How to Grow and Care for Poppies

Poppies

Quick Overview

Plant Type: Annual
Family: Papaveroideae
Sun Exposure: Full, partial
Watering: Weekly watering
Colors: Red, yellow, pink, orange, white
Size: 28 inches (70 centimeters) tall
Hardiness Zones: 1-10, USA
Soil Type: Chalk, Loam,Sand - Well-drained
Soil pH: Neutral to Acidic
Propagation: Seeds
Toxicity: Toxic to pets

Poppies are the world’s favorite wildflower and spread throughout the northern hemisphere. Whether you are an amateur or expert gardener you’ll enjoy having these in your garden. Why? They are easy to plant, germinate fast, care for, and add vibrancy to any garden. Being the wildflower they are, you can see spatterings of them in meadows, fields, and more.

Poppies are eye-catching, robust, and very attractive to pollinators. With most self-seeding, they naturally grow back over and over again without much output from you. So, don’t get fooled or intimidated by their delicate looking flower. They are hardy and almost self-sufficient.

Choosing the right plants for your garden is an individual decision. Poppies have many appealing features when contemplating what you want. The variety of colors & shapes, ease of care, and attracting pollinators to name a few.

poppy flower

All About Poppy Flowers

Poppy is the common name for plants in the Papaveraceae family. Most grow in the northern hemisphere. Poppies are ornamental plants and are often cultivated in gardens for this specific reason. They bloom one flower per stem and the different species vary in height and color. Height can be anywhere between 8 inches to 4 feet with colors including, red, purple, white, and orange. These colorful beauties come in annuals and perennials and usually bloom from summer to fall. A unique fact of the annuals is they don’t flower continuously through the summer, they re-bloom many times depending on the variety. They also bloom for many years, some as long as 100 years in the same location. 

One thing to keep in mind though, admire your flowers in their natural habitat. If you cut them for a flower arrangement, they will often last less than a day.

poppy flower

Growing your Poppies

Poppies are one of the easiest flowers in the world to grow. Make sure your soil is more alkaline than acid and you will have plenty of colored flowers. Also planting in spring or fall is best. The best temperature to sow your seeds is between 35 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, after the last frost. When doing so, scatter the seeds on the surface of your soil and use gentle pressure to press them in. Don’t bury them. Then add some water with a spray bottle or watering can. If you water with a hose you may bury or move the seeds from where you laid them. This will cause the poppies to go dormant or grow in places you had not intended. Once you plant them, add water when the dirt is dry, or about once a week if you need a schedule. That is the only thing you need to do.

poppies

Propagating your Poppy Flowers

Most poppies germinate and grow from seeds that fall from plants that have already bloomed. Seeds can lay dormant for years if they are underground. Once the soil is cultivated and they are at the surface they will germinate. To propagate from established plants you need to do nothing except leave the plant alone. The bloom will turn color, droop and the seeds will fall to the ground. These seeds will then produce more plants. Since these propagate on their own, you see smatterings of poppies all over. They may even show up in different areas of your garden because the wind carries the seeds to new locations.

However, oriental poppies are different. You can propagate them from root cuttings. When you want to grow more oriental poppies through root cuttings it is relatively easy. Move some of the soil around the root and lift up then cut some sections from the outside of the root. Place these root pieces in shallow soil in a sunny location and lightly cover with compost. Water and watch them grow.

poppy flower

Poppy Flower Varieties

Poppies come in several genera and dozens of species. Each with different characteristics and varying climate preferences. Most do enjoy mild temperatures. Here are a few popular varieties.

  • California poppies are the most well-known in the west. They have vibrant colors of red, pink, and gold. This low-growing variety blooms fast, drop seeds and flower again. Then the cycle continues. You often see these along, roadways, hiking trails, or meadows coloring the landscape.
  • Shirley poppies have mixed colors that took years to blend together. Rev. William Wilks of the Parish of Shirley in England collected the seeds from unusual colored poppies for years. Then cross pollinated them to create this unique variety.
  • Somniferum poppies produce poppyseed used in cooking and grow up to 3 feet tall. These annuals are also known as the opium or breadseed poppies.
  • Perry’s White poppies are one of the oriental varieties with pure white, large blousy petals that look like crepe paper with a black mark at the base of each one. Each flower is about 4 to 6 inches wide & its stems are 1 to 3 feet tall.
  • Greater Celandine is rarely planted deliberately & often seen on roadsides. They are biennials and have yellow flowers that bloom from May to August. They are an aggressive self seeding variety. So much so that they are hard to get rid of if you don’t want them in your garden.
poppies

General Care for your Poppies

Watering and Pruning

Your poppies prefer moist soil, especially during germination. When you first spread the seeds, water with a spray bottle or watering can so you don’t wash them away or they may turn up somewhere else. Once established poppies handle drought. Yet if you want to encourage blooming water about once a week or when the soil feels dry to the touch. Even though poppies like moist soil they also need it to drain well because they can rot if waterlogged. Water your poppies weekly or as needed to keep these plants healthy without much effort

Pruning is a choice with poppies. If you want more plants to grow, it’s easy, don’t prune them. Their spent flowers will turn to tan seed pods and spill seeds onto the ground. To encourage more flowering on your current plants, remove the dead blooms where they meet the stalk. Do not remove the foliage. Having the choice to prune rather than being required is another advantage of having poppies in your garden.

Fertilizing and Soil

Don’t like fertilizer, no problem. You rarely, if ever, need to fertilize your poppies. If you decide to add fertilizer, wait until the tall plant is 5 inches or 10 inches. Also, only add fertilizer if you have very poor soil. One thing to keep in mind though is if you do add fertilizer make sure it is ph neutral and low nitrogen. In general, they do not need extra fertilizer so enjoy the simplicity of growing your poppies with just sun, soil, & watering when dry.

The type of soil is not all that crucial when growing your poppies. They can thrive in all kinds of soil, even ones full of stones. However, it must be well-drained for your poppies to prosper. If you don’t have a place with good drainage there are a couple of options. You can build a raised bed or create drainage by mixing a few of inches of compost and sand with the top of your soil. When they sit in standing water they rot. Poppies are not picky about the soil they sit in as long as the water can drain out.

Light and Climate

Show your poppies the light. Most thrive in full direct sun, about 6 hours per day. Very few, like the purple poppy, prefer some shade in their day. Fully shaded areas prevent your poppies from blooming as vibrantly as they are capable of. So, if you have a sunny yard or window you have a great place for your poppies to grow.

Poppies prefer cool to moderate sunny conditions. They are hardy and can live in other types of weather but this is their favorite. Humidity is not a factor for your poppies. Heat usually is not either, except for extreme heat. Extended periods over 90 degrees Fahrenheit can cause the plants to go dormant. Sun and moderate temps are where the poppies are happiest.

red flower

Diseases

If you don’t want to deal with disease and pests often, pick poppies. They rarely have either. Although, oriental types can be inflicted by powdery mildew. When this develops, it affects the whole plant. White mildew covers the leaves and stems in spring or summer. If it gets bad, cut your plant back to the ground. Then clear away all the fallen leaves to keep the disease from getting into the soil and spreading.

Intriguing Facts about Poppies

The Flanders poppy is the most well known around the world. This variety is named after the World War I battles fought in Flanders, Belgium. These poppies inhabited this area keeping the fields colorful with their red flowers. During the war, they hid and lay dormant for 4 years while all the disruption was happening above ground. Then the summer after the war ended they filled the fields once again. On Memorial and Veteran’s days, these poppies still are handed out all around the US by the American Legion.

On a Final Note

Poppies are one of gardeners’ favorites. You can grow them in all kinds of weather and all kinds of soil. Their variety of colors and heights add to the vibrancy of your garden. Poppies need very little care and will spread and re-bloom on their own. So, even if you are a first time gardener, you will look like an expert with these in your space. They are an excellent choice for any garden.Are you ready to enjoy the striking colors of poppies in your garden? Share this guide to growing them on social media so other gardeners can be inspired and join you!