Papaver commutatum 'Ladybird'

Poppies - Grow Guide

Discover how to grow annual, biennial and perennial poppies in this comprehensive grow guide.

Poppy is a common name for plants in the Papaver genus. Within this group there are annuals, perennials and biennials.

Their summer flowers may be fleeting but they’re often big, blousy and a wonderful addition to any garden in May and June.

The larger oriental types are popular with gardeners. They have hairy flower stems and foliage. Flower petals can be ruffled, crimped or shaggy. Flowers range from white, pink and red and measure about 15cm across.

Discover how to grow poppies in our handy grow guide. 

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CutBack
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Planting position

Poppies will grow in most soils but for the best results grow in a well-drained soil in full sun. They’re happy in alkaline, acid or neutral soil.

The larger, perennial oriental poppies are perfect for a border. They flower in May and June and once the flowers have gone over the foliage also dies back. The foliage will have a second lease of life in August. Plant them alongside a low-growing perennials that will fill the gap in July when the foliage dies back. Hardy geraniums are ideal.

Annual poppies are often planted as part of a wildflower mix. If planting a wildflower patch, choose an open, sunny site. Seed should be sown on well-prepared ground and steps taken to keep the birds away while seed germinates.

Poppies are rarely planted in containers and perform much better in the garden. 

Planting technique

Perennial poppies are ideally placed at the front or middle of a border. The perfect time to plant is in spring. Dig a planting hole and add some well-rotted organic matter. Remove the plant from its pot and place it in the hole at the same depth it was in the purchase pot. Backfill the hole and firm in place. Water well.

Annual and biennial poppies are usually grown from seed. Annual poppies should be sown direct onto well-prepared soil. Sow in spring, early summer or autumn where they are to flower. Remove weeds from the chosen site. Rake the ground to create a fine tilth and then scatter the seed. Water with a fine spray of water. 

Propagation

The seed of poppies can remain in the soil for decades. If ground is cultivated and the seed moved to the surface they'll germinate after years lying dormant in the soil. After flowering, avoid deadheading annual types in order to allow them to set seed.

Propagate oriental poppies by taking root cuttings in autumn or winter. Lift a mature plant carefully and trim off a section of root that is pencil thick. Remove no more than one-third of the parent’s roots. Cut the root into lengths of 4cm and push them vertically into a pot of cutting compost with the thickest end at the top. Cover the pot with a thin layer of grit and water. Leave the pots of cuttings in a cold frame and wait for little plants to form before potting on. 

Troubleshooting

Poppies rarely suffer from pests or diseases. However, oriental types can be set back by powdery mildew. This is a fungal disease that affects the whole plant. Leaves and stems are covered in a white mildew in spring or summer. In very bad cases cut the plant back to ground level and clear away fallen leaves to prevent the fungal disease from overwintering in the soil.    

Care

Annual poppies are easy to care for. Once flowers have faded and seeds released, pull up parent plants up and place them on the compost heap. Shake the plants over the site before removing to release any stubborn seed.

Oriental poppies hold their large flowers on strong hairy stems. However, they may need the help of a plant support to keep them upright. A poppy flower will last for about 10 days but plants will have a second flush of flowers if they’re cut back. Allow oriental poppies to set seed and the plant will not have enough energy to produce more flowers.

Plants should be cut right back to ground level in autumn. 

Watering can

Positioning purple poppies

When growing purple poppies plant them in a position of light shade. In full sun their flower colour can fade. Papaver ‘Patty’s Plum’ is an example of a poppy that will hold its colour better when out of direct sunlight.

Papaver nudicaule
Papaver nudicaule

Poppies to grow

  • Papaver orientale ‘Turkenlouis’ – hardy perennial with large orangey/red flowers in May and June. Height 90cm
  • Papaver rhoeas – annual with delicate red flowers in June or July. The common poppy is the symbol of remembrance. Seeds can lie dormant in the soil for decades. Height 50cm
  • Papaver nudicaule – a hardy biennial with a mix of yellow, orange and red flowers from June to August. Also known as the Icelandic poppy. Height 50cm

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