What do poppy seedlings look like?

Opium poppy

Opium poppy, (Papaver somniferum), flowering plant of the family Papaveraceae, native to Turkey. Opium, morphine, codeine, and heroin are all derived from the milky latex found in its unripe seed capsule. It is also grown for its tiny nonnarcotic ripe seeds, which are kidney-shaped and grayish blue to dark blue; the seeds are used in bakery products and for seasoning, oil, and birdseed (see poppy seed).

  • opium poppyOpium poppy (Papaver somniferum).© liubomir/.com
  • Collecting resin from opium poppies in a field in Afghanistan, 2008.AP

The opium poppy is an annual plant and can reach about 1–5 metres (3–16 feet) tall. It has lobed or toothed silver-green foliage and bears blue-purple or white flowers some 13 cm (5 inches) wide. Red-flowered and double and semidouble strains have been developed as garden ornamentals. The seeds are borne in a spherical capsule topped by a disk formed by the stigmas of the flower; the seeds escape from pores beneath the disk when the capsule is shaken by the wind.

  • Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) with (left) mature fruit and seed and (right) detail of flower.J. Fujishima–B.W. Halstead, World Life Research Institute
  • poppy seedsEdible poppy seeds from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum).AdstockRF

How to grow poppies

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.

Poppies will grow in most soils but for the best results grow in a well-drained soil in full sun. Oriental poppies looking fantastic in a mixed border

Where to plant poppies

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 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. Seeds 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.

A row of poppy seedlings

How to plant poppies

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, then scatter the seed. Water with a fine spray of water.

Collecting poppy seeds from seedheads

Propagating poppies

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.

Warm-purple Papaver somniferum

Problem solving: poppies

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.

Cutting back poppies after flowering

Caring for poppies

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.

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.

Pale-lemon Papaver nudicaule

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


Find more great poppy varieties to grow here

Poppies are tougher than they look and can be sown early

This undated photo shows corn poppies in New Paltz, NY. Corn poppies, like other poppies, look most at home in informal settings where their flower-capped stalks can be allowed to sprawl according to their whim. (Lee Reich via AP) This undated photo shows corn poppies in New Paltz, NY. Corn poppies, like other poppies, look most at home in informal settings where their flower-capped stalks can be allowed to sprawl according to their whim. (Lee Reich via AP)

With seeds as fine as dust and flower petals as delicate as fairy shawls, it might seem that poppies are too fragile to have their seeds sown directly on melting snow or frozen ground.

But early sowing is a must, because the seedlings thrive during the cool, moist weather of early spring. And because poppies don’t transplant well, their seeds are best sown right out in the flower beds.

Members of the poppy family, Papaveraceae, span the globe from the Arctic to the tropics, but their flowers share a common quality. “The poppy is the most transparent and delicate of all blossoms. Other flowers rely on the texture of their surface for color. The poppy is painted glass; it never glows so brightly as when the sun shines through it,” wrote John Ruskin over a hundred years ago.


Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is aptly named for it once dotted the corn fields of Europe with its brilliant red flowers. (“Corn” means “grain” in British English.) This annual’s translucent flowers are borne on sprawling stalks 2 feet high.

The Flanders variety is named for the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields,” by John McCrae, in which the blood-red flowers symbolize lives lost in war. On Memorial and Veteran’s days, red tissue-paper poppies still are distributed in memory of wars’ victims.

Shirley poppies are a type of corn poppy with white lines along the edges of their petals. Corn and Shirley poppies begin blooming shortly after spring-flowering bulbs have finished their show, and continue blooming through July.

California poppy (Eschscholtzis californica) was named in honor of Dr. Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, a 19th century ship’s surgeon who found these bright orange flowers blanketing California hillsides. Northern winters are too harsh for this perennial, but it can be treated as an annual with the seeds sown yearly. From June to October, the 3- to 5-inch blooms of California poppies stare out above their lacy foliage. New varieties are available in a range of colors — cream, carmine, orange, yellow and red. I plant these flowers in the sunniest spots of the garden because they stay closed at night and even in shade.

Iceland poppies (P. nudicaule) have delicately ruffled and sweetly scented flowers, and are borne on slender stalks above rosettes of deeply cut leaves. Like California poppy, Iceland poppy is perennial in its native habitat, in this case the Arctic. In most other regions, it loses its perennial character to behave like a biennial. Plants from spring sowings bloom from midsummer into fall of their first year. The second year, the luxuriant blossoms unfold shortly after daffodils bloom, and then continue throughout the season.


The old-fashioned oriental poppy (P. oriental) is the only garden perennial among the poppies. Propagate it either from seed or by root cuttings. With huge, flamboyant, brick-red flowers having purplish-black splotches at the bases of their petals, this poppy has few rivals for intense color in the flower garden.

The blossoming period is relatively short, in early summer. Soon after that, the blossoms fade, the leaves die back and the plant enters a period of dormancy until late summer. To mask the dying foliage and carry on a succession of blooms, I plant zinnias and calendulas among the poppies.

All these poppies — corn poppies, Shirley poppies, Icelandic poppies, California poppies and oriental poppies — thrive on neglect. Sprinkle the seeds onto well-drained soil — even now, in winter— and then forget about them. Poppies are flowers of cottage gardens and meadows, rather than neatly groomed, formal flower beds. Let them sprawl, their flowers flopping about on the ends of stalks, splashing bright colors against mute green foliage.


Should you deadhead annual poppies?

I have grown Shirley poppies for over 40 years both in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. In my experience they do keep blooming when deadheaded. The blooms are not quite as large and the stems are a little shorter on the later blooms, but they remain lovely. As a bloom loses its petals, I cut the stem just above the next leaf node (where there is often a bud forming already).
Like all annuals, the poppies think they have finished their life cycle once they produce seed and they begin to die.Therefore, they will last much longer if you deadhead them. Also, if you let them reseed themselves they will eventually revert to their original red color. I find it best to use purchased seed every year. I never use all the seeds in a packet in one year and they will continue to be viable for at least a few years.
If you want to use them as cut flowers, you have to seal the ends either by immersing the bottom inch of the stem in boiling water for about 25 seconds or burning the stem end with a candle flame. They don’t last long when cut – 3 days is about the maximum but they are so amazing to look at that I think they are worth the effort. I usually cut them at dusk (cut only the buds that are just beginning to show a trace of color and whose stems are straight up), seal the stems and then keep them overnight in water in a cool place – the cooler the better – to condition them. After arranging, keep them out of direct sunlight and in as cool a place as possible.
Then, sit back and enjoy!
There are a few Papaver somniferum mixed in but the majority of poppies in these pictures are Shirleys. The pictures were taken in early June.

Oriental poppies are long-lived and easy to grow perennials.

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.

Poppy flowers are striking against the grayish green foliage.

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.

There are so many gorgeous varieties of Oriental poppies!

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.

Poppy seed heads add interest after blooms fade.

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.

Poppies interplanted with later-blooming coneflowers.

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.
  • Oriental poppy flower.

  • 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.

Further Information

  • Perennial Flower Garden Basics (article)
  • How to Buy, Plant, and Grow Bare Root Perennials In Your Garden (article)
  • Ten Fall Perennial Flower Garden Favorites (article)

Poppy, Brilliant Red (Oriental)

Poppy: Direct Sow, Bare Root or Potted Plant Perennial

How to Sow and Plant

Poppy may be grown from seed sown directly in the garden, or grown from bare root or potted plants.

Sowing Directly in the Garden:

  • Direct sow in late spring to summer, after the soil is thoroughly warm, in full sun in deep, moist, well-drained, well amended soil.
  • Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth.
  • Sow seeds evenly and thinly and barely cover with fine soil.
  • Keep evenly moist.
  • Seedlings will emerge in 10-20 days at 55-70 degrees F.
  • Thin to about 12 inches apart when seedlings are 2 inches high.

Planting Bare Root Plants:

  • Choose a location in full sun with deep, moist, well-drained, well amended soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12, inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
  • The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
  • Dig a hole twice as deep and wide as the bare root.
  • Spread the roots out in the hole. Hold the roots suspended in the hole at the proper depth. Fill in around the roots with soil until the hole is filled.
  • Tamp the soil firmly to get rid of air pockets and to ensure that the plant is set at the right depth.
  • Water well to fully saturate the roots and soil.
  • Because poppies have tap roots, be very careful to not damage the root when planting.

Planting Potted Plants:

  • Choose a location in full sun with deep, moist, well-drained, well amended soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12 inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
  • The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
  • Plant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce transplant shock.
  • Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
  • Unpot the plant and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root growth.
  • Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand. Because poppies have tap roots, be very careful to not damage the root when planting.
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker.
  • Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.

Brilliant Oriental Poppy flowers

Brilliant Oriental Poppy flowers

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Brilliant Oriental Poppy flowers

Brilliant Oriental Poppy flowers

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 30 inches

Spacing: 18 inches


Hardiness Zone: 3a

Other Names: Oriental Poppy


Large, wildfire red flowers measure 4-5″ with striking black center

Ornamental Features

Brilliant Oriental Poppy features bold scarlet round flowers with burgundy eyes and black centers at the ends of the stems from early to mid summer. The flowers are excellent for cutting. Its deeply cut ferny leaves remain forest green in color throughout the season. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Brilliant Oriental Poppy is an open herbaceous perennial with tall flower stalks held atop a low mound of foliage. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.

This plant will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season’s flowers. Deer don’t particularly care for this plant and will usually leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. Gardeners should be aware of the following characteristic(s) that may warrant special consideration;

  • Self-Seeding

Brilliant Oriental Poppy is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Mass Planting
  • General Garden Use

Planting & Growing

Brilliant Oriental Poppy will grow to be about 24 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 24 inches. When grown in masses or used as a bedding plant, individual plants should be spaced approximately 18 inches apart. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 5 years. As this plant tends to go dormant in summer, it is best interplanted with late-season bloomers to hide the dying foliage.

This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers dry to average moisture levels with very well-drained soil, and will often die in standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution, and will benefit from being planted in a relatively sheltered location. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.

Gertens Sizes and Prices

#1 container – $8.99
* Sizes and availability are subject to change. Please check with the store for specific details.

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