Q: A few years ago my dad gave me some plants he called Red Hot Poker. I planted them around my mailbox and they have done well. I think it is time to dig, split, and spread them to other places in the yard. Since the leaves stay green all year what is the best time to do this? The old yellow jacket nest from two years ago will be fun as well!
A: There are several species and varieties of Red Hot Poker, Kniphophia, which is also commonly called Torch Lily. Although it is a member of the lily family it doesn’t grow from a bulb. Rather, the thickened roots (rhizomes) spread slowly from a single plant as the years pass. Given good growing conditions they will sometimes become crowded and flower output will decline.
The best way to divide a clump is to remove young plants from the edge without disturbing the middle. You can certainly lift and split an entire mass of roots but you won’t get many flowers this year as they all recover from being moved. Cut away dead leaves with scissors.
When they bloom in summer, watch for hummingbirds attracted to the bright red/orange tubular flowers hanging from each flower spike. Cut off the spike immediately when most of the flowers on it are brown. Give the plant water and fertilizer and it will bloom again in six weeks.
Good news on the yellowjacket front: since the insects do not overwinter in their nest you have nothing to fear when you dig your Poker Plant.