Oriental Poppy 101: How to Grow This Popular Spring Perennial

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 20th February 2023.

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The oriental poppy flowers in my garden come into bloom in May or 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.

My poppies die back quickly in the summer which means I can plant them around other plants that come into bloom later in the season.

Key points:

  1. The most popular colour is natural red but I’ve seen cultivars of purple, orange and even yellow grown in the UK.
  2. The perennials will come back year after year and I’ve found them reliable in my UK garden.
  3. I’ve always grown them from plugs but they can be grown from seed.
  4. I’ve found poppies easy to grow and they tolerate a wide variety of soils.

Size

Height: Up to 90cm (35″)

Spread: Up to 60cm (24″)

Type

Type

Deciduous: Dies back after flowering in the summer and reappears the following season

Growth icon

Growth

Reaches full height in year 1 and will self seed

Difficulty

Easy to grow and can be potted

Native

All parts of the Caucasus, northern Turkey and northern Iran

Location

Exposed or sheltered and ideally in moderately fertile soil that is moist but free-draining

Sunlight

Full sun

Hardiness

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

Companions

Perfect with other late spring plants inc muscari, tulips, alliums as well as around shrubs and grasses

Planting

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

Flowering

Late spring and often into the first month in summer (May, June and early July)

Closeup of a red oriental poppy
Closeup of a red oriental poppy with green foliage

How to Grow Oriental Poppies: My Advice

Here I answer questions you may have about oriental poppies; the answers I provide are based on my experience of growing them in my Surrey garden over the last five years:

How and When are Oriental Poppies Sold?

This poppy grows reliably from seeds and I’ve previously sowed undercover in late January and moved them 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. Most of the poppies I have grown where from plugs and I’ve found this the easiest way.

Where is the best location for oriental poppies?

I’ve found that they tolerate a wide variety of soil types but dislike wet feet, so ensure there’s adequate drainage.

All poppies will perform better if located in a sunny spot, but mine are in both a sheltered and exposed locations, and there doesn’t seem to be a difference in how they perform.

How should the site be prepared?

I’ve found that perennial poppies prefer moderately fertile soil that’s free draining, so I always dig in organic matter to improve the ground conditions if required.

How much water or fertiliser do oriental poppies require?

Poppies are drought tolerant once established but will appreciate once-weekly watering during exceptionally dry conditions. I don’t think they will cope well if you let their feet sit in waterlogged soil, so grow them in a free-draining spot.

I usually apply a general slow-release feed once or twice a year to the soil, and I topup the soil with well-rotted manure, side dressed around the plant once a year.

How tall and wide will oriental poppies grow?

My oriental poppies grow up to 90cm (35″) tall with a spread of 60cm (24″), but those in the partially shaded area of my garden are noticeably smaller.

Should poppies be pruned and deadheaded?

I deadhead the flower after it’s faded, as this will prevent the plant from self-seeding and will help it to grow back stronger next year.

Once the foliage has faded, which in my garden happens quickly, I just snip it off so other plants to fill the space.

Do oriental poppies suffer from any pests or diseases?

I’ve never had any issues with bugs or diseases in my Surrey garden, but here are solutions to issues I know others have experienced:

Aphids – pinch these off before they spread or treat with off-the-shelf sprays or sticky pads. 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, I’ve seen this happen to plants that are too crowded.

Downy Mildew – leaves yellow patches on leaves which should be removed as soon as possible. I’ve had results preventing this 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. While I’ve never experienced this, I believe you should reduce fertiliser applications as a high nitrogen feed can cause this.

When do oriental poppies bloom and how long for?

In my Surrey garden, the oriental poppies bloom for around 10 days in May, June and sometimes into July.

They are notoriously short-lived, and when I touched the petals, they felt very thin and wafer-like, I’ve also seen them damaged by hard rain. How long your poppies will bloom for will depend on the conditions.

Can oriental poppies be propagated?

Oriental poppies will self-seed and spread easily without any help; I was surprised at where they cropped 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 but I’ve had better luck by 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. I have seen bees enjoying the poppies in my garden, and they seem to fly past other plants to get to the poppies.

Source.

Can poppies be grown in pots?

Yes, I have seen them grown in pots, but when I tried I found that they struggled in smaller pots yet thrived in larger, deeper containers.

Explore our list of companion plants here.

Buy Online

Papaver orientale Victoria Louise x 6 Large Plug Plants Hardy Perennial Poppy
Papaver orientale 'Pizzicato Mixed' x 6 Large Plug Plants Hardy Perennial Poppy
Papaver orientale Victoria Louise x 6 Large Plug Plants Hardy Perennial Poppy
Papaver orientale 'Pizzicato Mixed' x 6 Large Plug Plants Hardy Perennial Poppy
Papaver orientale Victoria Louise x 6 Large Plug Plants Hardy Perennial Poppy
Papaver orientale Victoria Louise x 6 Large Plug Plants Hardy Perennial Poppy
Papaver orientale 'Pizzicato Mixed' x 6 Large Plug Plants Hardy Perennial Poppy
Papaver orientale 'Pizzicato Mixed' x 6 Large Plug Plants Hardy Perennial Poppy

Oriental Poppies at a Glance:

If you want to grow oriental poppies, consider my top ten tips:

  1. They can be planted as bare roots in the winter, seeds from early spring, or plugs from mid-spring.
  2. Poppies generally prefer full sun, but orientals can cope with some light shade.
  3. They tolerate a wide variety of soil types.
  4. My oriental poppies produced large 15cm (6″) flowers in late spring, when grown in full sun.
  5. In my garden, they reached their full height of up to 90cm (35″) in year 1.
  6. The foliage will die right back in the summer, so consider companion and follow-on plants to fill the void – my choice is hardy geraniums.
  7. Poppies are drought tolerant once established and only require normal amounts of feed or fertiliser.
  8. This plant is hardy in the UK and self-seeds easily.
  9. A popular spring pot plant, but from my experience, I believe they will only thrive in larger containers.
  10. I use them as cut flowers as the stems are sturdy and the blooms large and distinctive.

How to Care For Oriental Poppies After They’ve Finished Flowering

In my garden, the foliage turns yellow and then fully dies back to ground level after flowering. This process protects it from the harsh summer heat and prepares the roots for the dormant period later in the summer and autumn.

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, I usually fill these with fast-growing space fillers, such as hardy geraniums, but there are many more plants to choose from. I’ve seen poppies grown around grasses before and they looked delightful.

Problem Solving

Beyond the already stated solutions to common pests and diseases, here my answers to problem-solving questions, again based on my experience:

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. In my garden, the poppies grown in full sun produce much larger blooms and generally look healthier.

Why are the flowers small?

Give the poppies some space, and if you’re growing them from seed, thin them out, so fewer plants compete 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, and I’ve found them very versatile. However, as the foliage dies off quickly in the summer, the gardener should consider some space fillers to plug the gaps.

Ornamental grasses are one option, as is the ever-faithful cranesbill (hardy geranium).

Consider these popular companion plants:

Alternatives

Oriental poppies are a member of the Ranunculus order of plants that also includes hellebores and buttercups but anemone is my number one choice as an alternative.

However, the most obvious alternative would be the common poppy, a more fragile similar plant with smaller blooms.

Elizabeth Smith’s Pro Tip

Here is a quote from Elizabeth Smith, a qualified horticulturist:

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

Closeup of oriental poppy flower
A cluster of red poppy blooms on stalks
Side view of poppy flower
Red poppies in border

Our Expertise: Backed by a Qualified Horticulturist

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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This oriental poppy growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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