Kniphofia never disappoints me. The flaming colors of its splendid torch-like blooms blazes out across the garden all through the heat of summer.
In addition to its fun name, kniphofia is also known as ‘red hot poker’ or torch lilies. With grass-like evergreen foliage, this plant’s flower stems grow anywhere from 24 inches to over 6 feet tall. The flower spikes come in colors ranging from cream, orange, red and yellow.
Red-hot pokers have got themselves a bad name. This may be the fault of Professor Kniphof, the German botanist in whose honor they became known as kniphofia – so unnerving to pronounce. These plants of the lily family, natives of South Africa, used to be called tritoma, which is far less of a mouthful.
These South African natives provide much needed spiky form, and many come with vivid blooms that resemble colorful candles. Best of all, many of the new hybrids begin blooming by early summer, and repeat bloom all season as long as you keep them well-fed and deadhead the spent flowers regularly.
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds. Bees and hummingbirds frequent the drooping flowers for nectar and pollen Each individual flower, and there are many clustered on thick, long stems, is full of nectar.
Bees, birds and butterflies often prefer the crazy-looking flowers; flowers that are spiky, thistle-like or just plain odd are favorites.
Red Hot Pokers are hardy in USDA zones 5 – 10. Kniphofia prefers full sun and will take any soil type. These easy-to-grow plants are drought tolerant and very low maintenance. They bloom from late spring through midsummer. A thick stand of them easily attracts orioles if they are nesting in the area.
The key to success with torch lilies is proper placement in the garden. Torch lilies tend to rot if they sit in saturated soil during winter, so well-drained soil is a must. At the same time, they require regular watering during summer or they won’t bloom well.
And, these showy plants don’t like to be squeezed in, preferring an open, sunny location. It’s fine to plant a low growing perennial in front of it, but leave a gap of 6 to 12 inches to allow kniphofia some breathing room.
Tritomas should be planted from the bulbs in the spring or fall. Plant the bulbs 3-inches deep. Fill the hole with soil and tamp down gently to remove air bubbles. Water to settle the soil. Depending upon the size of the mature plant, space the bulbs anywhere from 6 to 12 inches apart.
This plant has no known problems with pests or diseases and is easy to care for once established. Prune off spent stems immediately and clean up any dead leaves. Protect the crowns during the winter with a layer of straw.
Propagate only from well-established kniphofia by dividing the clumps in the spring. Dig up the clumps and cut off half of the foliage in order for the roots to establish successfully. Spacing is determined according to the size of the mature plant, but it can be anywhere from 6 to 12 inches. Water to settle the soil.
Late-summer flowers such as crocosmias look good with pokers. I like them with different sorts of marigolds too. The calendulas “Touch of Red” and “Art Shades” are ideal for a showy look. Salvia uliginosa combined with yellow or coral-colored pokers gives a more subtle effect.
Red-hot pokers are such excellent garden plants that it is hard to imagine they have ever been out of fashion.
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Yours truly, Polly – Organic Gardener