Poppy is the common name for plants in the Papaveraceae family. Within this group there are annuals, perennials and biennials. They include oriental poppies, field poppies Welsh poppies and Himalayan poppies.
Their summer flowers may be fleeting but they make a wonderful addition to the garden in May and June.
Large-flowered oriental poppies are the most popular poppy to grow. They have hairy flower stems and foliage. Flower petals can be ruffled, crimped or shaggy, and range in colour from white to pink, purple and red. They can measure about 15cm across.
How to grow poppies
Most poppies thrive in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Field poppies and opium tolerate drier, poorer soils than oriental poppies, while Himalayan poppies do best in moist, slightly acidic soils, in partial shade. For most species, deadhead spent blooms to prolong flowering. Most poppies come true if propagated by seed but oriental poppies should be propagated from root cuttings.
Looking to transplant poppies? Find out how, in our Quick Tips video with David Hurrion:
More on growing poppies:
- Six of the best poppies to grow
- How to propagate oriental poppies
- How to grow blue Himalayan poppies
Find out more about growing poppies, in our Grow Guide, below.
Where to grow poppies
Poppies will grow in most soils but for the best results grow in a well-drained soil in full sun. They thrive in alkaline, acid or neutral soil.
The larger, perennial oriental poppies are perfect for growing in a border, ideally at the front or middle. 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 low-growing perennials, such as hardy geraniums, that will fill the gap in July when the foliage dies back.
Annual poppies are often planted as part of a wildflower mix. If planting a wildflower patch choose an open, sunny site. Seeds should be sown on well-prepared ground and steps taken to keep the birds away while seed germinates.
Himalayan poppies do best in partial shade in damp soil.
Purple poppies do best in 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.
Poppies are rarely planted in containers and perform much better in the garden.
How to plant poppies
Spring is the perfect time to plant oriental and Himalayan poppies. 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 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 on to well-prepared soil. Sow in spring, early summer or autumn, where they’re to flower. Prepare the soil by removing weeds and rake the ground level. Water the soil with a fine spray of water and then scatter the seed. There’s no need to cover it.
Caring for poppies
Annual poppies are easy to care for. There’s no need to stake or deadhead the plants – just let them flower and seed as part of a wildflower display. Once flowers have faded and seeds released, pull up the parent plants and place them on the compost heap. It’s a good idea to shake the plants over the site before removing, to release any stubborn seed.
Oriental poppies hold their large flowers on strong hairy stems. They may need support to keep them upright –place this over the mound of foliage before the flower stems appear. A poppy flower will last for about 10 days but plants will have a second flush of flowers if they’re cut back. It’s a good idea to prevent oriental poppies from setting seed, as this will reduce the amount of energy the plant has to produce more flowers.
Himalayan poppies also need staking and deadheading.
Cut back plants to ground level in autumn and mulch with compost, leaf mould or bark chippings in autumn or spring.
Poppy seed 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 poppies to allow them to set seed.
Find out how to sort self-sown opium poppies, in Monty’s video from the Jewel Garden at Longmeadow:
Most oriental poppies are hybrids, so won’t come true from seed. It’s therefore best to propagate oriental poppies by taking root cuttings in autumn or winter. Lift a mature plant carefully and trim off a section of root with the thickness of a pencil. Remove no more than one-third of the parent’s roots. Cut the root into 4cm lengths 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 in a cold frame and wait for little plants to form before potting on.
Growing poppies: problem-solving
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.
Opium poppies can self-seed too readily in the garden, and become a nuisance. If opium poppies are out-growing their space, make sure you deadhead spent flowers to prevent the plants from setting seed.
Great poppies to grow
- Papaver orientale ‘Perry’s White’ – hardy perennial. Large and blousy, pure-white flowers with a black mark at the base of each petal. Flowers in May and June. Height 90cm
- 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
- Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’ – hardy annual with delicate red flowers with a black spot at the base of each petal. Flowers from June to August. Height 50cm