I absolutely love seeing what our customers grow when they post photos of their pride-filled first harvests, blooms, and new discoveries and tag us on social media with #botanicalinterests. Of all of our varieties, poppies get the most attention from photo-flashing gardeners. Their stunning, spring blooms have a delicate, crepe-paper texture, but the plants themselves are tough as nails, enjoying full sun, drought conditions, and poor soil (except the Oriental type), and thankfully, deer tend to leave them alone.
Here is a little breakdown of the different types of poppies:
California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are native to the U.S. and are grown as reseeding annuals if they aren't perennial in your area (USDA zones 8–10). These lovely, 6″–12″ tall flowers are not only orange, but also white, yellow, red and pink, with single and double blooms, and sometimes frilly petal edges. They bloom from spring until fall, taking a break in very hot spells.
Corn Poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are annuals that often reseed, persisting year after year. Flanders and Shirley poppies fall into this group. Corn poppies are so named because they sprouted, and naturalized in European agricultural fields, often referred to in parts of Europe as "corn" fields.
Iceland Poppies (Papaver nudicaule) is often grown as an annual, although it can overwinter in USDA zones 2 to 8. It's not necessarily a long-lived perennial, but it may reseed. As the name would imply, Iceland poppies thrive in cool weather and bloom in spring. Their 3″ flowers on 12″–24″ tall stems make wonderful cut flowers. They are not fussy, only needing average soil with good drainage. Afternoon shade can help keep them cool, prolonging the bloom period, too.
Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale) are hardy perennials in USDA zone 3–8. Their foliage emerges early in the spring and looks thistle-like, growing to 24″–48″ tall by the time their large, 4″–8″ blooms open in late spring. After they bloom, the foliage declines, but cutting it close to the ground will restart the growing process and may even sprout new flower buds, too. Oriental poppies thrive in average to rich, well-drained soil.
Bread Seed Poppies (Papaver somniferum) are annuals, but also reseed. These 24″–36″ poppies also have thistle-like foliage which stands out with a bluish-green hue. As you may have guessed, this group includes the types that produce culinary poppy seeds.
My first choice for sowing poppies is in the fall, and second is late winter to very early spring. They don't require stratification (a cold moist period, aka winter) but come up earlier, grow larger, and seem to put on more flowers when sown in fall. For mild climates, fall is ideal so that they flower as early as possible in your area. I loosen the soil with a hard rake or hoe, leveling the ground at the same time. I sow the seeds and rake them in very lightly with a gentler leaf rake or just pat the seeds down with my hands. The coming snow and rain works the seeds in a little further. Then I just ignore them (really, I do!) until it is time to thin the seedlings.
While poppies make stunning cut flowers, there is a little trick to getting them to stay beautiful. When the stem is cut, sap seeps out, preventing water from being taken up. To resolve this issue, dip the ends of cut stems in boiling water for 10 seconds or briefly singe over a flame to stop the milky sap flow.
Do you have a favorite poppy cultivar that completes your garden? Tell us about it in the reviews or tag us in photo posts on social media using #botanicalinterests so we can see it!