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For a type of wildflowers, poppies are much loved by gardening enthusiasts for their colorful, fragrant blooms and their ability to attract all kinds of friendly pollinators to your garden.
Poppies are self-seeding plants which grow back naturally every year. They come in a wide range of colors such as white, red, yellow, pink, purple, and orange. They’re grown as annuals, perennials, and biennials based on the specific genus.
When planted and taken care of properly, these ornamental plants will produce beautiful flowers every year, giving your garden a lovely picturesque look as they sway slowly in the wind.
Types of Poppies
Poppies are herbaceous plants belong to the subfamily papaveroideae of the family of papaveraceae. There are hundreds of different poppy species in endless colors found throughout the world. The following are some of the most popular types of poppy plants among gardeners.
Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale)
These hardy perennials produce huge flowers in the late spring to early summer which are about 9-10 inches in size. The flowers are varied in many colors with a dark blotch in the center and they have a dense and hairy foliage.
Oriental poppies are native to northeastern Turkey, Northern Iran, and Caucasus.
Opium Poppies (Papaver somniferum)
Also known as “breadseed poppy”, these annuals can grow up to 3-16 feet, depending on the specific varieties. While the milky sap of their unripe seed pods are used in making narcotic substances like opium and heroin, they’re also famous for their non-narcotic seeds. These seeds are often used in various culinary items such as bakery products and also as bird seeds.
Corn Poppies (Papaver rhoeas)
Also known as “Common Poppy, Field Poppy, Corn Rose, Red Poppy or Flanders Poppy”, corn poppies are identified as an agricultural weed. This may be because they’re much easier to grow in comparison to many other types of poppies.
The red poppy flower, which originated in the UK, is used as a symbol for the remembrance of fallen soldiers and all the other military persons of the first World War and thereon.
Iceland Poppies (Papver nudicaule)
These are short-lived perennials mostly indigenous to northern hemisphere regions. They produce large, bowl-shaped, yellow, orange, or white blooms which look much like paper and feathery, blue-green leaves with curved, hairy stems. These poppies typically thrive in the cold weather.
California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica)
The California poppy is well known as the official flower of the state of California (after which it was named). Native to the United States and Mexico, the flowers come in various colors including red, pink, yellow, and orange.
Also called ‘Cup of Gold, Golden Poppy, and California Sunlight, these flowers are sometimes used as a garnish in the culinary world.
Himalayan Blue Poppies (Meconopsis betonicifolia)
This unique genus of poppies is a bit challenging to grow without the ideal growing conditions. They’re a native flowering plant to Tibet known for their beautiful blue color flowers. However, they generate flowers in other colors too including white, yellow and pink. It’s also the national flower of Bhutan.
How to Care for Poppies
Although there are many different species of poppy, the general growing conditions aren’t very different from one species to another. In general, they’re easy, low maintenance plants to grow and care for.
Here’s a look at how these different kinds of poppies can be grown and cared for in your very own garden.
Poppies can be propagated by seeds, root cuttings, or division, and has to be done very carefully.
Propagating from Seeds
This is the easiest way to propagate poppies. As poppy seeds like being exposed to mild cold weather, sow them in the late fall or early spring. If the weather isn’t chilly enough, keep the seed in the refrigerator or soak them in water before planting.
The spot where you choose to plant your poppy seeds should be sunny and have good drainage. The soil surface should be moist but not too wet and should be maintained in the same condition until the seeds sprout. The seeds can take anywhere from 10-30 days depending on the variety of poppy you’ve chosen.
After preparing the soil, scatter the seeds thinly across the ground. The poppy seeds need some amount of light to germinate, so they should only be covered slightly with a very thin layer of soil. When seedlings start to grow, thin them out with a space of at least 4-6 inches apart from each other.
Propagation from Root Cuttings
Propagating poppies from root cuttings is a slightly more complicated process than propagating from seeds. It also requires a very sharp knife. If you try cutting your poppy plants with a blunt knife, you could damage them and they won’t grow properly.
The best time to take the root cuttings from a poppy plant is at the end of the growing season. This is because the plant will be well-grown with strong and thick roots by that time.
First, uproot a poppy plant carefully with the roots intact. Remember: you MUST be careful not to damage the roots. Remove the soil from the root before taking the cuttings. Then, cut the root into small parts around 2.5 cm in length.
Plant the root pieces upright on a tray or small containers with fertile soil and compost. It’s crucial to plant these cuttings in containers that have good drainage in order for them to grow properly. Adding a layer of horticultural grit will also be extremely helpful in drainage.
Propagation by Division
Begin dividing poppies after they start to regrow which, most of the time, is in late August to September. Remember to water them well on the day before you plan to divide them. It will make the soil around and beneath the plant damp and moist, making it easy to dig them out. When digging, start about 6 inches away from the plant to avoid causing any harm to its roots.
After taking out the plant, divide it into small parts, each with strong and healthy roots. Then, plant them with enough space in compost-rich soil and water immediately.
Caring for Poppy Plants
Follow these simple tips to keep your poppy plants growing at their best.
Soil and Sunlight
Poppies can survive in most types of soil including clay-like and sandy soil. However, they grow best in well-drained, moist, and organically fertile, loamy soil. If the quality of the chosen soil isn’t good enough, you can amend it with some organic compost before planting.
If the poppies are planted directly on the ground where the soil is too heavy and waterlogged, plant them in raised garden beds for better drainage. In case of dry and sandy soil, you can use some mulch to help retain the moisture of the soil longer.
Poppies are sun-loving plants, so it’s important to plant them where they can get at least 6 hours of full sun during the day. This will guarantee healthy plants and vigorous blooming. If you don’t have enough space in your garden, planting them near a white wall that will reflect the sunlight and retain heat will give the plants better lighting and heat conditions.
Poppies don’t do well in too much water as it will cause the roots to rot and die eventually. Watering them once every few days is sufficient in normal weather conditions. If you’re not sure when to water your poppy plants, try sticking your finger in the soil around the plants to check how dry it is.
If the soil is completely dry, then it’s time to water your poppies again. In draught conditions, lack of water can result in your poppies turning brown, but you can prevent this by watering them frequently.
Always water your poppies in the morning instead of in the afternoon and the evening. Watering in the evenings will lead to various foliage diseases due to wet leaves throughout the night. Watering in the afternoon can cause the leaves burn with heated water, especially in hot weather which can also cause excessive water evaporation.
Fertilizing and Weeding
Poppies are not heavy feeders. If the soil is fertile enough, then these plants don’t need any additional fertilizing. If the soil you use has too much nitrogen, it can result in plants with overgrown foliage and less flowers. In such cases, feeding your poppies with a phosphorous-rich fertilizer can boost flowering again. Adding a flowering fertilizer in the blooming season can also encourage them to produce more blossoms.
In addition, you can use a slow-release fertilizer to nourish the plants at least once a year. Feeding them with a balanced liquid fertilizer once every two weeks or using a balanced granular fertilizer once a month are also good options. The ideal time to do this is the beginning of the growing season which in most cases is the spring.
Regular weeding and maintenance is crucial for the health of your poppy plants. Newly planted and sprouted plants need a completely weed-free environment as they can be surpassed by weeds, resulting in malnourishment. For a small poppy patch in your garden, pulling out the weeds manually with your hands is the best way to remove them. However, if you’ve got a much bigger cultivation, you can always use a garden equipment such as a hoe for a faster weeding.
Pest and Disease Control
Poppies attract various pests such as mites, aphids, thrips, hoplia beetles, spittlebugs, and true bugs. Apart from these, poppy plants can also get exposed to numerous fungus infections and diseases like powdery mildew, downy mildew, gray mold, southern blight, and rhizoctonia root rot.
Pests can be often found on leaves, stems, branches, or flowers of the poppy plant. When the infestation is bad, leaves and flowers can become deformed and the plants can die eventually. These infestations can be controlled by using a strong stream of water and then spraying the entire plant with an insecticidal soap spray. They can be also be killed using natural predators such as parasitic wasps, lacewings and ladybug beetles.
Fungal infections and diseases can affect every part of the plant including the foliage, stems, and even the roots. If you notice a white, powdery coating or spots on the leaves and stalk means your plants have most likely caught a fungal infection. If they look withered and wilted or decayed in some parts and the growth has been visibly decreased, that means they can be infected with root rot.
Most fungal infections and disease that pose a threat to poppies happen due to lack of nutrition and excess or deficiency of moisture. Providing your poppies with the best care and attention can reduce the risk of exposure to most of these. When watering your poppies, avoid wetting the foliage as much as you can by directly soaking the ground around the plant roots. In extreme cases, remove and separate all the infected parts and plants from the healthy ones to stop it spreading further. Finally, spray the plant with some natural fungicide like neem oil or other horticultural oils that will help destroy any remaining fungus spores in the plant surroundings.
Deadheading is the process of removing old flowers to stimulate new growth at the end of the flowering season. When the flowers started to wilt and wither, cut the flower stems back to the stalk that leafed first. Remember to avoid trimming all the flowers at once, since the plant won’t be able to self-seed without them.
While the poppies are known as wild flowers, they make a wonderful addition to your garden with their beautiful and radiant blooms. Whether you’re an expert or a novice, these easy grown ornamental plants will provide you an amazing gardening experience with more than satisfying end results.