Monday, February 20, 2012

Annual Poppies

Annual poppies are a quick way to add a splash of color to your garden. They are easy to grow from seed sown in situ. Like all poppies they do not like to be transplanted, but transplanting can be done when the seedlings are very small. They will grow, bloom, and die back within one growing season, and will often set seed and return on their own for years. Here are some of the annual poppies I've enjoyed growing:

Papaver somniferum - Opium poppy

Papaver somniferum 'Imperial Pink'
 Opium poppies have wonderful spiky blue foliage which is thick and cabbagey. They hold themselves up quite well for a poppy. Bloom time is extremely brief - the flowers will last only a week or two at most. However, the foliage is a fine addition to the garden in spring, and you can pull the plants out after bloom and replace with fall-blooming annuals if you like. These have the largest bloom size of any annual poppy.
Papaver somniferum 'Venus'

Papaver somniferum bud
Look at that fat bud!

Papaver rhoeas - Corn poppy/Shirley poppy

Papaver rhoeas 'Double Mix'
 Wild corn poppies are single and screaming red. They are a stunning sight in bloom and well worth growing in a wild area of the garden. There are also newer selections, like the ones on this page, which are double and come in softer colors. A seed-grown mix will give you a fascinating array of forms and shades, including interesting picotee and fade patterns. Here are a few examples from my garden:
Papaver rhoeas - red fading to white center

Papaver rhoeas - very double salmon pink

Papaver rhoeas - soft pink almost single

Papaver rhoeas - double white with dark pink picotee
Papaver rhoeas - double red

 The foliage of corn poppies is not as attractive as opium poppies. They will not fit into a super formal mixed border, but play pretty nicely with other "gentrified" wildflowers such as larkspur and salvia. They have thin stems and look best supported by a rustic wooden fence or a friendly neighbor. In their favor, the bloom time is definitely longer than opium poppies. Wintersown corn poppies in my garden bloomed for about 4-5 weeks, from mid-June to late July. (It helps if you deadhead, but some continuous bloom will occur even if you don't.) Later blooms will be secondary and tend to be more single. Fair warning: after bloom, the foliage looks just awful! The whole plant turns brown and dies back in a VERY ungraceful manner in August. If this bothers you, you can always pull them out after bloom and pop in some fall-blooming asters.

Eschscholzia californica - California poppy

California poppy 'Mission Bells'
California poppies are not true poppies, but they are a great little annual for the front of the border. They do not transplant well so you will probably not see them much at nurseries. The best and easiest way is to grow them from seed sown directly in the garden. Seed germinates easily and soon fills your garden with bluish green, filigree foliage. In my garden they bloom continuously right through the summer, from mid June until fall. You will drive yourself insane trying to keep up with the deadheading - astounding number of flowers! It's easier to just shear off the spiky seedpods once in a while when they accumulate. The wild California form is a glorious bright orange, but many cultivars are available too in a wide range of colors. Here are a few more I grew:

California poppy 'Jersey Cream'
 A soft creamy white double form. This one was not as floriferous or vigorous for me as other varieties for some reason. (I guess when they took the orange out, they took the kick out of him too!)

California poppy 'Purple Gleam'
'Purple Gleam' has bright violet pink single flowers on a taller plant. Bloomed like a mad thing.

California poppy 'Thai Silk Lemon'
Here is 'Thai Silk Lemon' looking perky in front of alyssum and morning glory. The soft yellow color blends nicely in the garden.


  1. I grow a lot of opium poppies in our garden. I like to have a mix of pink right through to the almost black ones. And just in case they forget to self seed I throw a few more seeds about.

    You've reminded me about some of the other poppies that I used to grow and have't for a while.

    1. Ooh I love that purple one in your signature. Beautiful color. I haven't grown any purples yet. Do you know the cultivar name by any chance?

    2. Rebecca, I can pop some in the post to you if you let me have an address. I collect seeds for people but they tend to be a mix of colours and crosses. Thanks for visiting my blog..

  2. Great pictures of poppies! I can't get rid of my California ones, they clash so badly with my pink roses but they come back no matter what I do. I have actually learned to enjoy the pink and orange combination...

    1. I have the same problem with the straight orange california poppies. I actually love the screaming bright color - music to my eyes in high summer. But in general my color scheme tends toward the soft pinks and blues, so it's hard to find a spot to put them that is not painful!

  3. The 'Venus' poppy bloom is amazing! I have seeds of the California poppy and the Corn poppy. Thanks for the information about the foliage turning brown on the corn poppy. i've not grown these before and am glad to be forewarned!

    1. Yes, the Venus really does look a bit like a space creature. People used to stop and stare when it was blooming :-) Happy poppy growing!

  4. I love poppies and always have them in your garden. I am so impressed by variety of poppies in your garden! Some of them I haven't seen before. Thank you for this post and for the beautiful pictures!

    1. Thanks Tatyana, I look forward to seeing more of your poppies too! I want to try the perennial kind some day as well, but I need to find a neighbor who can cover the late summer hole.

  5. You've reminded me that twenty years ago, when my gardens were new, they used to be full of orange Californian poppies, and how beautiful they were. Eventually I had to get rid of them because they became such a weed. But I do love them and might try a few in just one spot next Spring. I did try the cream ones and as you say, they aren't as vigorous, although quite beautiful.But when they seeded, I got orange ones again, so out they came too.

  6. Poppies are so beautiful! Yours are gorgeous. I didn't know that California poppies were not true poppies. I tried planting a bunch from seed last year - unfortunately we had a terribly hot blast of 90 degree weather in spring that decimated all the seedlings.

  7. I keep broadcasting seeds around in hopes that I get some of these started. Nothing yet, but I figure one of these days one of the varieties is going to take, and at $1.25 a year and the 2 minutes to get them on the ground, its worth the try!

    1. Hi Jess, poppies do need a cold treatment to germinate, so make sure you're planting them in very early spring or even the previous winter. Also, it probably won't work to just scatter them on random patches of ground. Prepare the soil as you would for any vegetable or annual planting, then press the seeds in lightly. They germinate like mad things!


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