Learn how to grow poppies, and add stunning blooms to your garden. Poppies are grown nearly all over the world, and come in varied sizes, colors, and textures. Bees and other pollinators are drawn to these vibrant flowers.
Poppies are a springtime staple in my garden in the low desert of Arizona. Although the blooms are short-lived, they are beautiful. I love watching each phase of the growing cycle: from drooping bud, to bloom, and finally seed pod.
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8 Tips for How to Grow Poppies
1. Start poppy seeds in the garden
If you have purchased poppies from a local nursery and been disappointed with the results, try planting poppies from seed instead. I use poppy seeds from Botanical Interests. I’ve had the most success starting poppies directly in the garden.
Plant seeds directly in the garden when the soil has warmed to around 65℉ – 75℉. Start poppies from seed by firmly putting a few seeds on the soil; do not cover with additional soil. Poppy seeds need light to germinate. Space plants 6” to 12” apart (depending on the variety) to maximize air circulation and reduce powdery mildew.
Many years, poppies reseed from the previous year’s plantings. I also treat poppies as a wildflower and lightly sprinkle seeds in the fall. Read this article to learn more about how to grow wildflowers.
2. Plant poppies in the right location
Poppies need at least 6 hours of sun. Some varieties of poppies grow very large, up to 5 feet tall. Plan accordingly and plant poppies where they will have room to grow. Many varieties of poppies reseed easily. Plant poppies in an area you don’t mind having them return to each year.
3. Plant different varieties of poppy seeds
California poppy – Iconic wildflower of California does well in poor soil, and reseeds readily. Usually sown in the fall, and germinates with winter and spring rain.
Shirley poppy – 3 foot stalks with colors ranging from soft pastels to red. They do well in flower beds and as a cut flower.
Peony Poppy(a type of breadseed poppy) – Stunning peony-like blooms, gray-green foliage, and beautiful seed pods.
Oriental poppy – Grows best in mountain regions with cool weather. Black centers are the feature point of these blooms.
4. Plant poppies at the right time
In areas with cold winters, sow poppy seeds in the spring. In warmer areas (like Arizona), sow seeds beginning in late fall (October – January). Seedlings will emerge in the spring. Learn to identify what young seedlings look like and remove weeds.
5. Be sure to thin seedlings
Because poppy seeds are so small, there are often abundant seedlings even when carefully sown. If left to grow, they will choke each other out. When plants are too close together, there is often inadequate air flow and they are more susceptible to pests and disease.
Thin seedlings (6” to 9” apart depending on the variety) when seedlings are young for best results. Allow remaining plants to grow undisturbed.
6. Care for poppies as they grow
Provide fertile soil and adequate water for germination, and then poppies are relatively easy to care for. Stake larger varieties if desired, and water poppies during dry spells.
7. Harvest flowers often to encourage more blooms
The larger-stemmed varieties of poppies make a beautiful cut flower. Cut stems nearly down to the ground just as blooms begins to crack open; poppies continue to open and develop once harvested. Remove all leaves from stem, and place in water. Blooms will last about 5 days in a vase. Sear cut ends in hot water or with a match for longest lasting blooms.
Use beautiful seed pods (fresh or dried) in cut flower arrangements. Harvest seed pods as soon as the petals fall off.
8. Save poppy seeds to plant next season
At the end of the season, don’t cut the largest, prettiest flowers. Beautiful seed pods form after the petals fall off. Leave these on the plant until you see them “pop” and holes form under the rim of the plant.
California poppy seeds form on a long stem. Pick the stems off the plant when it browns, but before it opens and releases seeds.
Store harvested seeds in a paper sack until dried. Learn more about how to save seeds in this article.