Poker that turns up the heat for red-hot borders

Dazzling isn’t usually the word used to describe a garden plant, but when the plant in question is Kniphofia, the word fits the bill.


Kniphofia, the red-hot poker, was once grown widely but became a victim of the craze for pastels. Anything approaching vibrant colour was banished to the back of the border or else dug up and consigned to the compost bin. But times and fashions change – and the red-hot poker is making a comeback, with one variety in particular making a big impact.

‘Lucifer’ is vivid red, tall and spreads to form mighty clumps which, come late summer, are impossible to ignore. The plant’s great, sword-shaped leaves are a clue to the fact that it’s a cousin of the gladiolus and just about every garden now seems to have ‘Lucifer’ somewhere in a border.

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Site it in the shade and it will produce lots of foliage but few flowers. And that foliage can become very untidy in late summer so it’s best to cut it back hard in autumn when it starts to yellow, and divide established clumps every three or four years. On the whole, red-hot pokers won’t tolerate water-logging but will cope with drier soils, at the foot of a wall or near a hedge, for example.

An annual mulch around the base of the clump (but not over the crown) of well-rotted manure or garden compost will help boost fertility and moisture retention. In colder gardens, young plants can be given a little extra protection with a mulch of straw or dry leaves.

If you haven’t given the plant a going-over in autumn, give it a good spring-clean, removing any dead and decaying leaves. The spent flower spikes should also be cut during spring.