Pruning perennials properly and during the correct time of year can extend blooming, encourage healthy growth, and protect from temperature extremes and stress. Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia spp.) is a clumping, full-sun perennial that requires little maintenance. Deadheading old flower spikes can help encourage additional flower production. Red Hot Poker only needs to be cut back to the ground at the beginning of its growing season in early spring, keeping the cold-hardy crown even more protected through the winter.
When to Prune Red Hot Poker
Red Hot Poker is a vegetative plant with grass-like leaves and vibrant, yellow-to-orange summer-blooming flower spikes. Like grasses and lilies, this perennial will die back to the ground in colder areas, leaving dry leaves and spent flowers. While it may be tempting to clean up one’s garden in late fall, this should be avoided with Red Hot Poker. Instead, wait to prune out dead leaves until the early spring, once new growth begins emerging and the risk of a deep freeze has passed.
To prevent water from gathering around the crown, tie the foliage up over top of the plant. This will provide extra protection for the crown and roots through the winter and prevent the plant from pushing new growth at the wrong time of year. If old growth is left too long into the spring and summer, it may be difficult to remove the dead foliage within newly produced leaves.
Red Hot Poker will continuously bloom through the summer with a spike containing many small trumpet-like flowers, gradually opening from bottom to top. As flowers mature, the lowest flowers will fade, first losing their color and then drying up. Once the entire flower spike is dry or when you no longer like the appearance, the stalk can be trimmed at the base of the plant. This is how you deadhead Red Hot Poker. Deadheading will allow the plant to focus on new flower growth rather than seed production.
Deadheading will extend Red Hot Poker’s blooming period into the late summer or even early fall. Once Red Hot Poker is no longer blooming, allow the leaves to remain as they will continue to make food and allow the plant to store energy for next year. If Red Hot Poker is damaged at any point in the year, minor pruning can be done successfully at any given point in the year.
Why Prune Red Hot Poker
Pruning Red Hot Poker in the early spring will help keep your plant looking happy and healthy. To prevent Red Hot Poker from looking overgrown and messy, remove the old growth in the early spring before new growth arrives. This will give new growth plenty of space, light, and air flow. In warmer regions, removing unsightly old leaves as new growth comes in will allow your plant to put more energy into that new growth.
Deadheading will also keep Red Hot Poker flowers looking fresh and encourages new blooms, so that they can continue to attract pollinators. Removing the spent flowers will prevent this plant from putting energy into seed production. Because Red Hot Poker is a continuous bloomer, healthy blooms can also be used in cut flower arrangements.
How to Prune Red Hot Poker
Step 1 - Wait until spring to prune.
Remove old leaves and spent blooms in the early spring as new growth appears and the threat of a deep freeze has passed.
Step 2 - Cut back old leaves and flower spikes.
By firmly grasping the old leaves in clumps, use sharp pruning shears or scissors and cut about 3 inches above the crown. If there is already new growth emerging from the crown, you may have to cut old leaves individually or raise your cuts up a few inches.
Step 3 - Deadhead during blooming time.
As old blooms begin to fade and dry up, you can trim the stalk down to the base of the plant with sharp pruners or scissors.
Step 4 - Leave old growth through the winter.
In late fall, tie the old leaves into a bundle on top of the crown to provide protection through the winter. Old leaves may also offer a place for beneficial insects to find protection. Pruning back leaves immediately after blooming does not allow the plant to store energy, impeding new spring growth.
Red Hot Poker Pruning Tips
- Prune in early spring
- Deadhead old flowers
- Tie leaves up in late fall
- Dead leaves will protect plants through winter.
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Author Lynn Gusman - Published 9-21-2022