Add a splash of colour to your winter garden

2007-12-11 00:00

If you are looking for a new addition to your garden this month, make sure you try the red-hot poker. The brightly coloured, orange-yellow tubular-shaped flowers appear in winter and are ideal for adding a splash of colour to your winter garden.

Plant the red-hot poker at the back of a mixed flower bed, in clumps alongside a stream or pond, in a rockery or use it to line a long driveway. It also makes a bold statement on a patio when planted in a large pot. This plant is another excellent addition to any bird garden and the sunbirds cannot resist feeding on the nectar-rich flowers. So make sure your plant is in sight from your garden bench and sit back and watch the sunbirds feed.

The red-hot poker forms large clumps of strap-shaped leaves which are slightly grassy. The stunning poker-shaped heads are composed of bright orange, closely packed flower buds which are carried on a long stalk of about 1,5 metres high. As the flower buds open the petals become yellow.

The red-hot poker can be propagated by seed (which can take up to six weeks) or by dividing up larger clumps, which spread by means of rhizomes. If you choose to propagate from seed remember to sow the seeds in trays and keep them moist at all times. Seeds can be sown at any time from spring to autumn and seedlings can be transplanted into the garden when they are five to six months old or approximately 15 centimetres in height. The red-hot poker takes two to three years to flower well. Try not to move or divide the plants before that unless it is absolutely necessary as the flowering may be affected. The older clumps in the garden should be divided when the quality of the flowers they produce begins to deteriorate. When dividing the clumps, lift and divide with a spade, discard the older portions and plant the younger rhizomes immediately. Keep them moist until the plant has re-established itself.

The red-hot poker does well in an open sunny position or in partial shade. When planting it in your garden remember to plant it in compost-enriched soil and water well if it is not planted close to water. They are very wind tolerant and are fairly frost and drought hardy. The red-hot poker will grow relatively fast provided it receives sufficient water during the growing season.

The next time you visit your local nursery be sure to ask for the Kniphofia praecox and make a colourful splash in your winter garden.

• Sonja van der Merwe is an indigenous plant enthusiast and owner of Springvale Nursery and Gardening.

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