How to Grow the Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

This remembrance flower is easy to grow and gorgeous to look at

Common poppy field with red and pink flowers and buds in between

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is an annual wildflower characterized by striking red blooms. The seeds of the common poppy can lie dormant for up to 80 years, germinating once the soil is disturbed. This led to it being coined as a symbol of remembrance after World War I when flushes of poppies grew in churned up battlefields. The infamous poem In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian volunteer field medic Lt. John McCrae, was inspired by these battlefield poppies.

The blooms of the common poppy typically last from late spring to early summer. While the flowers are commonly scarlet red, hybridization and selective breeding have led to several cultivators with blooms in shades of yellow, orange, pink, and even white.

These poppies require almost no maintenance when they are planted in their hardiness zones, and they are great for naturalizing. They also work well in garden beds, cottage gardens, borders, and pollinator gardens.

Botanical Name Papaver rhoeas 
Common Name  Common poppy, corn poppy, corn rose, field poppy, Flanders poppy, red poppy 
Plant Type  Annual
Mature Size  28 inches (70 centimeters) tall 
Sun Exposure  Full, partial 
Soil Type Well-drained 
Soil pH  Neutral to Acidic 
Bloom Time  Spring, summer 
Flower Color  Red, yellow, orange, pink, blue, purple, white 
Hardiness Zones  1-10, USA
Native Area  Europe, Asia, Africa 
Toxicity  Toxic to pets

Common Poppy (Papaver Rhoeas) Care

As a wildflower, the common poppy is a great low-maintenance addition to your yard. They require very little water, are not picky about their soil conditions, don’t require pruning, and self-seed readily. Deadheading the spent flowers regularly throughout the blooming period can help extend the bloom, but this is optional.

Choose a bright, sunny location to grow the common poppy and enjoy its gorgeous blooms all summer long.

Common poppy with red flowers with white tips closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Common poppy with red-orange flowers with buds in between

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Common poppy with orange flowers and buds in sunlight

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Common poppy with red flowers and white tips next to bud closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Common poppy with red flowers next to blue and light purple thistle in garden

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

The common poppy prefers full sun conditions with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. If necessary the common poppy can also adapt to partial shade where it receives less than 6 hours of sun, but the growth will not be as vigorous and bloom time may be reduced.

Soil

Papaver rhoeas is adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions as long as the soil is well-draining. They can grow in poor quality, low-nutrient soil and have even been found to crop up and grow in notoriously challenging locations - such as cracks in a driveway. However, if you are planting the common poppy in a garden bed or border, provide it with rich, well-draining soil for optimal growth.

Water

Once established, the common poppy has minimal water needs. In fact, too much water can result in leggy, overgrown stems. If you live in an area that receives frequent rainfall in the spring and summer, these poppies likely won’t require any additional watering. However, in extended periods of drought - supplemental watering can help extend bloom times.

Temperature and Humidity

The common poppy is an annual wildflower that grows well in USDA zones 1-10. While the plants and flowers themselves are not frost-tolerant, their seeds can withstand cold winters and germination occurs in soil temperatures that are between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

Poppies do not require fertilization throughout the growing season, however, if you notice an abundance of foliage and very few flowers this could be a result of a lack of phosphorus and too much nitrogen in the soil.

To balance out the soil pH and encourage blooms, amending the soil with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer can be beneficial.

Is the Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) Toxic?

The common poppy is considered mildly toxic to mammals as it contains rhoeadene. It must be eaten in large quantities in order to have any effect but has been known to cause issues for livestock who may encounter it freely in fields.

Due to its low levels of toxicity, the common poppy also has medicinal uses and has been used as a mild sedative and in skin creams. The seeds are commonly used in baking.

Symptoms of Poisoning

Although most common in livestock such as horses and cattle, cases of Papaver rhoeas poisoning have been noted in humans as well. Usually, symptoms in humans are mild and may include nausea, vomiting, confusion, or morphine intoxication-like symptoms.

In livestock, poppy poisoning symptoms can include breathing difficulties, increased heart rate, fatigue and sleeplessness, unsteadiness, depression, and lethargy.

Common Poppy Varieties

There are several cultivators of the common poppy that are collectively known as the ‘Shirley poppy'. Through selective breeding and hybridization, Shirley poppies are available in colors ranging from pale pink, to white, to red, to blue, and many others. Some of the most popular and commonly grown varieties in the United States include:

  • Papaver rhoeas Shirley ‘Amazing Grey’
  • Papaver rhoeas Shirley ‘Mother of Pearl’
  • Papaver rhoeas Shirley ‘Angels Choir’
  • Papaver rhoeas Shirley ‘Fairy Wings’
  • Papaver rhoeas Shirley ‘Falling in Love’
  • Papaver rhoeas Shirley ‘Pandora’
  • Papaver rhoeas Shirley ‘Double Mixed’

How to Grow the Common Poppy From Seed

The common poppy self seeds readily as long as it is grown in suitable conditions, and its seeds can also be sown directly in the garden with success.

For summer blooms, sow seeds in the early spring once the ground has thawed. Cover the sown seeds with a light dusting of topsoil. Common poppy seeds can also be sowed in the fall if you want plants that will flower earlier in the year.

This poppy can be difficult to transplant, so although starting seeds indoors is an option, it is usually easier to start the plants directly in the garden.

Common Pests/Diseases

Aphids can be a problem for the common poppy, along with powdery mildew. Treat aphid-infested plants with an insecticide such as neem oil, insecticidal soap, or homemade remedies such as garlic spray or an essential oil spray. If the infestation is mild, a strong spray from the garden hose can dislodge the pests and may be able to cure the problem. To treat powdery mildew, a fungicide such as potassium bicarbonate is effective in controlling and eliminating the fungus.