Oriental Poppy 101: How to Grow This Popular Spring Perennial
Oriental poppy flowers come into bloom in May and June and are held atop sturdy stems, making them perfect for cut flowers but make no mistake; this showy plant isn’t just for vases, it deserves its place in any garden.
Poppies die back quickly in the summer so they can be planted around other plants that come into bloom later in the season. They look equally at home in pots and containers, either on their own or mixed with ornamental grasses and other spring plants.
- The most popular colour is natural red but cultivars of purple, orange and even yellow have been created.
- These perennials will come back year after year.
- Grow from seed, bare rots or plugs.
- Easy to grow, poppies tolerate a wide variety of soils.
- Flowers are bowl shaped and up to 15cm (6″) wide.
Height: Up to 90cm (35″)
Spread: Up to 60cm (24″)
Deciduous: Dies back after flowering in the summer and reappears the following season
Reaches full height in year 1 and will self seed
Easy to grow and can be potted
All parts of the Caucasus, northern Turkey and northern Iran
Exposed or sheltered and ideally in moderately fertile soil that is moist but free-draining
US zone 3-9 and all parts of the UK
Water & Feed
Drought tolerant once established. Dress with compost or well-rotted manure in the early spring or use a slow-release fertiliser
Perfect with other late spring plants inc muscari, tulips, alliums as well as around shrubs and grasses
Bare root plants should be planted out between October and March. Plugs can be planted directly in the garden in the spring. Seeds can be sowed undercover from January and planted out in early spring
Late spring and often into the first month in summer (May, June and early July)
How to Grow Oriental Poppies
How and When are Oriental Poppies Sold?
This poppy grows reliably from seeds that can be sowed undercover from January and moved to their final position in early spring.
Bare root plants are popular as the oriental poppy goes dormant between October and March, and the roots can be dug up, sold and replanted during this period.
Plug plants are sold from early spring in most garden centres and online. Plant them directly in their final location provided the risk of frost has passed.
Where is the best location for oriental poppies?
Grow oriental poppies in exposed or sheltered locations, preferably in full sun or a spot that receives at least 8 hours of sun per day.
They tolerate a wide variety of soil types but dislike wet feet, so ensure there’s adequate drainage.
How should the site be prepared?
This perennial prefers moderately fertile soil that’s free draining, so dig in organic matter to improve the ground conditions if required.
Oriental poppies prefer space to grow into, so avoid overcrowding.
How much water or fertiliser do oriental poppies require?
Poppies are drought tolerant once established but will appreciate once-weekly watering during dry conditions. Don’t let the feet sit in waterlogged soil.
Slow-release fertiliser can be used from early spring to mid-summer, or compost and well-rotted manure can be side dressed around the plant once a year.
How tall and wide will oriental poppies grow?
Most oriental poppies will grow up to 90cm (35″) tall with a spread of 60cm (24″).
Should poppies be pruned and deadheaded?
You can deadhead the flower after it’s faded, this will prevent the plant from self-seeding and will help it to grow back stronger next year.
The foliage should be left until it’s faded and discoloured when it can be pruned off.
Do oriental poppies suffer from any pests or diseases?
Generally disease and pest free but may suffer from:
Aphids – pinch these off before they spread or treat with off-the-shelf products. More information about aphids can be found here.
Powdery Mildew – this leaves a white powder on the leaves but is unlikely to kill the plant.
Downy Mildew – leaves yellow patches on leaves which should be removed as soon as possible. Prevent transfer by watering from the side, cleaning hand tools and improving air circulation.
Pedicel Necrosis – affects the buds, which may turn black and fail to open. Reduce fertiliser applications as a high nitrogen feed can cause this.
When do oriental poppies bloom and how long for?
Oriental poppies bloom for around 10 days in May, June and into July.
Can oriental poppies be propagated?
Oriental poppies will self-seed and spread easily without any help; you’ll be surprised at where they crop up, often several metres away from the original plant.
You can increase the number of plants you have by collecting the seeds and sowing them undercover from early spring, but be aware that seeds from hybrids won’t be true to the original.
Alternatively, this poppy can be propagated by root cuttings or division in late autumn and early winter.
Are oriental poppies toxic or harmful to humans and pets?
Oriental poppies are toxic if consumed by cats, dogs and humans.
Are oriental poppies beneficial to wildlife?
Poppies are beneficial to bees and some other pollinators and wildlife in general.
Can poppies be grown in pots?
Yes, either on their own as a feature or mixed with grasses or other late spring flowering plants.
Oriental Poppies at a Glance:
If you want to grow oriental poppies, consider these ten points:
- They can be planted as bare roots in the winter, seeds from early spring, or plugs from mid-spring.
- Poppies generally prefer full sun, but orientals can cope with some light shade.
- They tolerate a wide variety of soil types.
- Oriental poppies produce large 15cm (6″) flowers in late spring.
- They reach their full height of up to 90cm (35″) in year 1.
- The foliage will die right back in the summer, so consider companion and follow-on plants to fill the void.
- Poppies are drought tolerant once established and only require normal amounts of feed or fertiliser.
- This plant is hardy in the UK and self-seeds easily.
- A popular spring pot plant.
- They make excellent cut flowers as the stems are sturdy and the blooms large and distinctive.
How to Care For Oriental Poppies After They’ve Finished Flowering
The foliage on oriental poppies will turn yellow and then fully die back to ground level after flowering. This process protects it from the harsh summer heat and prepares the roots for the dormant period in autumn and winter.
While the flowers can be removed or deadheaded, there’s no need to cut back the foliage, and it’s best to let it fade away naturally or at least until it pulls away easily from the root.
As the foliage fades away, gaps will gradually appear in the bed, these can be filled with plants that come into bloom later in the summer.
Beyond the already stated solutions to common pests and diseases, here are answers to problem-solving questions:
Why are the poppies drooping?
This is usually caused by too much or too little water, they prefer moist soil that is never waterlogged, and while they are drought-tolerant, they may droop in dry soil.
Fungal diseases can cause drooping, so improve sir circulation if possible and water from the side rather than overhead.
Oriental poppy flowers are also very large and heavy, and it’s not unusual for them to bend the stem, consider digging in some stakes or supports.
Why aren’t my poppies flowering?
This is usually because the poppies are grown in the shade or due to overfeeding with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser.
Why are the flowers small?
Give the poppies some space and if growing them from seed, thin them out, so fewer plants are competing for feed and water.
The flowers may also be smaller if they’re grown in the shade.
Oriental Poppy Companion Plants
Oriental poppies go well with many late spring and early summer plants, but as the foliage dies off quickly in the summer, consideration should be paid to how the void left behind can be filled.
Ornamental grasses are one option, as is the ever-faithful cranesbill (hardy geranium).
Consider these popular companion plants:
Hannah’s Pro Tip
Here is a quote from Hannah, our co-founder:
Oriental poppies are an excellent choice for late spring and early summer colour but consider these three points:
1) They only bloom for around ten days, sometimes less and rarely any longer.
2) You’ll need to fill the space they leave behind in the summer as they go dormant and die back when it gets hot.
3) You’ll probably need to stake the plants, especially of they’re grown in a windy spot.
More Poppy Photos
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Author: Daniel Woodley
This guide to growing oriental poppies for late spring and early summer colour was lovingly created by Daniel Woodley here at DIY Gardening and was last updated in February 2022.
Daniel is a keen gardener who also manages a large residential landscape in addition to his own mid-size garden.
He also enjoys experimenting with vegetables and fruits in his garden but with varying success!
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