Poppies are relatively easy-to-grow plants and do not require specific maintenance. You can plant them as you like: in beds, on borders, on slopes, in rock gardens, or in the ground. They have a semi-evergreen foliage, and some plants can reach 3 feet (1 m) high at maturity. Poppies are often grown for their beautiful ephemeral flowers of varying colours and their sedative properties.

Poppies are perennials of the Papaveraceae family and are native to some countries in Asia and America. They have many virtues: decorative, culinary or medicinal. They are most often grown to produce ornamental flowers but you can also use the seeds in cooking, especially in confectionery. In medicine, we extract the sap from the capsules of certain species of flowers by scratching them, and the substance collected is specifically used to make morphine, or drugs such as opium. There are different species of poppies: the Alpine poppy, the Iceland poppy, the common poppy (papaver rhoeas) and the opium poppy, which is the most interesting species to grow in horticulture. Poppies are annuals or biennials, depending on species, and their blooms usually occur from April to September and provide ephemeral white, orange, pink or red flowers.

Planting and propagating poppies

Because they are annuals or biennials, poppies often flower from April and often continue doing so until late fall. Poppies are undemanding plants. You can grow them in a well-drained, light, deep and, if you wish so, slightly sandy soil. They also enjoy full sun exposure and regular, but moderate, watering. You can start to plant your poppy seedlings from early spring in March until June. Sowing usually occurs in spring, between the end of April and July. If you wish to transplant seedlings, you can wait until the end of the season. It is important to realize that some annual poppies cannot withstand transplantation. Sow these species directly in the ground to avoid damaging them. Sowing is carried out on ordinary land that is well-drained and fully exposed to the sun. Given that poppy seeds are usually thin and brittle, make sure that the amount of soil over the seeds only constitutes a very thin layer. Sowing can be done every year and there is no need to buy seeds after the first year because you can reap some from your plants the following years.

Caring for your plants to help them grow

The cultivation of poppies does not really require any special maintenance, but one must still take precautions in order for the plants to grow under optimum conditions. The cultivation of poppies is entirely dependent on their longevity. When buying seeds or seedlings, make sure you first know their species and whether they are annual or biennial. For some poppies, like the common poppy for example, planting is done directly in the ground between March and May As for the biennials such as Iceland poppies, they are sown between May and June. However, since they need to be overwintered, growing them in containers is perhaps a more suitable option. If you want a prolonged bloom and astonishing flowers, it is advisable to remove the wilted flowers and keep only the younger capsules to preserve the seeds. To have large flowers, especially with species such as opium poppies, it is important to conduct a thinning every year. It is also important to pick the flowers when you see that the buds begin to open. Then, immediately dip the stem in warm water to prevent the flow of latex. It is strongly recommended to treat your plants as soon as you see black aphids appear.

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Published in Perennials by Alexander on 31 Aug 2011