The best way to start an Oriental poppy garden in your landscape is to start them from seed. They grow to a height of 24 to 36 inches with a spread of 18. It is hardy in the U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 2 through 9. Plant poppies in the garden to attract bees, butterflies, and birds. Poppy plants are deer resistant. The flower colors come in pink, red, orange, or near white.
You can sow poppy seeds early in the spring. If you have a large area that you want to grow poppies in, 50,000 seeds will cover 625 square feet. For the rest of us, a small packet should be just fine.
Pick out your garden site for the poppies to grow. I like to grow mine with other plants that will hide or cover the ground when the poppies enter dormancy. Otherwise, you will be looking at dead leaves in the summer. Find a garden location that receives six to eight hours of sunlight.
Preparing the Soil
Remove the grass and weeds growing in the soil where you plan on sowing the poppy seeds. Amend the soil with 2 to 4 inches of organic compost and then til or dig it into the soil. You don’t have to dig deep into the ground, just 2 to 6 inches will work fine. Poppies grow best in a soil that is rich and well-drained.
Level the garden area with the tines of your rake. Remove any hard dirt clods, sticks, or rocks that the rake brings to the surface.
It is a good idea to leave the soil to settle for a week or longer. If you sow the seeds right after digging the soil, the seeds can fall within the cracks. They will be too deep to germinate. If you want to plant sooner, lay a board over the garden site and walk across it. That will compact the ground just enough so it won’t be too hard. the surface will be flat, so you don’t lose any seeds. Wait until the soil temperature is at least 60° Fahrenheit before sowing the seeds.
Sowing the Oriental Poppy Seeds
Mix the poppy seed with 2 or 4 cups of sand. This gives you a visual of the areas where you have sown the seeds and the areas you need to cover. If you don’t have any sand or don’t want to use it, you can scatter the seeds thinly over the prepared ground by hand.
If you used sand with your seeds, you can omit covering them with soil. If you omitted the sand, cover the seeds lightly with fine garden soil.
Water the garden bed until it is moist, with a fine mist sprayer nozzle water. Maintain an evenly moist soil until the seeds germinate, which can take two to three weeks. The speed of germination depends on the temperature of the soil.
Thin the seedlings to they are 2 to 3 inches tall, leaving 12-inches of space between the plants. continue watering to keep the soil moist until the plants start to flower. After that, the poppy plants can get by on minimal amounts of water. I don’t water mine very much and they still bloom and look beautiful. The moisture they get is when it rains. If your area is going through an extended drought, it may be a good idea to give them some water.
Pruning and Dead-heading
After the flowers have faded and the seed pods have formed, the plant will begin to die back. If you want to cut the plant back, this is the time to do it. In September, when the temperatures start cooling down, the plant sends up new foliage which will remain through the winter months.
You can remove the spent flowers to prolong the blooming season. If you want the flowers to return again next year, leave the later flowers on the plants. The flower petals will fall and seed pods will form. After that, the seed pods will split open, spilling the seed over the ground. Next year, they will come back again.
If you have an established garden area of poppies or know of someone who does, it is possible to dig them out and transplant them, but poppies do not transplant well. Just like a tree, they have a long taproot that you need to dig out whole. If you want to try transplanting the poppies, you can safely do this in the spring or early summer.