How to Grow California Poppies

California poppies

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a study in contrasts. The plants are vigorous and often grow in vacant lots and on roadsides with no tending. However, upon picking, you will discover that their beauty is fleeting, as the petals often fall to the ground before you can even get the flowers in a vase. California poppies are at their peak in the early summer. The cheerful flowers seem to spring up overnight, blanketing large areas with their bright, silky petals and blue-green, fern-like foliage. Plant these fast-growing flowers in the spring once the weather has warmed either in your flowerbeds or in containers.

Botanical Name  Eschscholzia californica
Common Names California poppy, golden poppy, California sunlight, cup of gold, golden cup
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 12–18 inches tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type  Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Orange, yellow, red, pink, white
Hardiness Zones 6–10 (USDA)
Native Area North America, Central America
Toxicity Toxic to people, animals
closeup of poppies

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

California poppies

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

California poppies in a landscape

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

California Poppy Care

Like most native wildflowers, California poppies are easy to maintain. The key is providing them with growing conditions that mimic their native habitat. For this plant, it's more about what you don't give California poppies than what you do give them. Less is more when it comes to water and fertilizer. Don't coddle your plants, and you'll have the pleasure of watching them self-sow and pop up for many growing seasons to come.

Deadheading (removing the spent blooms) can promote additional flowering. However, if you want your plants to self-seed, leave some flower heads on to drop their seeds. Moreover, plants grown in hot climates and in containers are typically short-lived and often treated as annuals. Many gardeners prefer to pull them after they’re done blooming and plant new seeds the following growing season. 

Light

California poppies grow and bloom best in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. The more sunlight, the better. Poppies grown in shady conditions often will look ragged and more easily succumb to diseases. 

Soil

Whereas many flowers need rich, loamy soil, California poppies can thrive in poor soils. Sandy and rocky soils both provide good conditions for California poppies. What doesn't work is heavy clay soil because these plants need sharp soil drainage. If you have clay soil, try planting in a raised garden bed or container instead.

Water

California poppies require very little water and are good candidates for drought-tolerant xeriscapes. Sporadic spring rainfall is usually adequate to irrigate the plants. In areas with hot summers, the plants will often go dormant and need no additional irrigation during this time.

Temperature and Humidity

The warming of the soil in the spring, combined with moisture from spring rain, will trigger germination of California poppy seeds. As long as temperatures remain mild, between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, California poppies will continue to grow. Excessive heat can cause dormancy. However, when cool temperatures return, the plants often will regrow and even rebloom. Moreover, California poppies prefer low to moderate humidity levels. In high humidity, good soil drainage and air flow around the plants are essential for them to stay healthy.

Fertilizer

No fertilizer is necessary to successfully grow California poppies, even in areas with nutrient-poor soil. The addition of chemical fertilizers can cause excess foliage growth at the expense of blooms.

Are California Poppies Toxic?

While some people use poppies as an herbal remedy for pain relief and to reduce tension, among other things, all parts of the plant technically have toxic properties to both people and animals when ingested. The effects depend on factors such as how much is ingested and the size of the person or animal.

Symptoms of Poisoning

Symptoms of toxicity in both people and animals include stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, slow heart rate, and slow breathing. If you suspect poisoning, contact a medical professional as soon as possible.

California Poppy Varieties

There are several varieties of California poppies, including:

  • 'California Golden' delivers that classic bright orange color of the flowers.
  • 'Mission Bells' is a mix of sherbet hues, including pink, salmon, and cream, with some semi-double blooms (blooms with extra petals).
  • 'Golden West' is a twist on the familiar orange bloom, as it features a darker center.
California golden poppy
'California Golden' Pixabay
Mission Bells California Poppies
'Mission Bells'

Steve Cicero / Getty Images

Golden West California Poppies
'Golden West'

ejs9 / Getty Images

How to Grow California Poppies From Seed

Sow poppy seeds where you intend to grow them outdoors after the threat of frost has passed in your area. Press the seeds lightly into the soil, watering gently to avoid dislodging the tiny seeds. Germination should occur in about two weeks. You can distinguish germinating poppy seeds from weeds by observing the bluish-green tint of poppy foliage. Thin seedlings to about 8 inches apart.

Common Pests/Diseases

California poppies are generally healthy plants, but they are prone to diseases when grown in an environment that experiences excessive rain. Mold, mildew, and stem rot can occur in plants growing in wet areas. Although you can treat plants with fungicides, the best option is correcting the environment. Ensure that your poppies are in full sun and well-draining soil to prevent them from being waterlogged.