HOW TO GROW RED HOT POKER PLANTS IN YOUR GARDENThese show-stopping flowers add bright color and vertical interest to the landscape Published 3/11/2022
For drama and tropical flair, few plants can rival the statuesque flower spikes of Kniphofia. This rhizomatous perennial is commonly known as tritoma, red hot poker plant, or torch lily, though it is not a true lily. The exotic-looking flowers, which resemble glowing pokers or tiki torches, occur during summer and fall in tones of red, orange, yellow, chartreuse, and white.
Native to South Africa, there are 70 species, though most garden varieties are hybrids. Kniphofia is tolerant of heat and drought, is low maintenance and resistant to most pests and diseases. Here’s how to grow red hot poker plants and use them in your landscape.
Kniphofia uvaria other spp. and hybrids
Rhizomatous perennial; can be grown from seed, but is most commonly grown from potted transplants or tuberous roots.
Upright clumping habit
2 to 6 feet tall, 1 to 3 feet wide, depending on variety
Early summer to fall, depending on variety
Vertical bottle brush blooms consist of dense clusters of smaller tubular flowers that open from the bottom to the top. Blooms occur on tall slender stems in hues of red, orange, peach, coral, apricot, yellow, chartreuse, or cream, some with bicolor or multicolors.
Narrow stiff green foliage has a grass-like appearance, forming a dense evergreen or semi-evergreen clump.
Are red hot pokers poisonous?
Kniphofia is generally regarded as non-toxic to pets and children, though ingesting any non-edible plant can cause digestive upset.
Are red hot pokers deer resistant?
Kniphofia is considered deer resistant, though damage can occur on almost any plant if other food sources are scarce.
Kniphofia is tolerant of salt, making it a good choice for coastal gardens. The flowers are highly attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and other insect pollinators.
HOW TO PLANT RED HOT POKERS
When to plant:
Plant in spring when all danger of frost is past.
Where to plant:
Red hot pokers grow best in a wind-protected site with rich, well-drained soil that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun per day.
How to plant:
Loosen soil in planting area and lightly amend with compost or other organic matter. If plants are pot-bound, gently tease out the roots. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball and place in the planting hole so the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Fill in the hole with soil, tamp down gently to remove air pockets, and water thoroughly. Water plants regularly until established.
Kniphofia is tolerant of a range of soils as long as there is good drainage. Plants perform best in moderately rich soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Amend the existing soil with compost or other rich organic matter before planting. Poorly draining soil can cause root or crown rot. For containers, use a high quality all-purpose potting mix.
RED HOT POKER CARE
Red hot poker plants perform best with moderate watering. Plants are drought tolerant once established. Avoid overwatering to prevent crown or root rot. Container plants will need more frequent watering, particularly during hot spells.
Amendments and fertilizer:
Plants need little to no supplemental fertilizer as long as soil is amended well. If desired, feed with an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer in spring to promote more plant vigor and flowering.
Pruning and deadheading:
Foliage is prone to winter damage, particularly in colder climates. Cut back old foliage in spring before new growth emerges. Remove spent flower spikes down to the base throughout the growing season to promote new blooms.
Plants benefit from dividing every few years to prevent overcrowding, which can result in fewer blooms. In early spring, dig up the entire clump. Use a spade or sharp knife to slice through the root ball, making several divisions. Replant divided rhizomes, making sure there is visible growth. Don’t plant the top of the rhizomes more than 3 inches below soil level. In warmer regions, plants can also be divided in fall after flowering.
In USDA zones 5-6, plants will need winter protection. Add a layer of mulch such as straw or leaves over the crown of the plant in fall to protect from freezing temperatures. The foliage can be gathered and tied together above the crown to help prevent water from seeping into the crown.
Pests and diseases:
When given the right growing conditions, Kniphofia is virtually free from pests and diseases. Pests can include thrips, slugs or snails. Diseases, which are primarily due to wet conditions or poor drainage, include root or crown rot.
RED HOT POKER VARIETIES
PYROMANIA® 'ORANGE BLAZE' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 36 to 42 inches tall, 24 to 30 inches wide
‘Orange Blaze' is a vigorous variety producing bright orange flowers throughout the summer months. The medium-sized growth habit is suitable for mixed borders, beds, and mass plantings.
PYROMANIA® 'SOLAR FLARE' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 36 to 42 inches tall, 24 to 30 inches wide
Bright yellow flowers hold their color throughout the growing season. Combine with red or orange flowers for sizzling color, or colors of blue and purple for complementary contrast. The medium size is suitable for mixed borders, mass plantings, and rock gardens.
PYROMANIA® 'HOT AND COLD' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 30 to 36 inches tall, 24 to 30 inches wide
This variety is named for the flowers with tangerine orange tips and cool white bottoms for a hot and cold effect. Plants flower earlier in the season than other varieties, with rebloom throughout the summer. Plant this medium-sized variety in a tropical-themed border or mass in the landscape.
PYROMANIA® 'FLASHPOINT' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 48 to 54 inches tall, 30 to 36 inches wide
Flowers are chartreuse-yellow at the tips, graduating to golden yellow, then creamy white at the bottom for a multi-colored effect. Use this taller variety to create vertical interest in a mixed border, or as a striking focal point in the landscape.
PYROMANIA® 'ROCKET'S RED GLARE'
Height/Spread: 30 to 36 inches tall, 18 to 24 inches wide
Rich red flower buds open to peachy cream for a striking two-toned effect in the landscape. Plant this medium-sized variety in a container, rock garden, or mass in a bed or border.
Height/Spread: 24 to 30 inches tall and wide
The showy blooms of ‘Backdraft’ produce bright orange-red buds that open to peachy yellow for a graduated effect. Plants rebloom for late season color in the landscape. Use this medium-sized variety for mixed borders, curbside plantings, and containers.
Height/Spread: 18 to 30 inches tall, 12 to 18 inches wide
Part of the ‘Popsicle’ series, the iridescent mango-orange flowers act as a bright beacon in the landscape. This award winner blooms prolifically on sturdy stems, with grassy foliage that stays neat all summer. Use this dwarf variety in a mixed border, mass plantings, or containers.
Height/Spread: 24 to 36 inches tall, 18 to 24 inches wide
This improved variety blooms in its first year in mixed tones of orange and yellow. Plant alongside complementary blue-flowered plants such as catmint or Russian sage to create contrast in the landscape. Mass in a border or cut flower garden.
Height/Spread: 5 to 6 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide
Statuesque flower spikes come in cooler tones of chartreuse, pale yellow, and creamy white for an eye-catching multi-colored effect. Pair with blue or purple flowers for complementary contrast. Use this taller variety as a focal point in the landscape or towards the back of a mixed border. Protect the flower spikes from strong winds to prevent toppling.
Height/Spread: 3 to 5 feet tall, 2 to 3 feet wide
Tawny apricot flowers lighten to cream as they age for a two-toned effect. The flowers are borne on dark burgundy stems for striking contrast. Combine this taller variety with pink, purple, or blue-flowered plants such as lavender, catmint, and coneflower.
Height/Spread: 18 to 24 inches tall and wide
Bright coral-red flowers light up the landscape with long lasting flowers that occur in succession throughout the summer months. Use this dwarf variety for smaller spaces, containers, as a focal point, or in mass plantings.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Does kniphofia come back every year?
Kniphofia is a perennial in USDA zones 5-9, though plants in zones 5-6 will need winter protection.
Does kniphofia spread?
Plants develop robust clumps that can be divided every few years.
Are red hot pokers invasive?
Red hot poker may be invasive in parts of California and Oregon.
How do you keep red hot pokers blooming?
Provide rich soil and deadhead spent flower spikes to promote new blooms.
Where is the best place to plant red hot pokers?
Plant red hot poker in a sheltered sunny site with rich well-drained soil.
LANDSCAPING WITH KNIPHOFIA
For borders and landscapes: Use in beds and borders, curbside plantings and waterwise landscapes.
For slopes and hillsides: Mass along a slope or hillside to help stem erosion.
For containers: Feature a smaller variety as a stand-alone specimen in a container.
There are many ways to use red hot poker plants in your landscape. Here’s how:
- Use Kniphofia as a vertical element in a mixed border, repeating throughout the design to unify the landscape.
- Plant torch lilies alongside a water feature to add drama and contrast.
- Add to a cottage-style border alongside other favorites such as Shasta daisies, yarrow, Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus), salvia, and lilies.
- Plant in a butterfly garden alongside other butterfly-attracting plants such as lantana, beebalm, milkweed, Egyptian star flower (Pentas) and blazing star (Liatris).
- Use a smaller specimen in a container for a dramatic focal point in the landscape.
- Include Kniphofia in a cutting garden alongside other summer bloomers such as dahlias, zinnias, cosmos, coneflower, daisies and sunflowers.
- Plant varieties of red hot poker plants that bloom at different times to extend bloom time from early summer to mid fall.
- Create a tropical-themed border using red hot poker plants in combination with other bold, tropical-looking plants such as banana, canna lilies, elephant ears, lantana, coleus and hibiscus.
KNIPHOFIA COMPANION PLANTS:
Combine with other plants with summer interest such as beebalm (Monarda), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), bluebeard (Caryopteris), catmint (Nepeta), coneflower (Echinacea), dahlias, daylily, lavender, ornamental grasses, Russian sage (Perovskia), salvia, Shasta daisies, sneezeweed (Helenium) and yarrow.