When Oriental poppies bloom, it’s like having a Mardi Gras parade accidentally turn down your street. Suddenly there’s this awesome loudness, flamboyance, and brilliance, and just before you completely soak it all in, it’s over!
Oriental poppies are one of my favorite garden flowers, because they’re just over the top with “wow” appeal, with blooms upwards of 6” across in absolutely gorgeous shades of pink, red, purple, white, and orange, often with dramatic dark centers. The flowers pop out of a background of cool-looking grayish green foliage.
Oriental poppies are long-lived and easy to grow perennials, but they don’t behave quite like other garden plants. Here’s what you need to know to grow and enjoy Oriental poppies in your garden.
Fast Facts about Oriental Poppies
As long as you know a couple of things that set Oriental poppies apart, you should have no trouble growing them in your garden:
- Flash in the Pan: Oriental poppies bloom in late May and June. When they finish blooming, not only do the blooms wither, but the plants do too, turning yellow and dying back. This leaves you with some unsightly dead foliage (which you can cut off), along with a hole in your garden design. For this reason, poppies are often planted right behind later-emerging perennials, such as black eyed susans, perennial hibiscus, asters, or perennial baby’s breath. When the poppies are done, there are new plants popping up to take their place.
- Long Taproot: Oriental poppies also have a long taproot, much like a carrot. For this reason, they can be difficult to transplant, so try to plant them where they can stay a while. And if planting container-grown or bare-root plants, be careful to disturb the roots as little as possible.
How to Grow Oriental Poppies
Overall, Oriental poppies are very easy to grow once they’re established. Here are some growing tips:
- Light: Full sun.
- Soil: Poppies hate to be soggy, so well-draining soil is a must! Heavy clay soils will need to be amended to improve drainage, and highly acid soils should be amended with lime.
- Size: Poppy plants grow 2’ to 4’ tall, although dwarf varieties are available.
- Climate: Oriental poppies grow in hardiness zones 3-9, although they will suffer in high heat and humidity.
- Water: Poppies need regular watering while blooming but are moderately drought tolerant.
How to Plant Oriental Poppies
- Container-Grown Plants: Poppies grown in containers are easy to plant by gently settling them in the ground at the same depth they were in the pot. Take care not to disturb the roots when transplanting.
- Bare-Root Plants: Bare-root poppies should be planted with the top of the tap root about 1” to 3” below the soil surface. Follow all directions that come with your bare-root plant.
- Seeds: Poppy seeds can be scattered directly on the surface of the soil in spring or early fall, where they will receive the sunlight they need to germinate. Once the seeds sprout in a couple of weeks, thin seedlings to about 6” apart. Seed-grown plants will likely not bloom until their second growing season.
Oriental Poppy Care Tips
- Conduct a soil test and amend soil with lime, if necessary, to bring close to neutral pH.
- Apply a balanced organic fertilizer to soil in spring.
- Keep Oriental poppy plants evenly watered, but not soggy, during spring and bloom time. Back off on watering after plants go dormant.
- Cut back foliage after the poppy flower dies, if desired, but leave the plants long enough to enjoy the unique seed pods.
- In fall, a small mound of new foliage should begin to emerge from the ground. Leave it in place, cut off any dead stems, and apply mulch.
- Propagate by seeds or root cuttings. Most Oriental poppies are hybrids, so collecting seeds from existing plants probably won’t produce exact replicas of the parent plant. Root cuttings are made by digging up the taproot in fall and cutting off 1” to 2” sections, or separating off baby tubers that have formed. Propagate in fall, but don’t over do it – remember that Oriental poppies don’t like to be disturbed.