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The red hot poker plant is a mouthful to say, but once you see the plant you'll understand this common name for Kniphofia.
This South African native is in the lily family. It grows 2 to 5 feet tall and produces large stalks of red, orange, yellow, cream or pink colored, tubular flowers that droop like torches.
Light: Red hot poker plant blooms best in full sun, but tolerates light afternoon shade in hot climates.
Soil: Red hot poker is tolerant of many soil types, but doesn't grow well in poorly-drained soil that stays soggy after watering or rains, especially in winter. They grow best in moist, compost amended soils that have a neutral or slightly acidic pH. Once established they can tolerate drier soils.
Spacing: Space red hot poker plants 18 to 24 inches apart. Some larger varieties, such as 'Royal Standard', should be planted a little further apart, while dwarf varieties, such as 'Little Maid', can be planted closer together.
Planting: Plant red hot pokers in spring or fall. It's best to start with transplants. Plant so the crown is 3 inches or less deep. Red hot poker plants can be started from seed, but the seed needs a chilling period, consistent 70F temperatures and still may take up to 3 months to germinate.
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.
Dividing & Transplanting: Red hot poker plants generally don't like to be moved, but you can propagate new plants by dividing the offsets that form around the mother plant in spring. Remove these small plants from the mother plant with a sharp spade. Dig up as much of a root system as you can. Replant in a similar location. Removing the offset plants is also a way to keep the plant from spreading too wide. However, it may take a few years for the new offset plant to start flowering.
Pests/Disease: Red hot poker plants don't have any serious pests. The biggest problem is their crowns rotting due to winter cold and poor soil water drainage. Plant in well-drained soil, or raise up the beds before planting to improve drainage and ensure your red hot poker comes back each year.
Red hot poker plant flowers traditionally start out as red or orange, but turn yellow as they age. At maturity, the bottom 2/3rds of the flower is usually yellow or gold, while the top 1/3rd is orange or red. This gives the flower stalks three colors at once. Other colors of the red hot poker plants, depending on the variety, include cream, pink and white. Each flower cluster usually lasts a few weeks.
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