Poppies Care

Growing Poppies

Poppies belong to the family of Papaveraceae plants which has 42 genera and over 775 species of Poppies. A few characteristics that all Poppies have in common are the delicate, silk-like petals that are amazingly durable, complete flowers that are mainly self-pollinated but still attract bees, the ability to grow in extremely poor soil, and a milky white sap that comes out of all parts of the plant. The colors and flower size is variable, and many cultivars have been developed for ornamental garden use.

Poppies prefer cooler temperatures and bloom profusely in the late spring to early summer. There are perennial and annual species that will grow in just about every hardiness zone of the United States. Annual types are very good at self-seeding new plants every year, making them appear to be perennial. Perennial varieties can be short lived and may self-seed also.

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Planting Poppies

Poppies appreciate a spot that has full sun (up to all day if possible) and any kind of soil that drains well and isn’t too rich. Container-grown Poppies can be planted any time during the year, although the best time is early in the spring when the weather is cool. Even in the colder hardiness zones, Poppy seeds grow best when sown in the fall, so that they can have a period of stratification to encourage germination in the early spring. Spring-sown seed may result in later flowering or smaller plants.

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Watering Poppies

The beautiful flowers of Poppies thrive on neglect and can become sulky if given too much attention. Overwatering is more of a risk than underwatering. Container-grown Poppies will need consistent moisture until new growth emerges. Seeded Poppies will need regular watering until the plants are producing true sets of leaves. Supplemental watering is only needed once a week or less during dry periods. Watering early in the spring may not be necessary if more than ½ inch of rain falls during the week. Container-grown Poppies will need a period of drying out between waterings. 

Fertilizing Poppies

Both perennial and annual Poppies need little supplemental fertilizing. In fact, fertilizing will encourage excessive foliage growth, not more flowers. Mulching with organic compost or shredded leaves will increase moisture levels in the soil and enhance the texture and fertility over time. The nutrients in compost are released slowly over the course of a growing season and will help to establish a strong root system.

Pruning Poppies

The blooms of Poppies are generally short lived. Some varieties only last a day before dropping their petals. Quickly after the flower dies, Poppies will put energy into setting seed. Regular deadheading will help to keep Poppies putting energy into more blooms. Any other pruning is not necessary. Poppies will die back completely to the ground once they have set and dispersed seed and/or the weather turns too hot for them. Typically by fall, there is no plant material to clean up from spent plants. 

Caring For Poppies in Pots

Poppies are easy to grow in pots as long as the drainage is excellent and the container is large enough to house the full-grown plant. Poppies do not like to be transplanted and are best planted once and then left alone. All purpose potting soil that does not have added fertilizers will provide enough support for good blooming and rooting.

Poppies will need to dry out in between waterings and need only one supplemental fertilizing with a diluted liquid seaweed or fish emulsion early in the spring. Smaller, compact California Poppies are great filler plants for mixed containers. The taller and larger flowered Oriental Poppies make lovely  thriller or focal point plants.

Winter Care for Poppies

Poppies require minimal care during the winter. Perennial varieties die back completely to the ground well before the fall and their root systems are dormant all winter. Self-seeded, annual types will set seed and sow in the fall so that the cold of winter will prepare the seeds for vigorous growth in the spring. Poppies in containers should be moved to a slightly sheltered spot that will not receive excess rain. Pots should continue to have excellent drainage through the winter.

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Common Questions About  Poppies

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