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Knock-out Kniphofias

by Rebecca Sweet

Kniphopfias (aka: Red Hot Poker or Torch Lily) are one of my very favorite flowers to add vertical interest to the garden.  Seeing their snake-like stalks rise from a clump of lush leaf blades is always a joy to behold as they stretch their long necks what seems like several inches a day.

I don’t know why, but they’re really not planted enough around here (IMHO!)

While visiting a client’s garden a few days ago, I was amazed at the size of these kniphofia uvarias.  I planted them last year from tiny little 1-gallons and now they’re at least 3-feet tall!   I can’t wait until the ‘Iceberg’ roses behind them start to bloom – I think the contrast of colors and shapes will be fantastic.

Maybe they’re not as popular as they should be because people think they all turn into large and imposing clumps?  Not true!  One of my favorites in my own garden is k. ‘Mango Popsicle’ which is a tiny little treasure, topping out at just 12 inches!  And as you can see, bees love them almost as much as hummingbirds do.Maybe it’s because people think they’re too tender, have a super short bloom time, or bloom only in the fall?   But that’s the case at all.

Most typically bloom over the course of several weeks, and varieties such as k. ‘Bees Sunset’, are hardy down to Zone 5 and even have repeat bloom times.

Depending on the variety, some might bloom in early spring, some in the fall and some even in the winter.  And who doesn’t like flowers that bloom in the dreary days of winter?Some people tell me “I don’t like the color red in the garden’, which really shouldn’t be a problem because theses flowers are also available in peach, chartreuse, ivory, soft melon and orange.

And while the literature might say they prefer rich soil, I see them blooming best when totally neglected, like these I found clearly thriving along the roadside in Sonoma.

Have I convinced you of their greatness yet?  If so, Digging Dog Nursery and Terra Nova Nurseries are my favorite go-to sources.

What are your favorites?  I’d love to know about them!


Kaveh May 14, 2012 at 8:24 am

I have but they are so expensive. I hate to pay ten bucks or more plus shipping for a tiny little plant unless I know I can’t get it locally.

Check out ‘Shining Scepter”. I used it at a clients garden and it is blooming now and is wonderful. I used a small red one called ‘Nancy’s Red’ as well but that hasn’t bloomed yet.

Rebecca Sweet May 14, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Love the ‘Shining Scepter’, Kaveh – thanks for the tip!! I think I’m liking the smaller varieties better as the regular sized ones can get so darn big.

Felicia April 27, 2012 at 5:08 pm

I love them. This is the first year I’ve had them in my garden and I’m thoroughly enjoying them. Last year I bought several plants at my local master gardener plant sale and each plant turned out to be a different kind. What fun! One very tall and fantastically orange and yellow one happened to be sited directly through the window of my husband’s view from the living room couch. I can’ t tell you how much he enjoyed that flower each evening! He’s a tall, spiky plant sort of fellow and he appreciated it. I love it when happy accidents like that happen in the garden.

Rebecca Sweet April 27, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Felicia – you’re so right! Happy accidents are wonderful in the garden, aren’t they? I’m so glad you and your husband are enjoying them so much. I bet they’ll double in size by next year!

Laura April 27, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I just saw some in bloom yesterday. I like them, however I think that the flower stalk turn unattractive once the plant is almost done blooming, maybe that’s why I haven’t planted in my garden yet. Your photos are stunning.

Rebecca Sweet April 27, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Unfortunately the flower stalks are a bit ‘stick-y’ when they’re almost done flowering, but I still like the clumps of leaves left behind. Glad you like my photos! :)

Nicholas Daunoy April 27, 2012 at 12:36 pm

You didn’t have to convince me, I have always loved red hot pokers. Unfortunatley, I don’thave any in my garden but I do admire them from other gardens. My favorites are kniphofia hirsuta ‘fire dance’ and kniphofia ‘peachy cheeks’.

Rebecca Sweet April 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Thanks for turning me on to ‘Fire Dance’, Nicholas. I just read about it on San Marcos Growers’ website and am glad to find out it’s one of the shortest around, topping out at 18″. Perfect for the front of the border!

Kaveh April 27, 2012 at 10:55 am

Here on the coast they have such a long bloom period. I really need to get a few for my garden. I’m waiting until I find the exact ones I want.

Rebecca Sweet April 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Kaveh – have you checked out Digging Dog Nursery’s website? They have a huge selection in every color imaginable. I love that place!

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