Poppy Planting 101
The Poppy is God's Gift to Mankind!
You too, can have these gorgeous flowers in your garden without a green thumb!
This is poppy planting 101.
Just the simple growing instructions for gardeners and non gardeners alike. I am not getting technical here, or going in depth to the different types of Papaver Somniferum. I'm not going into my background of how I came to grow poppies, my views or opinions. Perhaps I will write something else later, but for now, you don't want to wade through a bunch of my ramblings just to find out how to grow a poppy.
Disclaimer: I am not a botanist, a hortoculturist or any other ...ist. I am just an ordinary gardener (who happens to grow some stunning poppies if I do say so myself).
OK, lets start with some clarification. These instructions are for annual strains of Papaver, such as Somniferum, Gigantheum, Paeoniflorium and Laciniatum and others, that are also known as "breadseed poppies" because they are the source for commercial seeds used in baking, salad dressings etc. The pods are the type found at craft stores and florists. These instructions are NOT for Perennials such as Oriental Poppies.
They are distinctive because of their gray-green almost hairless stems and "lettuce" looking foliage. They also grow quite tall compared to other forms of poppies.
Poppies are very hardy and in fact will adapt to ALL climate zones according to my Sunset Western Garden Book. I live in the Pacific NW and you may have to vary your planting times somewhat to adapt to your zone. Always save some seeds to plant at a different time. The best way to judge when to plant is by taking your clue from Mother Nature herself. Here in Washington, the plants have fully gone to seed by the end of August and begin "Self Sowing" by wind, rotting pods etc. This should tell you that early September is a good time to start planting.
There are two times of year that are best for planting seeds. The Spring and the Fall. Assuming you are a first time grower, we want you to get the best results. If it VERY cold where you live, plant in Spring after it is done snowing and/or freezing. If it is VERY Hot where you live, plant in the Fall. Everywhere else, you can plant them either time. I use the term Spring and Fall very loosely as the planting period is a long one. To keep it simple, Spring is after all frosts, and Fall is when it isn't hot any more.
Prepare the gound Properly.
Poppies need loose soil. They do not have a root system but rather a large tap root like a weed would have. In order for them to grow large, they need at least 12 inches of loose soil. Tilll the area you want to plant. Of course a power tiller works best, but who has one of those? I sure don't, so use a shovel, or my favorite garden tool that I call a "chopper digger" I think the real name for it is an Adz. It is kind of like an axe, well not really. It's kind of like a pick, but very heavy. I should have taken a picture. oops, I promised I wouldn't ramble. If your soil is anything but perfect, then amend it. Add compost/organic material. My soil is sandy and rocky, so I had to sift out all the rocks which left me with only half the amount of dirt I had before. The rest is added compost mix that you can buy in bags at any garden store. Once you have prepared the ground it is time to plant your seeds.
Planting the seeds.
Poppy seeds are very small. Of course you've seen them in a muffin or on a bagel, same thing. The best way to plant them is to sprinkle them right on top of the soil. This can be done by taking a pinch in your fingers and sprinkling, or another way is to mix sand with the seeds and broadcast. Then, just tamp the soil down over them with your hands or feet. The object of this phase is to NOT get them all together in bunches. The seeds WILL come up every where you put them and if you put them too close together you will have a carpet of microscopic seedlings that won't grow very large because they have too much competition. Poppies do Not transplant easily. Plant them where you want them to be.
When the Seedlings Sprout
If you plant the seeds in late fall, they will most likely lie dormant until conditions are just right in the spring. The seeds germinate at around 55F. Mine often come up in the fall, get to about 8 inches, and then will "winter over", but most wait until spring to start sprouting. If it is very hot where you live, then plant in the fall.When the seeds decide it is time to germinate, it takes about 10 to 25 days for them to sprout. When they do, they are almost microscopic. Whenever you decide to plant them, I would save half of them in the refrigerator and plant the next season. If you plant in the fall, save some for spring, and vice versa. That way you will be able to determine which time is best for your climate.
If it is hot where you are, you will need to keep the ground moist. This is also true if you plant them in the summer. I usually don't have to worry about it because it rains all fall winter and spring. Once they come up, the next leaves to show will be the "lettuce" looking ones.
As you can see in the following picture, the "lettuce" leaves have come out. Also notice that these seedling are awfully close together. These are seeds that have "self sown".
They stay very small for quite some time. It is amazing to me that a seed and seedling this tiny can produce a plant that is 4 to 5 feet tall, but they do. It is a good idea to make sure they get water if it doesn't rain.
When the plants are 5 inches, you may want to thin them out. POPPIES NEED ROOM! If you thin them out, they have room to grow and you can control how many of them get large. If you do not thin them, this is what happens: A few of them will get large with many many blooms. Most will grow tall and skinny and only have one or two blooms and the rest will stay microscopic and I mean microscopic, even the flower will be a tiny miniature. So, I know it hurts, but it's best to thin them. Now is also the time to use some mild fertilizer such as Miracle Grow or Alaska Fish Fertilizer... the kind you mix with water, not the powdered stuff. Follow the directions on the label, but for the most part, they don't really even need any unless you have poor soil.
Here is a picture of the root system and stem shown next to a garden hose for scale. This is NOT a small hose.
Let Nature Take Over
Your part is done. Your plants will grow long stems with the flower capsule at the end. This is the hardest time for me. The time between when the flower buds form and the time they mature enough to bloom can be two weeks. I often can't stand it because I want to see what color is blooming and I pop them to see inside... (not a good idea and I'm not suggesting that you do it..)
This is the most amazing part for me as well. I watch them daily. They start with their heads bent down to the earth. As they mature, the heads slowly lift themselve upright to face the sun. When they do this, the time is near. Any minute, they burst out of their capsule to reveal their full glory!
The flowers last from three to eight days. They make stunning floral arrangements and keep well. When they are done blooming, the petals start falling off. At this point the plant uses it's remaining energy to reproduce. The pods will grow fat with seeds and are beautiful at this point also for flower arrangements.
Eventually the pods will begin to dry out and the vents will open to release the seed.
Now is the time to harvest your seeds. They are excellent for cooking or for sharing with your friends. Most varieties, the vents will open and they will freely re-seed. On some varieties, the vents do not open very much or not at all. You must drill (or break the crown off the top) to get the seeds out. If left in the garden you can simply cut the heads off and crush the pods. This is also the time to dig up the plants. They compost extremely well, or you can keep the pods for dried floral projects. One person I know uses the pods to paint pictures on. The plants are now dried and quite unsightly, so it is best to pull them up. They pull up quite easily.
Enjoy your beautiful flowers!
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