Redhot pokers or torch lilies for New Year’s Day look to be a distinct possibility for us in Savannah, Ga. Because of our coastal location I could never promise this for you, unless you live in a mild climate. What I can suggest is that if you love torch lilies in the late spring and early summer you may want to give the fall-blooming species a try in your garden.
Botanically speaking I am referring to Kniphofia rooperi, which is a cold hardy to zero and perennial from zones 7-10. The common names range from Rooper’s redhot poker to East Cape poker and the fall blooming torch lily. No matter what you call it, it is a great plant.
At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens ours has been blooming for about 11 weeks and is just as riveting as its cousin the Kniphofia uvaria that blooms in late spring and summer. In a way the East Cape poker may even be more beautiful as most gardeners are totally surprised to see its flaming red-orange and yellow blossoms in the fall.
While ours started sending the glorious 3- to 4-foot tall blossoms in October, some report much earlier blooms and a few later. Though these still aren’t the staples at the local garden center like they will be, you will have no problem locating sources from specialty catalogues.
Choose a location with plenty of sun; the more, the better. Fortunately the East Cape poker is not finicky when it comes to soil pH. The soil should be fertile, organic rich and very well-drained to ensure a spring return. In the warmer zones the plants will be evergreen. In colder areas, the foliage will return with spring growth.
The plant is so striking that as your clump grows you will rejoice and want to divide in the spring by taking offshoots or pups from the crown. There is otherwise little maintenance other than to deadhead or remove the old flower stalks and any damaged or frozen foliage in the spring.
We are growing our’s close to sago palms, Cycas revoluta, which looks really good but know they would excel in conjunction with just about any cold hardy palm. They also look magically at home in a partnership with ornamental grasses.
Spring is closer than you think. If you live in zone 7 and warmer then you should consider the fall-blooming East Cape poker or Torch Lily for your garden.