When we talk about poppies everyone seems to love them. Today we will look at how to grow poppies and the different kinds available. Poppies have a long history taking us back to Flanders Fields. Its was said that after the ravages of battle the poppies filled the fields afterwards. Now we celebrate Remembrance day by wearing a red poppy. Fields of poppies are not hard to establish. Poppies are very easy to grow. They are difficult to transplant so its best to grow them from seed. In zones 3-7 its best to plant your seed in the spring and in zones 8-10 you can plant them in the fall. Fall planted seeds will bloom in late spring and spring planted seeds bloom in summer. For successive blooms plant seeds every two weeks.
Poppies are notoriously hard to transplant. If you do decide to grow them from seed, its best to move them to the garden before they are 3″ high and with the whole root ball intact. I have found in the past that maybe 70 percent of my plants transplant well. Try planting your poppy seeds in peat pellets or coir pots so you don’t have to disturb the root ball when planting.
Poppies come in so many different forms from single petalled to the frilly petalled one above. I collected seed from this frilly pink poppy about six years ago and we now have it show up randomly at our community garden. Yes, poppies when left to grow and go to seed will drop their seeds everywhere. Some people don’t like self sowing flowers but I love them. They are easy to remove if you don’t want them where they decide to grow.
If you grow poppies from seed, work your soil so its nice and soft and will allow the deep tap-root to penetrate the soil. Poppies also love a well-drained soil and will not tolerate heavy wet soils. Plant a few seeds on the top of the soil and place a very light dusting of soil over the seed. Do not plant too deep as they need light to grow. Tiny seeds are always planted very shallowly.
When planting seeds, plant from March to May or in September. If you are unsure which season to plant them in, try both to see which works best for your garden. I know that planting seeds in the fall can often lead to accidental weeding of said plants in the spring. It’s best to label where you plant your poppy seeds so this doesn’t happen.
Poppies like full sun to partial shade. I mistakenly planted an oriental poppy in shade and it flops over when in bloom. It’s probably in need of a position with better sunlight or some staking. Most of the annual poppies we grow are Shirley poppies or Papaver rhoeas and come in a range of colours. The field of red Shirley poppies above were planted by eight year olds as transplants one spring. Even though they got trampled on a bit the plants thrived in the full sun garden. What a contrast they are against a blue sky.
The Shirley poppy was developed by Reverend W.Wilks from a sport of a corn poppy found growing in the Shirley Vicarage in England. He found a poppy with a white line along the edge of the petal and saved seeds from it and continued to grow the seed out until he developed what is called the Shirley poppy. Shirley poppies come in many colours from red, pink, whites and apricots and grow to about 2′ high in the garden.
There are several kinds of poppies. Most of the ones we grow from seed are annual flowers but the oriental poppies or Papaver orientale are perennial. Above is a peach coloured oriental poppy that happily blooms in my garden each year. The flowers of the oriental poppies are much larger than those of the annual poppies. Oriental poppies like to have a winter chill to perform and grow well. It’s said that this plant is a short-lived perennial but mine has lasted for years. This summer I had fewer blooms which I take as a sign that the plant needs dividing. Division is best done in late summer after the blooms are finished.
Not to forget the California poppy or Eschscholzia californica which is used in areas that suffer from drought and where few other plants will grow. Its orange flowers are a welcome sight in spring. The California poppy was named in honour of Dr,. Eschscholtz, a Russian ship’s surgeon, who found it growing wild on our western coast over a century ago. Its different from other poppies in that its petals close up at night and on cloudy days. Their lovely orange flowers are borne above frilly leaved stems.I love how the orange poppies stand out in this wildflower mix from West Coast Seeds.
Of course, I would be amiss not to mention the highly coveted Himalayan Blue poppy or Mecanopsis poppy. Its pure blue flowers are sought after by poppy collectors all over the world. The photo above does not do the true blue colour justice. I haven’t seen a blue poppy in six years and its looks purple above. I have tried to grow it without success. I was told long ago that you cannot let the Mecanopsis poppy flower in the first year and all buds should be removed. It’s definitely a tricky plant to grow but once established you will have them for years.