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How to grow Poppies in your garden

How to grow Poppies in your garden

Poppies are instantly recognisable! Their vibrant flowers, as fine as tissue paper, add a bright splash of colour to garden borders, wild flower meadows, rockeries and gravel gardens. In fact there is a Poppy plant to suit almost every situation.

How to grow Poppies in your garden

Poppies are instantly recognisable! Their vibrant flowers, as fine as tissue paper, add a bright splash of colour to garden borders, wild flower meadows, rockeries and gravel gardens. In fact there is a Poppy plant to suit almost every situation.

Better still, most members of the Papaver family are extremely easy to grow and many are prolific self seeders, forming natural drifts of poppy flowers over time.

Different types of poppies

Different types of poppies

The Papaver family is diverse, including annuals, biennials and perennials.

Annual species include the evocative Flanders or Field Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) with its scarlet red flowers. The Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum is also an annual with a reputation for its sedative properties.

Some of the best loved garden favourites are biennial or perennial poppies such as the Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale) with its large blousy flowers which make a fabulous addition to cottage garden borders. The bright sweet-shop colours of the Arctic or Icelandic Poppy (Papaver nudicaule) are hard to ignore, demanding attention with their showy blooms. In contrast, the yellow Japanese Poppy (Papaver miyabeanum) is more refined, with lacy, finely cut foliage and elegant, cup-shaped flowers.

We commonly know many other garden plants as Poppies but not all of them are members of the Papaver family. The Blue Himalayan Poppy (Meconopsis) is prized for its true blue flowers - rarely seen in other genus. Eschscholzia, or Californian Poppies are low growing annuals that look fabulous in rockeries and gravel gardens; while the tall Californian Tree Poppy (Romneya) literally towers above other perennials at a height of up to 2.5 m (8ft)! For something a little different try Glaucium, the Horned Poppy - so named for its long, horn-like seed pods.

Poppies for places and uses

Poppies for places and uses
  • Damp acid soils: Meconopsis
  • Hot, dry spots: Papaver somniferum
  • Gravel gardens and rockeries: Eschscholzia californica
  • Meadows/ wildflower gardens: Papaver rhoeas
  • Sunny fertile borders: Papaver orientale, Papaver nudicaule, Papaver miyabeanum
  • Cut flower garden: Papaver nudicaule 'Gartenzwerg'
  • Attractive seed heads for drying: Papaver 'Pink Fizz'
  • Children's gardens: Poppy 'Ladybird'
  • Back of borders: Romneya

Growing Poppies

Direct sowing

Poppies can be bought as mature plants which are ideal for planting straight into borders for instant impact. If you are looking to buy a larger number of poppies then plug plants may offer a cheaper solution. These will need to be grown on until they are large enough o plant outdoors. Given that most Poppies are so easy to grow from seed, many gardeners find that this offers the best value for money. Moreover, some varieties such as wild poppy seed are best sown directly outdoors as they prefer not to be transplanted. Take a look at our full range of poppies for sale online, to choose the best option for your garden.

How to grow Poppies from seed

How to grow Poppies from seed

Most true poppies (Papaver species) can be direct sown outdoors in spring or autumn. (Other genus may have different cultivation requirements - take a look at the individual product pages for full growing instructions.)

Choose a position in full sun on fertile, well drained soil which has been raked to a fine tilth. Sow Poppy seeds thinly across the area to create natural looking drifts. It is important to water the ground regularly, especially during dry periods. Germination of Poppy seed usually takes 7 - 30 days but this will vary depending upon the species and soil temperatures. When Poppy seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them out to around 30cm (12") apart.

Alternatively you can sow Poppy seeds in seed trays in the greenhouse in spring or late summer/ autumn. Always use a good quality seed compost. Place the container in a propagator or seal the container inside a plastic bag at a temperature of 18-20C (64-68F). Do not exclude light, as this helps germination.

When they are large enough to handle, transplant Poppy seedlings into trays or 7.5cm (3") pots and grow them on in cooler conditions until they are big enough to transplant outdoors. Gradually acclimatise Poppy plants to outdoor conditions for a few days before planting out in their final positions after all risk of frost has passed. Most poppies enjoy a sunny position in rich fertile, well drained soil. Add plenty of well rotted manure or garden compost to the soil prior to planting, mixing it thoroughly and deeply.

Tips for growing Poppies

Tips for growing Poppies

Feed and water poppy plants frequently throughout the summer, but take care not to over water as Poppies can be prone to rotting in cool, wet conditions.

When growing oriental poppies, deadhead faded poppy flowers regularly to encourage more blooms to be produced.

Cut back the old foliage to ground level in autumn.

Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of Poppies in spring.

Many Poppies self seed freely. Deadhead faded poppy flowers if seedlings are not required.

Edible Poppy seed

Poppy seed is often used in baking and makes a lovely addition to breads and bagels. Before cooking with Poppy seed however, it is important to check which species you are using. ONLY the seed produced from Papaver somniferum and Papaver paeoniflorum can be eaten. The seeds of other species are not edible.

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.