14 January 2009

A Passion for a Plethora of Poppies, Part 2: Growing tips

Sarah O, another blogger who lives in Nova Scotia, asked me in a comment how I managed to get Icelandic poppies to cooperate in our clay soil. Hence the several posts on poppy types and growing requirements. There have also been a couple of questions in comments since then, so I'll try to answer those as well.

Growing poppies has always been easy for me. Some years ago I bought potted Icelandic and alpine poppies in the spring and transplanted them in, and they have done the rest, seeding themselves replacements each year. They are classified by growers such as Thompson and Morgan as hardy biennials, meaning they take two years to come to flower. Although I’ll often tuck in a new plant or two each year just to make sure I have a host of colours, mostly I rely on the current plants to ensure their own success. They are not terribly fussy except that they demand good drainage, and so they tend to do best in the front garden or in one of the two raised beds out back which has the better drainage. They will often bloom themselves into exhaustion, but not until well into autumn, especially if you do deadhead them.

The annual poppies (R. rhoeas and P. somniferum) are basically everywhere around our property, which is the way I like it. There's usually a huge flush of bloom, but because of some seeds germinating later in the season, some plants being especially prolific, and just good luck, we have P. rhoeas poppies flowering until the end of the growing season. The poppy in the top photo was blooming in late October.

All poppies in the Papaver species will take full sun to part shade. Most of ours are shaded at least part of the day, either from buildings or because of trees and shrubs. If you give them 4-6 hours of direct sun a day (I'm guessing based on what's shaded when here), they'll do just fine. They'll take more shade, but don't tend to get as large or flower as prolifically. The meconopsis also like some shade in their day, and they will NOT take a lot of heat. Hence they do well here, because on those few hot days we have, the plants are shaded by the hottest part of the day. We also get a bounty of rain and fog to keep the humidity up where they want it.

I don't overfertilize plants. Most of the beds get some seaweed meal, some mushroom compost and some regular compost worked in around them in the spring, and that's it. It seems to work just fine, wouldn't you say?

The annual poppies were here in great profusion when we moved here ten years ago, and I’ve just added to the fun. Certain colours present themselves in certain areas, and some years there are more than others, but there are usually all kinds of them around the garden. I do collect seed, mix it all together, and fling it in various beds around the yard, and they take it from there.

Annual poppies resent transplanting so they’re best seeded where you want them, or where they choose to seed themselves.. Rake the area where you plan to plant them, mix the seeds with a little sand, and cast that out on the ground. Pat them in a little if you wish, make sure the soil is moist, and then mind your business. They'll do the rest. The main thing is to give them that good drainage that they want. My understanding is to seed them in spring or autumn, and not during the heat of summer, especially if you come from a hot-summer area. But I don’t, so I can’t confirm that. I know that some years we’ve had poppy seedlings emerge in October and early November because there’s been no frost. But there are still always lots the following year.

If you have massive germination (and you will if they're happy), you probably should thin the seedlings out, so as to get more large plants and large blooms. But here's what I find with the breadseed poppies. They will grow and flower regardless of the size of the plant. I've had poppy seedlings 6 inches tall, with poppies on them the size of quarters. Sometimes I do thin them a little, but because they're so scattered in amongst all kinds of other plants, some of the seedlings DO tend to get naturally shaded out. And sometimes I just let them all be, so that I do have them in all possible sizes. I only collect seed from the very biggest and hardiest plants; I tag the ones I want with fluorescent-coloured marking tape, and then go around collecting the seeds when the pods are ready (they'll be brown and you'll hear the seeds rattling around inside the pod.) You need to watch carefully, though, because one day they aren't ready and the next day they are, and if there's a wind--they'll have scattered themselves for you.

Back in about 1999 or 2000, I bought a package of P. orientale seeds, the Pizzicato mix, and seeded them inside. When they were big enough, I transplanted them out into a bed I was building in the back garden, and left them to themselves. Nine or ten years later, they are STILL performing for me every June, in shades of coral, orange, and delectable hot pink. And some of them are huge. I’ve never moved or bothered them since putting them in, and even though that bed is a bit iffy in the winter, apparently they get adequate drainage that they continue to flourish.

Now, they only bloom once, and as anyone whose grown them know, the foliage of oriental poppies usually dies down once the flowering is over, and that can leave a gap in your border or bed. What to plant there instead? Mine are in a highly mixed garden, with a host of deciduous shrubs, other perennials including lots of hostas, daylilies, rudbeckias and coneflowers, so it's never an issue to fill in the spaces; the hostas and daylilies especially just grow a little bit larger while the poppy foliage melts away, and all of these plants will flower later in the season. Depending on where you live, I'd plant a perennial or a low shrub that doesn't flower until after the poppies are done, so as not to detract from the show.

The beauty of blogging is that you learn something new every day. From Sylvia in England, I learned about super poppies, which are inter-species hybrids created by an American plantsman who crossed P. atlanticum, P. somniferum, P. orientale and several other lesser known species over a period spanning thirty years. The are said to bloom longer, come in some gorgeous colours, and will produce a second flush of bloom with deadheading. Now, I only learned about these today and haven't had a chance to really research them but here are two observations about them:

1. Although bred in the States, they seem to have gotten more attention from the British press and nursery operators
2. I have never seen or heard of them here. Which doesn't mean anything other than I haven't heard of them til today, but I'm going to see what else I can find of them. Because I saw photos, and had a flush of Urgent Plant Seeking Madness, the likes of which I haven't had in nearly a year.! I did locate some interesting information about them including an article from Park Seed Company, including a photo of the most UPSM-inducing poppy, the dark wine 'Heartbeat'. Want!!!!!
I bet they'll be expensive. One British Nursery was selling them several years ago for about 9 pounds sterling (which these days is around 20.00 Canadian, but that's okay. If I find them around here, they may supplant my obsession with Meconopsis!

With regards to the darling but cantankerous blue Himalayan poppy, you can read the post I did about them last year here. I know that more than a few of you have had your challenges with these plants, and they certainly can be an exercise in frustration, exasperation, hope, heartbreak--and utter joy when they flower. I’m just lucky in that our cool, moist climate pleases them, even though it causes me no end of exasperation with regards to other plants.

I hope that if you're not already growing poppies (at least the annual ones) you'll give them a try. But I warn you, they're addictive. As for the blue ones...Kylee gets points for total determination, if not complete success. I know what she means, though. I have similar problems with tomatoes...


  1. Thanks for the poppy series. Wonderful photos, as usual.

    One poppy that I have successfully grown is the Spanish poppy (papaver rupifragum). If you keep it deadheaded you will get small yellow flowers from July to after the first hard frost. It will also self seed.

    Herb Fraser,
    Chester NS

  2. Jdi,

    Your poppies are lovely and I sure wish I could get them established here..maybe your technique of tucking a new one here and there will work! I Thanks, Gail

  3. Thanks for this great poppy rundown. I do live in a hot-summer climate, and can report that if you don't sow seed in fall or early winter, they will die an early death. I also learned about two new poppies - hadn't run into the Spanish poppy, now I'll look - and the Superpoppy, thanks to you.

  4. Fantastic assortment jodi. Poppies are one of the few annuals that I desire because they look so incredible and your post increases my awe of them. Cheers.

  5. Hi Jodi, what a great tutorial about poppies you have written. And I so want that new mixed up genes poppy too! We have the somniferum here, given seeds by neighbors with the pinks and reds, some doubles, that come up in the oddest places, but we allow them to flower and save the seed. It is still the self sowns that do the best. I admire your Iceland poppies, along with the blue of course, you grow them so well.

  6. I'm simply echoing all the other comments, Jodi -- this has been a wonderful tutorial and introduction (for poppy virgins like me!) to a most beautiful flower. :) Thanks!

  7. I have always craved poppies in my garden but after this wonderful poppy tutorial and your stunning photos, I think I might be happy if only poppies bloomed to delight me! I realize even more how much we have missed you, Jodi. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

  8. Fabulous and inspiring. I'm starting some poppies in my winter sowing area. Hope it will work. I love them. Thanks...Ellen at kirbyplant.blogspot.com

  9. Jodi, I am ear marking these posts so I can come back when it's time to start sowing seeds. In the mean time I am going to figure out an area for them. Good drainage, light shade part of the day, and don't move them once they've sprouted. Hmmm, will really have to get creative to find a site like that.

    Your knowledge of poppies is amazing. Thank you so much for the gorgeous pictures and the great tutorial!

  10. Okay, you convinced me. I'll give them a try in honor of you in my veggie garden area. I think that is about the only spot that gets 4-6 hours of sun. Thanks for the info!

  11. Jodi, I, too, have bookmarked this page so I can come back to it this spring. Thanks for all the great tips; I would love to be able to grow a few of these beauties in my garden.

  12. oooohhh...beauties galore! Your whole post was so informative! I've tried to grow poppies but they just don't flower for me. Perhaps I need a different spot to put them in...I just don't know.
    All of your photos and explanations are awesome:)
    Love the poppies in any color...like the idea of spreading seed all over and NOT having to thin it out:) Might try that!
    The BLUE is beyond gorgeous. It's amazing. I'd love to grow that one.
    Great GBBD post. I haven't even done mine yet:(

  13. After reading your last post, I peeked at Parks to see what they offered. One really caught my eye, Park's Peony Poppy Flemish Antique. It has a many petaled bicolor bloom in pink and ivory. You can bet I'll give it a try next spring.

  14. I've never met a poppy I didn't like :) They are on my "must have someday very soon!" list.


  15. I would love to grow Poppies, but I don’t think they’ll do well in our tropical heat.

  16. Your poppies are so fabulous, Jodi! It's photos like yours that remind me how much I love to see Iceland poppies and how little they like to grow here. I think our summers are too hot because mine always seem to poop out before their time. Another 3000 feet up in the mountains west of Denver they grow beautifully. Thanks for the daydream!

  17. I love how gorgeous your red poppies look en masse. The red is so enchanting to me. Our Icelandic poppies are a "winter" flower around here. Our state flower is the California poppy. And red oriental poppies reseed year after year. All of them don't seem to mind the clay soil that is prolific in our region.


  18. A great tutorial Jodi so I expect to see poppies popping up in many a blog later this year. ;-) I love the annual poppies best and it's always such a joy to see them pop up in many an unexpected place in my garden.

    Have a nice weekend!

  19. Thank you so much for posting about poppies. I've never had much success with them, but this year I'm going to try Welsh poppies (Meconopsis cambrica), so your post was very timely. I suddenly remembered that three gardens ago, I had a little clump of yellow Welsh poppies that seemed unkillable (just the kind of plant I like...) I'm going to try the variety called Frances Perry, which is red/orange. Wish me luck!

  20. Jodi...The Poppy Queen! I love them, as you know, and still haven't managed a Himalayan. (boo-hoo) I think I'll take a year off and not try this year, unless someone has them as cheap as Michigan Bulb did last year. They sent such nice plants and I killed them. They would have replaced them for free, but they ran out of them, so they just gave my money back. Great service, but I really want the poppies. LOL.


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