HARDINESS: Zones 5 to 9
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Near neutral
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Fertile, well-drained, fertile
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun
ATTRIBUTES: Red, orange, or yellow flower spikes; grassy leaves; (or beds, accents
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring to fall
FAVORITES: 'Primrose Beauty', 'Ada', 'Vanilla', 'Little Maid' for color; 'Royal Standard', 'Alcazar' for rebloom
QUIRKS: Roots may rot in wet soil
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Catmint, coreopsis, foxglove, verbena
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Sun and organically rich, well-drained soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Winter damage in climates colder than Zone 5
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives 6 years or more; plants resent division
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good except for deer (rare)
SOURCE: Bedding plants, small divisions
DIMENSIONS: 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m) tall, 2 ft (0.6 m) wide
Red-Hot Poker in the Landscape
When you want strong lines and fiery color, reach for red-hot poker. This plant has straight, sturdy, 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) flower stems jutting from grasslike foliage. The unique flower spikes are composed of slender, tubular, 1 in (2.5 cm) long blossoms. The lower ones are creamy yellow, while those at the rip are scarlet to orange, a combination that creates the illusion of a poker just pulled from the fire.
To get this exciting performance, plant red-hot poker in sun and well-drained, organically rich soil. Make sure that the soil never dries out, particularly when flowers are poised to bloom. Otherwise, there is no need to pamper this resilient, care-free plant.
Though dramatic, red-hot pokers blend right into a perennial garden. They combine well with everything from white foxgloves and yellow coreopsis to lavender catmint or purple verbena.
Cooling the Fire
The shocking flower shades are fun, but red-hot pokers are also available in softer colors. 'Primrose Beauty' is a mellow yellow, while 'Ada' is tawny gold and 'Buttercup' has green buds that open to clear yellow. Aptly named 'Vanilla' is creamy white, and 'Little Maid' is similarly hued but with longer spikes on a 2 ft (0.6 m) tall plant. Reblooming red-hot pokers are also available. For rebloom as well as reliable hardiness, go for the orange-red 'Alcazar', coral 'Earliest of All', and 'Royal Standard', which has yellow and vermilion flowers.
Growing Red-Hot Poker
In areas with long, hot summers, site red-hot pokers where they get some afternoon sun. Elsewhere, let them bake in the sun. The main requirement is well-drained, organically rich soil. If the ground dries as the season progresses, apply a 3 in (7.6 cm) layer of organic mulch or water as needed to keep the soil barely moist. Good drainage is especially critical in the winter. Red-hot-pokers subjected to sodden winter soil will fail.
Plants need a little help to survive the winter in cold climates. Mulch with hay or leaves snuggled close to the stem. Rather than cut die foliage back in fall, leave it intact and tie it together to protect the central crown from collected water and ice damage.
Although red-hot pokers become hefty plants, be patient. New plants grow slowly, and die flower spectacle won't occur until the second or even third season. Nudge plants along with an application of a balanced fertilizer or compost each spring.
Red-hot-pokers resent dividing. To increase your supply, dig small divisions from the outside of the clump in spring, being careful not to damage roots. Plant divisions at the same depth at which the parent plant grows.This is a plant that's virtually pest and disease free. Even deer will nibble it only if desperately hungry.
Not all red-hot pokers are red. Tangerine-flowered 'Brimstone' glows in sunlight.