Updated/Fact-Chacked on April 2, 2023 by John
Kniphofia (red hot pokers or torch lily) are fantastic to grow for their amazing colours: reds, peach, yellows and amazing greens you will not have seen in any other plant variety. Kniphofia will give your garden an exotic feel, and they are easy to grow. The downside is they can look rather ugly when flowering has finished.
Kniphofia plants grow large, grassy clumps with towering flower spikes that attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. It is a herbaceous perennial that belongs to the Asphodelaceae family. This plant originated in parts of South Africa and loves sunshine.
Kniphofia can grow with a height of up to 4 feet and spread up to 3 feet. Their flowering season is from April to October, depending on the variety you choose – many are autumn flowering plants. They bloom in direct sunlight and sandy, humus-rich soil. They can withstand part shade, but flowering will be decreased. They can also be called torch lilies; however, despite sharing some traits with actual lilies, they do not belong to the lily family.
Kniphofia is a group of plants that has almost 60 kinds, and the majority of their varieties are now considered hybrids. As we progress through this article, we will learn more about these kinds.
Once you have bought a kniphofia plant online or from your local supplier, it’s time to get it planted up. Find a sunny location in your garden and plant in rich, well-drained soil. Red-hot pokers are best planted at the back of a border if you have chosen one of the larger growing varieties like the ‘ice queen’ which can reach 150cm tall.
Kniphofia can be propagated by seed or division but are generally bought as potted plants in early spring. The plants can generate many cuttings that can be dug up and planted apart from the original clump. These plants also yield a large number of seeds that can be harvested and replanted.
Red hot poker seeds are easy to grow. However, they need to be cooled to be awakened. Allowing the seeds to dry is critical for the collection process. Remove the pods from the stems and dry them for 18 – 24 hours. To catch the small seeds, crack open the pod over a plate. You’re now ready to start propagating.
This plant has to be watered regularly to develop although they are somewhat drought resistant fully. During hot and dry seasons, you should be vigilant about watering, especially if you have red-hot pokers in containers that can dry out quickly.
Mulch the area with a 2- to 3-inch layer to help with water retention and protection over the winter season. It’s best to leave on any dead foliage over winter for added protection and cut the leaves at the bottom of the plant in spring.
Kniphofia Problems and Solutions
Kniphofias are plagued by a small number of pests and diseases, the most common of them are slugs and snails. It’s important to be cautious as the flower spikes grow because these are the most fragile parts. They can also be affected by root rot.
Initially, the symptoms are similar to water deficit, such as withering and dull-coloured leaves. Once the infection has spread to the plant’s crown, the leaves will pull away. Plants that have been harmed should be removed and not be replanted in the same area.
Always grow kniphofias in well-drained soil to avoid root rot. These pests and diseases can be detected by regular plant management; gently spray any aphids with water to remove the flowers.
Kniphofia to grow
After learning the basic steps for growing kniphofias, the next step is choosing a variety that you like; choose colours that will work with your existing plants.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Burnt-orange buds fade to apricot as the blooms open, with creamy white colour. Dark-olive stems look good with the flowers. Flowers abundantly from July to September. Has the prestigious Award of Garden Merit
Gladness’ is grass-like with stiff, narrow, vertical leaves that form clumps. Peach-toned stems hold spires of tubular, pale yellow blooms that open from light orange buds in the mid to late summer. It thrives in a sunny spot with sandy soil that has been fertilized with hummus. It can grow in any deep, damp, as well as well-drained soil.
It has large densely packed spikes of white primrose petals opening to pale green buds from mid-summer to autumn. This stunning plant blooms in weeks of soft colour and matches other colours in the garden. this variety compliments a strong stem but still needs protection from heavy wind.
Green Jade is a long, thin plant with spikes of pale green blooms that fade to almost cream and bloom in summer and early fall, leaving a clump of narrow foliage. Beautiful, although not as colourful as other varieties.
This is a perennial type with bending, straight, dark green foliage and long stems holding dense, thin, spike-like orange buds that bloom to tubular, creamy-white flowers from summertime to fall. It grows up to 1-meter in height.
If you are not convinced by my list above, here’s a complete list for you to explore.
Kniphofia Varieties – Colour and Flowering Table
|Kniphofia uvaria||Red, Orange, Yellow||Summer to Fall|
|Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’||Red, Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Bees’ Lemon’||Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Border Ballet’||Mixed Colors||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Bressingham Comet’||Red, Yellow||Summer to Fall|
|Kniphofia ‘Coral Glow’||Orange, Coral||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Dorset Sentry’||Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Elvira’||Orange, Red||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Fiery Fred’||Red, Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Flamenco’||Mixed Colors||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Goldfinch’||Yellow, Orange||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Green Jade’||Green, White||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Ice Queen’||White, Green||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Lemon Popsicle’||Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle’||Orange||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Nancy’s Red’||Red||Summer to Fall|
|Kniphofia ‘Nobilis’||Red, Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Orange Vanilla Popsicle’||Orange, White||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Papaya Popsicle’||Orange, Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Percy’s Pride’||Yellow, Green||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Pfitzer’s Hybrid Mix’||Mixed Colors||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Redhot Popsicle’||Red||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Royal Standard’||Red, Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Samuel’s Sensation’||Red, Orange||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Shining Sceptre’||Orange, Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Tawny King’||Orange, Brown||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Timothy’||Orange, Yellow||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Toffee Nosed’||Brown, Cream||Summer|
|Kniphofia ‘Vanilla’||Cream, White||Summer|
Kniphofia Growing FAQs
How many Kniphofia species are there?
There are currently 73 species of kniphofia recorded, but there are likely to be more.
Do red-hot pokers come back every year?
Yes, the plant may look dead over winter, but it will come back to life the following year.
Are red hot pokers perennials?
Yes, they are perennials and flower every year.
Is Kniphofia a hardy?
Yes, they are hardy but protect the roots with mulch over winter. RHS H4-6. USDA5a-9b.
Will Kniphofia spread?
Yes, kniphofia will spread over time, but you can dig up and divide.
Are red-hot pokers invasive?
We would not say they are invasive if managed. They spread using rhizomes but can easily be dug up if crowing out surrounding plants.
Why are my red-hot pokers not flowering?
If they have not bloomed, likely, they have not received enough nutrients over the summer. Consider moving the plant to a sunnier location.
Do red hot pokers bloom all summer?
Not all kniphofia will flower all summer; many will only flower in autumn.
When should red hot pokers be planted?
kniphofia are best planted in late spring at the end of April or the beginning of May when the weather is getting warmer
Should I cut back Kniphofia?
You can leave all the foliage over winter for protection and only cut back the flowers if they are unsightly.
Is Kniphofia poisonous to dogs?
Kniphofia is considered non-toxic to animals.
Are red-hot pokers poisonous to humans?
Some varieties can be toxic to humans, depending on the levels of knipholone.
How wide do red-hot poker plants get?
Kniphofia varieties can get to 2 ft wide if left unmaintained.
Mary shares a passion for gardening with her husband John, though she is more focused on growing veg on their allotment at St. Margaret’s Allotments, Durham. Mary also works in the lawn care industry and manages the lawns for the Durham University campus.