Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sometimes Hands Are Better Than Tools

Redhot poker with winter-killed leaves

Leaves of redhot poker (Kniphofia spp.) are tough. They are deer-resistant tough, except for an occasional leaf of tender new growth that gets browsed. My pruners and electric trimmer don’t cut them easily or cleanly.

Last spring I discovered an easier, faster way to remove the old redhot poker leaves that had been smashed to the ground by snow long since melted. I used my hands, not a new and exciting cutting tool. I discovered that if I give the weather-damaged leaves a tug with my hands, they slipped off the crown of the plant quite easily. This week I “perfected” the art of hand-pulling redhot poker leaves.

Here’s how I do it.

At first, grasp four or five of the outer leaves about midway and pull away from the plant, not straight up. Trial and error taught me that pulling straight up, especially on leaves of younger plants, sometimes results in the whole plant being pulled, which is not the goal here.

Redhot poker after last year's leaves pulled off
Once you’ve started pulling off leaves, you may increase your leaf grabs by two or three leaves if you’re pulling for a large plant. If the whole plant seems to be coming out, you’ve grabbed too many leaves. After a few tugs, you’ll get a feel for how to do it efficiently and quickly.

As the old leaves come off, you’ll find this year’s leaves beginning to growing at the plant’s crown. Since they’ve been protected by the old leaves, they’ll be a lighter green—sort of like asparagus that has been hilled or otherwise hidden from the sunlight so it remains “white.” The new leaves will begin growing soon and will turn dark green as the days warm and sunlight intensifies.

I have one concern, though. Now that I’ve exposed the young, tender leaves that will grow this year, have I in effect put up a sign saying, “Deer! Come Browse Here!” With grass greening, clover starting to grow, and buds enlarging on all kinds of shrubs and trees, I hope deer remember that redhot poker is near the bottom of their “eat” list.

When I pulled last year’s leaves this week I discovered that voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), also known as meadow or field mice, had been living under protective “tents” created by the weather-bent leaves. I found two nests made out of plant fiber in the circular runways under the old tents.

Redhot poker in summer bloom
In order to discourage the voles, I’ll try to remember to remove the redhot poker leaves after hard frosts late next fall rather than waiting until early next spring. I don’t see that the voles have gnawed on the trunks of shrubs, small trees, or other plants in the garden over winter, but I don’t want to encourage them with luxury accommodations.


  1. Thanks for the good comments...I do the same with the grasses...will wait a little while yet until all signs of frost are gone.

    Need to get a red hot poker. Do they get tall?

  2. Good plan, Judy, waiting for the worst of the frost to be history. I'm looking at the tender growth on my redhot pokers this morning and am wondering whether I removed the old leaves a couple of weeks too soon. But the day was so sunny & warm. :-)