How to Grow Blue Poppy Plants

A cluster of Blue Poppy Flowers

Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

There are two species in the Meconopsis genus of poppies that are referred to as Himalayan blue poppies. One is Meconopsis grandis, and the other is Meconopsis baileyi (also known as Meconopsis betonicifolia). Baileyi is the most widely cultivated and the one that this article focusses on. M. baileyi even won the esteemed Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

This clump-forming perennial has strikingly unusual, delicate, blue, bowl-shaped flowers with yellow centers. The blooms develop in succession on the tall, leafy, bristly stems (that can grow up to 4ft in height) through late spring and early summer and they pack a unique punch of color in shady borders.

The seedheads of meconopsis poppies distinguish them from true poppies. Instead of being pepperpot shaped, they are elongated and slender.

With the right conditions, blue poppies will self-seed, and this makes them a good choice for temperate meadow, informal or cottage gardens. They are often planted under tree canopies as they thrive in moist and filtered light environments.

The rich nectar of the Himalayan blue poppy is also perfect if you want to attract pollinators to your garden. Bees and butterflies are drawn to it.

Despite this, these flowers are still relatively rare in the horticultural trade, and you may need to search for a specialist if you want to plant this species. Plus, they are short-lived and require very specific conditions to thrive, and these won't be possible to recreate in every garden. Even the most experienced gardeners can find blue poppies a challenge when it comes to germination and growing successfully.

Botanical Name  Meconopsis betonicifolia or Meconopsis baileyi
Common Name  Blue Poppy. Himalayan Blue Poppy
Plant Type  Perennial, Herbaceous
Mature Size  Up to 4 ft. tall
Sun Exposure  Part Shade
Soil Type  Moist but well-drained
Soil pH  Acid, Neutral
Bloom Time  Summer
Flower Color  Blue
Hardiness Zones  5-7, USA
Native Area  Himalayas
Toxicity  Non-toxic

Blue Poppy Care

While blue poppies can be low-maintenance if they are provided with exactly the right type of environment, not every garden will be able to offer them the conditions they need to thrive. They need a fertile, moist, and well-drained soil and filtered light. High temperatures are a problem for this species, so you need to live in an area that can provide the types of cool summers they thrive in.

Light

In their native habitat, Himalayan blue poppies would grow on damp woodland floors where they would receive dappled light. These plants can't survive if they are exposed to too much intense sunlight. They prefer a partial shade position with bright but indirect light.

If you live in a region that experiences very mild summer temperatures, they may still manage in a more sunny position, but, ideally, this would only expose them to direct morning sun.

Soil

Blue poppies have very particular soil requirements. To thrive, they need a moist but well-drained type that is rich in organic matter. Loamy soils work best, and enthusiasts often enrich them with leaf matter to minimize the chance of stagnation and to conserve moisture.

They are also surprisingly sensitive to pH levels. A soil test is recommended before planting as they prefer a neutral to slightly acidic type. Too much alkalinity results in the blooms turning purple rather than blue, and it can impact on growth.

Water

Blue poppies need to be kept consistently moist throughout their growth period in the late spring and summer. In the winter, their preference is to be kept dry, so no supplemental watering is usually required.

Temperature and Humidity

Blue poppies won't be appropriate for growing in the southern states that are hot and humid. Temperate regions that don't have overly hot summers are best for these plants.

Fertilizer

If your soil hasn't been enriched sufficiently with manure, compost or leaf mold, you could apply a weak dose of slow-release granular fertilizer during the spring and summer growth period.

Pruning

Experts agree that during the first year of growth, any buds appearing on stems should be removed before they flower. That way, your blue poppies will be able to focus on establishing strong roots and developing their foliage. This will encourage this relatively short-lived plant to survive longer.

Cutting them down to the ground in late fall is also a common practice.

Propagating Blue Poppy Plants

Clumps that are becoming overcrowded should also be divided as this can help to lengthen the life of blue poppies. Do bear in mind, however, if you plan to divide your plant to create a new clump elsewhere in your garden, given the longevity of this species, they may not survive all that much longer. For this reason, propagation is often best done from seeds.

How to Grow Blue Poppies From Seed

Growing blue poppies from seeds isn't regarded as an easy task. The germinating seeds need decent light, can be prone to damping off (a fungal disease that affects the developing roots), and they don't respond well to being transplanted.

Sowing fresh seeds is recommended. They should be sown thinly on the surface of their nutrient-rich soil or starting mix. This should be kept evenly moist, but make sure it doesn't get waterlogged. To prevent transplant shock, they may do better being sown in peat pots.

Unlike established plants, blue poppy seeds need a decent amount of light for successful germination, and ideal temperatures are around 55 to 60°F. Intense, prolonged sunlight, however, should still be avoided.

Common Pests/Disease

You may need to protect your blue poppies from slugs and snails and they can be prone to downy mildew on their foliage.