Poppy Flower

Got poppies on your mind? Learn about these exquisite bloomers, including some tips to help them grow in your garden.

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Photo by: Shutterstock/rontav


Fill your yard with the exotic, tissue paper blooms of the poppy flower. Whether you’re growing perennial Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), cool-season Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicale), cheery red corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) or the golden-petalled California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), when you raise poppies, you’re aiming for over-the-top color. 

Poppies can play many roles in a garden. All types hold their own as members of a cutting garden, gladly yielding fuzzy, flower-topped stems for bouquets. When using fresh poppy flowers, it’s important to seal stems before slipping them into vase water. Simply pass a lit match across stem ends or dip ends into boiling water to seal. 

The poppy is a classic spring bloomer, and many types grow easily from seed. The trick is sowing seeds at the right time. Poppies prefer cool weather, like the cool days and nights of spring. In Southern and Western regions where winters are mild, sow seed in fall and again in early spring. In cold-winter regions where soil goes through a deep freeze, sow seed as soon as soil can be worked in spring. 

Poppy flower seed is incredibly tiny. Mix it with sand to help achieve even distribution in the garden. When seed is on soil, tamp a rake across the planting area to press seed into soil. Don’t cover it up—poppy seed needs light to germinate. Make sure you’re planting poppies in soil that’s moderately fertile, moisture retentive, but well-drained. Once poppies are established, most are somewhat drought tolerant, but seedlings do need regular moisture. 

Many poppies self-seed freely, which can be good or bad, depending on how much poppies like your climate. Limit self-sowing by removing spent flowers. When it’s happy, California poppy can self-seed to the point of invasiveness. In its native region especially, you might want to limit how much you let golden poppy fling seed from its exploding seedpods. Oriental poppy hybrids don’t produce similarly-colored offspring. Instead, volunteer seedlings often revert to the traditional orange hue. 

Look for poppy flowers in many shades. Even the classic golden California poppy now comes in a rainbow of hues, including white, pink, red shades and lilac. Iceland poppies typically offer pastel hues. They’re usually sold as seedlings in garden centers in early spring. Buy and plant these seedlings for success. Corn poppies open the classic red blooms. Shirley poppies bring bouquets of bright shades and cool pastels to the garden, including raspberry, peach, coral, white, lavender and grey. 

After poppy flowers strut their stuff, they disappear in the garden. Foliage fades and the ground shows only a bare spot where beauty once stood. With most of the self-sowing poppies, as long as you let plants set and disperse seed, you should be on your way to next year’s show. With perennial Oriental poppies, it’s wise to tuck a companion plant, like boltonia or Japanese anemone, near the poppy clump to cover the bare spot through the remaining garden season.

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