California Poppy

Grow a little piece of the Golden State by adding California poppies to your garden. Learn how to grow these bright bloomers.

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Photo by: Shutterstock/Nancy Kennedy

Shutterstock/Nancy Kennedy

Outfit your garden with the cheery flowers of California poppy. This native wildflower brings charm aplenty to any landscape with its golden petals and self-sowing ways. California poppies give every yard a cottage garden feeling thanks to the way they serendipitously appear as plants fling seed. Choose this bloomer for a native landscape, xeriscape or wildflower meadow. It also makes a terrific addition to a wildlife or butterfly garden. 

Also known as golden poppy, California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a California native and the state flower since 1903. These pretty bloomers thrive in other locations as long as you provide the right growing conditions. Plants are at their peak when they’re growing in hot, dry areas. They’re the perfect addition to a neglected spot, rock garden or sloping site that’s difficult to plant and tend. 

The plants are perennial in Zones 8 to 10, although they’re a short-lived perennial at best. Many gardeners treat California poppies as annuals, sowing seed each year. The plants open silky petaled, fluted flowers above leaves that blend hints of blue-green with a fine, feathery texture—almost like carrot tops. Golden poppy forms loose mounds 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. 

This native plant opens 1- to 3-inch-wide flowers in shades of gold and orange. Each petal has a deep-orange smudge at its base. Modern breeders have expanded golden poppy’s color range, adding shades of cream, lilac, rose, butter yellow, white, and coppery-red. California poppy blossoms, regardless of the hue, share one striking feature: The blooms open on sunny days, but close up tight at night and in cloudy, rainy weather. Flowers appear heaviest in spring—from March to May in California. 

Most often you’ll encounter California poppy in wildflower seed mixes, but you can purchase seeds of this pretty native in assorted colors. Seeds do best when directly sown where they’ll grow. Like all poppies, these wildflowers develop tap roots and dislike being disturbed once they sink roots into soil. 

In regions where winter brings deeply frozen soil (Zones 3 to 5), sow seed in early spring, as soon as you can get outside and work in the garden. In mild winter regions (Zones 6 to 10), plan on sowing seeds twice: once in fall and again in early spring. When planting seed, don’t cover them. Just press them into place with a rake or other tool to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. California poppy seeds need light to germinate. 

Once seedlings are up, thin 6 to 10 inches apart. Use scissors to snip unwanted seedlings at soil level. Don’t pull unwanted seedlings, or you risk disturbing roots of seedlings you want to keep. Golden poppies make wonderful cut flowers. Seal the end of cut poppy stems by passing them through a flame before placing in a vase. 

California poppies self-seed freely with exploding seed pods that fling seed several feet from the mother plant. Limit the spread by removing spent flowers before they set seed.

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