By Bodie Pennisi
University of Georgia
Its sparse, stiff branches grow mostly straight up to about 4 feet tall in a plant that's 3 feet tall. Firespike's dark green leaves, 2 to 3 inches wide and up to 8 inches long, have wavy margins and long, pointed tips.
In late summer, Firespike produces abundant upright panicles, each 9 to 12 inches tall, of brilliant red, tubular flowers. The individual flowers are about an inch long and two-lipped. The blooms produce a sweet nectar that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies like magnets. It's an irresistible addition to your garden.
Firespike prefers places with full sun to partial shade and moist but well-drained soil. It's one of the few flowering plants that can still have striking red blooms in partial shade. And once it's established, it can tolerate all but the longest droughts.
Low maintenanceIt's a low-maintenance plant. All you have to do is give it a light sprinkling of a complete fertilizer, such as 6-6-6, each four to six weeks during the growing season.
For best effect, plant Firespike as background plants in mass plantings in mixed-shrub borders, where it can rise above smaller plants in the foreground.
It's a knockout in large, mixed containers, too. Combine it with other Georgia Gold Medal winners like Mickey Mouse cuphea (2006), Georgia Blue veronica (2005) or Blue Fortune hyssop (2004).
Under those conditions, a weekly dose of a liquid fertilizer will keep Firespike looking its best all summer long. Pinch or prune back the shoot tips through early summer to encourage branching, compact growth and more flowers.
The flowers can be striking additions to cut-flower arrangements, too.
Firespike is easy to propagate from softwood cuttings. The cuttings you root in the spring should bloom by fall. Cuttings can also be taken in the fall and overwintered for planting the following year.
Like all Georgia Gold Medal winners, Firespike was chosen because it's underused but deserves to be more popular in Georgia. When you take one home for your landscape, you'll be taking home a winner.
(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension floriculture specialist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)