How to Grow and Care for California Poppies

Summer flower returns in warmer zones, otherwise grow it as an annual

California poppies

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The California poppy is the state flower of California, growing vigorously in its native zone, flowering in summer, and returning annually in zones 6 through 10. These golden beauties also come in red, pink, and white, growing well in the ground or containers. These plants prefer full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. They don't require fertilizer and are drought-tolerant. However, they will go dormant in excessive heat. Indigenous tribes historically used this plant for food, oil, and medicinal purposes. This plant is toxic to livestock.

Common Names  California poppy, golden poppy, California sunlight, cup of gold, golden cup
Botanical Name Eschscholzia californica
Family Papaveraceae
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 12–18 in. 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 livestock

California Poppy Care

Here are the main care requirements for growing a California poppy:

  • Grow in full sun with at least six hours of sunlight; more is better.
  • Plant in sandy, well-drained soil; does not require fertilizer or enriched soil.
  • Water sporadically; only needs occasional water.
  • Goes dormant in excessive heat but may rebloom once temperatures cool down.
  • Deadhead for more blooms or leave heads on for reseeding for the next growing season.
closeup of poppies

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

California poppies

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

California poppies in a landscape

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova


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 look ragged and easily succumb to diseases. 


Many flowers need rich, loamy soil, but California poppies can thrive in poor soils. Sandy and rocky soils both provide suitable conditions for California poppies. Heavy clay soil doesn't work because these plants need sharp soil drainage. Try planting in a raised garden bed or container if you have clay soil.


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 the spring rain, will trigger the germination of California poppy seeds. California poppies will continue to grow as long as temperatures remain mild, between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 airflow around the plants are essential for them to stay healthy.


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

Types of California Poppies

There are several varieties of California poppies:

  • 'California Golden': Classic bright orange flowers
  • 'Mission Bells': Mix of sherbet hues, including pink, salmon, and cream, with some semi-double blooms (blooms with extra petals)
  • 'Golden West': Twist on the familiar orange flower featuring 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

Propagating California Poppies

Propagating California poppies is best done by sowing seeds in the spring. California poppies do not like to have their roots disturbed. Also, once cut, the flowers and stems of the plant quickly fade.

How to Grow California Poppies From Seed

California poppies are fast growing. It takes about 55 to 90 days for California poppies to mature. Depending on the temperature and conditions, germination can take 10 to 30 days.

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

Potting and Repotting California Poppies

California poppies do not transplant well. They do not like their roots disturbed. If growing in a container, get a medium or large container with ample drainage holes for good drainage. If kept in containers, water more frequently than in-ground plants, at least every other day.

Plants grown in containers are typically short-lived and often treated as annuals. Many gardeners prefer to pull them after they bloom and plant new seeds the following growing season. 


California poppies can withstand temperatures down to 20 F. In cooler zones, they will enter dormancy in the winter. You can cut down the plants to the base or leave them as is. Mulch the ground above the roots for extra winter protection. For plants in warmer zones, mulch may keep the plants from going dormant.

Otherwise, the cold weather is welcome for the cold stratification of seeds that were dropped by flower heads earlier in the growing season for the next crop of plants in the spring.

Common Plant 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.

How to Get California Poppies to Bloom

California poppies are prolific bloomers, requiring full sun to bloom well. They will usually bloom after 60 to 90 days from seeds sown in the spring.

Bloom Months

California poppies can bloom anywhere from mid-March to early May, depending on the climate.

How Long Do California Poppies Bloom?

California poppies usually bloom from spring to early summer until peak heat sends them into dormancy. In cooler summer regions, they may bloom most of the summer.

What Do California Poppy Flowers Look and Smell Like?

The cheerful flowers seem to spring up overnight, blanketing large areas with their bright, silky petals and blue-green, fern-like foliage. The cups of California poppies are usually a yellow-orange gold color, often with a darker orange center. Its flowers can also come in red, pink, and white. California poppy flowers do not have much of a fragrance.

How to Encourage More Blooms

To encourage more blooms, deadhead the flowers once they fade. You can also cut down the stems to the ground if the plant enters summer dormancy. It may spur the plant to encourage more growth as soon as the weather cools in the late summer or early fall.

Deadheading Flowers

Deadheading (removing the spent blooms) can promote additional flowering. Also, deadheading will prevent the flowers from self-seeding, if desired.

Common Problems With California Poppies

California poppies are easy to maintain. The key is providing them with growing conditions that mimic their native habitat. Their native habitat is the Pacific Coast from Baja California to western Oregon.

Floppy Stems

Overly-wet soil can cause mildew and fungi to develop. Keep the plants in full sun and well-draining soil.

Wilting, Yellowing, or Browning

Insufficient water will cause leaf wilt, yellowing, browning, or leaf drop. Water deeply every few days. Do not give frequent light water.

Once temperatures peak, reaching the 90s for long periods, the plants will naturally die back due to the heat. This condition is normal; they usually return once the temperature cools. During dormancy, they will not require any additional care until they return.

  • How easily do California poppies spread?

    They spread easily on their own. If you want your plants to self-seed, leave the flower heads on the plants until they drop their seeds. The seeds will self-sow and return for many growing seasons to come.

  • How long do California poppy flowers last?

    California poppies bloom in early summer until temperatures reach the 90s F for long stretches. As cut flowers, they only last in a vase for a couple of days.

  • Do California poppies have side effects, hallucinogenic properties, or opioids?

    California poppies were used by the California Indians for medicinal and psychoactive purposes since prehistoric times, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Although it comes from the same family as the opium poppy, California poppies do not contain opiates.

  • Is it illegal to pick California poppies?

    According to California law, picking any flower in any state park, national park, or private property in California is illegal. However, there are no laws protecting California poppies specifically.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. California poppy. University of California Cooperative Extension.

  2. California poppy. UCLA-Irvine.

  3. Sedatives. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

  4. What to know about California poppy products. Poison Control.