Poppies (Papaveraceae spp.) are often found growing wild in fields, their bright petals brightening up the landscape with brilliant bursts of red, orange, yellow and other colors. Home gardeners also find poppies easy to grow as long as a few basic conditions are met.
Poppies are versatile, show-stopping plants that include several varieties, from the big, bold Oriental poppy, which can grow as tall as 4 feet (122cm), to the demure Alpine poppy, topping out at about 10 inches (25cm).
Poppies are tough plants that can thrive in any well-draining soil, although these tips will teach you how to grow them to encourage a healthy, blooming flowerbed. Once you have flowering poppies, you will likely have enough seeds to plant new poppies year after year.
Some interesting facts you may not have known about poppy flower which represents so much.
- The use of opium poppies goes back to Sumer – an ancient civilization, which recorded their use in the form of images.
- Poppy was the 13th most popular name for a baby girl in England and Wales in 2012 but only 35th in Scotland.
- Enormous poppy fields feature in both the film and book version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – a chapter in the book itself is even entitled ‘The Deadly Poppy Field’
- Major John McCrae’s poem, In Flander’s Fields, was supposedly written on the evening of the 2 May, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, in memory of his friend, Alexis Helmer
- The poppy’s use in medicine was reworked in George R.R.Martin’s Game of Thrones – where a medicine entitled ‘milk of the poppy’ is used.
- Poppies bloom from mid-June right through to October.
- Persian literature cites red corn poppies as the flower of love.
- Poppies are frequently found weeds on agricultural land, however they were welcomed as they proved the soil was fertile.
- Opium poppies are grown commercially in Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire and Wiltshire for use in medical opiates such as morphine
- Poppy seeds can remain active in the soil for 8 years.
- Main different garden strains exist, such as Shirley poppy, Iceland poppy, California poppy, Himalayan and Welsh.
- International symbol: Poppies are distributed in 53 Commonwealth countries.
- Poppies are featured on the back of Canadian $20 notes
- Average seed numbers per plant can range from 10,000 to 60,000.
How to grow and care
It is easy to grow poppies from seeds. You will find they grow and then self-sow with abandon, without becoming weedy. Check basic details below to grow this easily.
Season & Zone
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Start perennial poppies outdoors in early spring, when some chance of frost is still a possibility. Start annual varieties outdoors at the same time in Zones 3-7. If you live in Zones 8-10, your best bet is to direct sow in the fall.
Poppies are famously difficult to transplant, so starting them indoors is not recommended. If you have to start them indoors, use peat or coir pots, and maintain a soil temperature of 12°C (55°F). Seeds will sprout in 20-30 days.
Sow on the surface of the soil, or barely cover seeds. Thin to a minimum of 15cm (6″) apart.
Growing and caring
Poppies are easy to grow and the self-sow with abandon, without becoming weedy. Simply pull up unwanted plants (an easy task) before they bloom, or better yet, let them tell you where they want to grow. They will thrive for years at a time in surprising spots, like a crack in the driveway.
Other times, they simply won’t take, no matter how much you try. Keep them moderately well watered in hot, dry weather, and do not fertilize.