Growing Poppies: A Complete List of Tips and Tricks

DaffodilPoppies are herbaceous plants treasured for their vibrant, large flowers. They can get up to 4 feet tall, and their flowers usually have 4-6 petals. These leaves resemble the texture of tissue paper, and their dark centers create an eye-catching contrast to their brightly colored petals. The poppy genus contains over 70 different species of poppy, including annual, perennial, and biannual variations.
Perennial poppies are well suited to USA hardiness zones 3-9, while their annual counterparts can survive in zones 3 through 11, meaning they are suitable for most climates. Both perennial and annual poppies prefer sunny locations where the soil warms quickly in the spring. They are somewhat drought tolerant and prefer to grow in well-drained soil with light watering. They are great for attracting honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Poppies can grow up to a foot tall, with some taller variations emerging in warmer climates.

Planting Poppies

If you're planting poppies from seed, you will want to sow them outside in the fall or winter before the ground freezes. Poppies require a period of cold season growing (known as stratification) before they germinate. Seeds only need to be sprinkled on the surface of the soil because of their small size. For best results, poppies should be kept within 6 inches to a foot of each other. When the seeds begin to sprout in the spring, remove any poppies that are closer than the recommended distance to avoid overcrowding.
If you missed the first opportunity to sow seeds in the fall or winter, you can sow them in early spring as soon as the ground thaws. Remember to rake the seeds lightly into the soil to loosen it and allow the seeds to be exposed to light and moisture.
If you're planting bare-root or otherwise transplanting poppies, you will want to do so in the early summer, just before it blooms. In a sunny location, dig a hole slightly larger than the root-ball of the plant to loosen the soil for rooting. If you're removing the plant from a pot, be sure to gently spread the roots apart before planting. Place the poppy in the hole and loosely cover the root with soil. Do not pack the soil down. Water the plant thoroughly, and you should see a bloom within a week or so.
Remember, poppies love full sunlight and well drained soil, so plant it in an area that is exposed for most of the day. Poppies thrive on 6 hours of sun or more, but in hot climates, you may want to choose an area that offers some protection during the mid-afternoon heat.

Growing Tips

  • Before planting, you may want to test the drainage of your soil, as any waterlogged areas will cause the poppy seeds to rot. To do this, dig a 4 inch hole, fill with water, and let it drain. After it drains, fill it again and time how long it takes to drain. Drain times longer than 4 hours will not be a suitable place to plant poppies. You can mix poppy seeds with sand to prevent them from clumping together, and to encourage drainage.
  • Poppies have a relatively short bloom-span, so mix different varieties of annuals and perennials within your garden. They will bloom throughout the year.
  • If you do not want your poppies to spread, you can remove the heads of faded, dying flowers (known as dead-heading). However, if left to their own devices, poppies tend to reseed and naturalize in a pleasant way.
  • When sowing, be generous with planting the seeds close together so you have a better ratio in the spring. Poppies can always be trimmed back as they begin to sprout to prevent overcrowding. To overplant and then thin, be sure to begin thinning in March or early April before it's too late.
  • If you live in a particularly cold climate with winter temperatures that consistently fall below -20 degrees Fahrenheit, plant Iceland poppies, which are resistant to cold and better suited to cold zones.
  • For a garden that blooms all season long, stagger your planting stages. Divide your poppy seeds into several groups and plant one group each week, so blooms will happen weekly in the summer. Additionally, you can plant some seeds in the fall and some in the spring to significantly extend the bloom-span and see which varieties work best for your climate.
  • Don't over water poppies or they will suffer from rot. To see if your poppies need water, stick your finger into the soil. If the soil feels dry for the entire length of your finger, they could use a watering. Usually this amounts to once every several days. Be sure not to water your poppies in the afternoon; the water will heat under the mid-day sun and burn the leaves before it gets absorbed.