By: Anne Baley
For southern gardeners who want to make a big impact in their gardens, firespike (Odontonema strictum) is a good, showy option. Read on to learn more about firespike plant care.
These jewels of the landscape bed can grow 4 feet tall, and are covered in spikes of blazing red blooms through the fall and winter. If you’ve already got a successful planting bed in your yard, then you know how to grow firespikes, as they need no special care in the right environment.
Growing firespike plants is a great way to fill in a large bed quickly as well as a good way to add bright color that will last until spring.
Firespike is a tropical native and likes to live in that environment. It can tolerate some sandy soil, but it won’t live through extended periods of cold. When you learn about firespike plant information, the most crucial point is that it will live in USDA Zones 8 or higher, which means the southernmost parts of California and Texas, plus Florida.
If frost or freezing temperatures threaten, cover the firespike bushes to protect them. If they do get frozen, it will kill off the growth above ground, but it will usually grow back in the spring as soon as the soil warms.
Taking care of firespikes is almost hands-free once you’ve planted them in the right soil. These plants love rich soil with lots of compost, but are tolerant of pH levels on either side of neutral. The most important detail is the sun; firespikes love to live in the full sun. The plants will grow in partial sun or partial shade, but you’ll get fewer flowers and they won’t be as vibrant.
Give firespikes plenty of room to grow when you plant them. Space the small bushes 24 to 36 inches apart. They’ll fill in this space in a few years, creating a single wall of glossy green leaves and spikes of flaming blooms.
Firespike plant care also includes keeping them from taking over your flower beds. When the branches get too long or unruly, prune them back. Do this two or three times a year for the best looking plants.
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Odontonema Strictum [oh-dawn-toe-NEEM-muh, STRICK-tum] is a herbaceous plant belonging to the family Acanthaceae called firespike.
Native to Mexico and Central America, this firespike plant boasts lovely crimson blooms and gleaming foliage.
Other popular Acanthaceae family members include:
This evergreen shrub tends to produce deep, blood-red flowers in seasons of summer and autumn. The firespike Odontonema Strictum reminds some of overgrown salvia.
These glossy blooms look like they are made of plastic.
Each individual flower gracing the plant is about an inch long and two-lipped.
The flower stalk likes to provide a vivid contrast to the flower spikes as it comes in a dark purple hue.
Firespike is a long-flowering plant which is a dazzling addition to a garden.
The blooms are the main attraction of the plant. They produce sweet nectar, attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies all year round.
This gorgeous flowering plant is also known by the common names including:
When you design and plant a container garden, you must take into consideration the colors, spread and height of each plant. As the plants develop and grow larger in the container, they will intertwine with each other for an attractive garden display. Often, gardeners use a dracaena spike plant as a focal point in the center of a container garden. These annual plants grow vertical spikes that draw the eye to the container.
Fill the planting container approximately halfway with potting soil. Remove the spike plant from its temporary container and place it into the center of the planting container so the crown of the plant is just below the rim of the container. Add additional companion plants to the container around the edges, spacing them about 3 to 4 inches away from the spike plant.
Add additional potting soil to the planting container to fill it to the rim. Pat the potting soil down firmly around the plants with your fingers.
Water the soil in the container immediately after you finish planting the spike plant, saturating the soil completely. Provide regular water for the spike plant after allowing the soil to dry slightly. Determine dryness by inserting your finger into the soil. When the top inch feels dry, saturate the soil with tepid water.
Place the planting container in a location that receives indirect sunlight. A partially shady location also is acceptable.
Apply liquid fertilizer to the spike plant once a month according to package recommendations for the size of the planting container. Pour it carefully onto the soil around the plant. Do not allow fertilizer to splash onto plant foliage because this might burn the plants.
Remove leaves that become overgrown and unsightly with pruning shears. Cut this growth off at the base of the plant and the plant will respond with full, new growth.
Spike plants also make suitable houseplants, growing well in a location with daytime temperatures between 60 and 70 F and nighttime temperatures approximately 10 degrees cooler. Mist an indoor spike plant once or twice a week with water to increase the humidity level.
Photo Credit: Candy Butler, Floridata.com
Looking to add something to brighten your landscape this autumn? Firespike ( Odontonema strictum ) is a prolific fall bloomer with red tubular flowers that are very popular with hummingbirds and butterflies. Its glossy dark green leaves make an attractive large plant that will grow quite well in moderate shade to full sunlight. In frost-free areas firespike grows as an evergreen semi-woody shrub, spreading by underground sprouts and enlarging to form a thicket. In zones 8 and 9 it usually dies back to the ground in winter and resprouts in spring, producing strikingly beautiful 9-12 inch panicles of crimson flowers beginning at the end of summer and lasting into the winter each year. Firespike is native to open, semi-forested areas of Central America. It has escaped cultivation and become established in disturbed hammocks throughout peninsular Florida, but hasn’t presented an invasive plant problem. Here in the Panhandle, firespike will remain a tender perennial for most locations. It can be grown on a wide range of moderately fertile, sandy soils and is quite drought tolerant. Firespike may be best utilized in the landscape as a mass planting. Plants can be spaced about 2 feet apart to fill in the area quickly. It is one of only a few flowering plants that give good, red color in a partially shaded site. The lovely flowers make firespike an excellent candidate for the cutting garden and is a “must-have” for southern butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Additional plants can be propagated from firespike by division or cuttings. However, white-tailed deer love firespike too, and will eat the leaves, so be prepared to fence it off from “Bambi” if they are a problem in your neighborhood.
These Central American natives are some of autumn's showiest plants, especially in the Tropical South, where they appreciate a little afternoon shade. Hummingbirds and butterflies frequent the blossoms. If given moderately fertile, well-drained soil, they need little care. They are very tender to coldstems and leaves blacken with the first touch of frost. However, they often come back from the roots in the Coastal and Tropical South elsewhere, treat them as annuals or overwinter indoors. Easily propagated from stem cuttings of mature new growth.
Known for its tropical eye-catching foliage and blooms, firebush shrubs require plenty of heat for optimal growth. Although they will grow in partial shade, they won't bloom as well as they would if given full sun exposure. Beloved for their easy-going nature once established, firebush is a favorite of gardeners living in warmer climates or those who want to bring an air of the tropics to their own backyards.
The firebush is soft-stemmed and has multiple trunks with smooth gray bark. Its leaves are typically light to dark green and covered with fine hairs. They're arranged in whorls of three to five leaves, each of which can grow up to six inches long. Clusters of red-orange tubular flowers are produced throughout the year in tropical climates, and from spring through fall in zones with subtropical winter temperatures. Following the flowers, small dark berries are produced. The cycles of blossoms and fruits are non-synchronous, so it's not unusual for firebush to have both flowers and fruits appear at the same time.
While firebush can grow to an expansive 10 feet and beyond, it can also be pruned to maintain a more moderate shape, making it a great option for lining a patio, deck, or fencing. It can be grown as either an annual in northern locations or as a perennial in southern climates.
Though firebush can tolerate partial shade, it prefers the warmth of full sunlight, at least six or eight hours a day. It's believed that the more sunlight the plant gets, the more plentiful its blooms will be.
Firebush has the benefit of growing easily in a variety of different soil conditions. That being said, it prefers a mixture that's on the drier side, and whatever type of soil you plant it in should be especially well-draining, as the plant can be prone to root rot. Additionally, soil pH isn't of much importance to firebush—it can thrive in a blend that ranges from neutral to acidic.
The firebush shrub is very drought-tolerant once it reaches established maturity, but it will need to be watered fairly regularly up until that point. Plan to drench it with water every few weeks in its first few seasons, allowing the top few inches of soil to dry out completely before watering again.
Like a true tropical, the firebush shrub loves high heat and is not remotely cold hardy. In fact, the leaves of the firebush shrub will often turn red or purple if exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a prolonged period of time. Similarly, the plant can easily withstand humid weather, but it is not a necessity for successful growth.
Though not imperative to the plant's overall success, firebush can benefit from the added nutrients fertilizer application can lend. Feed your plant in the spring with an application of fertilizer that's designed to boost its blossoming potential.
Red hot pokers make good edging plants and surely are striking enough and blossom long enough to serve as specimen plants. Their drought-tolerance makes them suitable for use in rock gardens, although, considering their vigor, only for expansive rock gardens. They're also suitable for xeriscape plans.
Being rhizomatous, red hot pokers can be aggressive growers in favorable conditions they are even considered invasive in some areas. They are attractive to hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies but, fortunately, not to deer.