Red hot pokers have been popular for many years and for good reason. Kniphofia, to use their Latin name, add vibrant colour to a border through the heart of summer and are relatively easy to grow.
The red hot pokers are a large group of herbaceous plants with many of the species coming from South Africa. They all have a similar habit and feel with their thin, grass-like leaves emerging from a central hummock adding great linear texture to a planting. When designing a planting scheme it is always important to consider the foliage of a plant with the aim of adding variety and interest throughout. Lots of plants have a rounded, clump-forming habit so it’s great to break this up with different leaf shapes and textures.
Tall, straight flowering stems emerge from the base of the plant and these stems on Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ reach around 5ft (1.5m) tall. These leafless stems bear the candle-like flower heads at their tips, the flowers opening from the bottom of the head to the top. The individual flowers are orange-red in bud and open to a yellow-orange flower, producing a fiery orangey yellow combination as you look through the plant, with the stamens also protruding noticeably.
How to grow red hot pokers
Red hot pokers are an easy herbaceous perennial to grow, requiring deep, fertile, humus-rich soil that is well drained, in an open sunny site. It’s important that the soil drains well in winter otherwise the clumps can be prone to rotting off. Kniphofia don’t need staking and suffer from few pests and diseases but do benefit from a little water during the height of summer. After a number of years the central clumps can become tired, but they don’t always respond well to being divided as the central crown doesn’t recover from being split apart.
Red hot pokers are used extensively at RHS Garden Hyde Hall, and Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ can be found growing in the Farmhouse Garden in the Hilltop Garden. These borders are filled with plants that have orangey flowers such as Helenium or Achillea ‘Terracotta’ and as a strong, striking contrast plants with deep purple flowers are used, such as Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ or Limonium platyphyllum ‘Violetta’ or purple foliage such as Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum) ‘Matrona’.
If you like to add more-tender species try Verbena rigida or ‘Homestead Purple’ with their striking deep purple flowers. Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ can also be found in the Herbaceous Border in the hot-coloured combination with other warm-coloured species such as Crocosmia ‘Spitfire’ with its bright orange flowers and Lychnis chalcedonica with its dazzling bright red flowers.
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