well in modern planting schemes alongside dahlias, crocosmias and foxgloves.
Common Pests or Diseases
A pleasingly trouble free addition to the garden, red hot poker plants are not prone to pest infestations. However the foliage of the plants can harbour slugs and snails. Regularly check the foliage for any hidden pests. While chemical controls are available, organic solutions such as applying used coffee ground around the plant are just as effective.
The main problem encountered by growers of red hot poker plants is the rotting of the plant’s crown. This is caused by either exposure to cold weather or planting in poorly draining soil. Working the soil over before planting will help to improve drainage.
If cold temperatures are a problem cover the plants with a thick layer of mulch in late fall. Remember to uncover the crowns when your last local frost date passes the following spring.
A pleasingly pest and problem free plant. However the dense foliage of the plant can be an ideal hiding ground for slugs and snails. Regularly check the foliage for any hidden pests.
Flowering from April until October red hot poker plants are a stately addition to any garden. Beginning as a bright red or orange flower the colors of the plant fade to shades of yellow and gold as they age. This constant evolution helps to add continuing interest to the garden.
Popular with birds, butterflies and pollinators alike, these plants are also a great way to introduce structure or height to a planting scheme. A heat loving, drought resistant plant they are ideal additions to rockeries, flower beds and containers.
Red hot pokers, despite their stately appearance are pleasingly easy to grow and care for. A reliable plant, with a little care these dramatic flowers will return to your garden year after year.