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How to Grow and Care for Poppies in Your Garden

Poppy flowers are an excellent plant for gardeners of all levels to grow. These wildflowers are incredibly hardy, super vibrant, and are great at attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies. As a bonus, most poppies will self-seed, which means they’ll naturally grow back in your garden year after year.

5 Types of Poppies

While poppies will grow in most climates, there is a wide range of varieties available for your garden, and each will thrive in a slightly different environment:

  1. California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are perennial poppies in warm climates or annual poppies in cold climates. This naturally seeding variety requires plenty of water and sunshine to thrive.
  2. Corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are among the most common and easiest poppies to grow. This hardy, annual variety also includes the popular Flanders and Shirley cultivars.
  3. Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) are hardy perennials that prefer colder weather.
  4. Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) are annuals with much larger blooms that are a little more sensitive than other poppies.
  5. Somniferum poppies (Papaver somniferum) are annuals that also produce the poppyseeds common in culinary use. They are also known as the opium poppy or breadseed poppies.

When to Plant Poppy Seeds

Poppies are very hardy and can tolerate some frost. Plant poppies in early spring, a few weeks before the last frost, to give them a headstart on the growing season. Avoid starting poppy seeds indoors to later transplant as the plant’s taproots are extremely sensitive to disturbance.

How to Plant Poppy Seeds

You can sow poppy seeds directly into your garden a few weeks before the last frost of spring:

  1. Choose the site. Poppies can handle partial sun to full sun. For the best results, choose a planting site with at least six hours of full sun per day.
  2. Prepare the soil bed. Poppies can handle poor, infertile soil, they grow best in soil rich in organic matter.
  3. Sow the poppy seeds. Poppy seeds prefer access to sunlight to germinate, so you don’t need to bury them beneath the soil. Instead, sow seeds by sprinkling them across the flower bed. Next, sprinkle a light layer of soil over the top of the seeds, or simply press down on the seeds to embed them into the soil.
  4. Water. Keep the soil moist as your seeds germinate and grow.
  5. Thin the seedlings. Once your seedlings are one to two inches tall, use garden shears to thin them back to between six and 12 inches apart to prevent competition.

How to Grow and Care for Poppies

Poppies are incredibly hardy and can handle a wide range of environments. To keep your poppy plants happy, you’ll need to perform basic routine maintenance:

  • Water. While poppies can handle drought, watering the soil thoroughly once a week can help the flowers thrive and encourage more blooms.
  • Weed. To prevent other plants from coming in and competing for water and nutrients, keep your poppy bed weed-free.
  • Deadhead. If you want to encourage more blooms in your poppy bed, use a process called “deadheading,” in which you remove old blooms to encourage new growth—when a bloom begins to wilt or fade, trim the flower back to the first leafed stem. However, don’t deadhead every bloom—if you allow some of the flowers to go to seed, they’ll naturally seed the bed for new growth the following season.
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