How to Grow Arctic Poppies

Icelandic poppies with yellow and red-orange flowers closeup

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

In This Article

Are you looking for a bright, cheerful pop of color for your garden? Arctic poppies, or Papaver nudicaule, might be just the flowers for you. These flowering plants are perennials that thrive in subarctic regions but are often planted in the same fashion as annuals in warmer climates. They produce feathery foliage and hairy or fuzzy flower stems. Their tall stems are leafless and sport brightly colored flowers, each plant with four papery thin, silky, and ruffled petals. A specific variety of poppy, Arctic poppies can range in color from red to pink, orange, yellow, and even white.

Plant seeds in their permanent outdoor space in late winter or early spring. Though these very slow-growing plants germinate from seed fast, they can take a while to bloom, and usually start in late spring into early summer.

Botanical Name Papaver nudicaule
Common Name Arctic poppy, Iceland poppy
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 1–2 ft. high, 1–2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Rich, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Late spring to early summer
Flower Color Pink, red, orange, yellow, white
Hardiness Zones 2–7 (USDA)
Native Area Subarctic regions of North America, Canada, Europe, and Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans and animals
Icelandic poppy red flower bud on fuzzy stem closeup

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

Icelandic poppy flower with bright red petals and thin yellow stamen closeup

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

Icelandic poppies in different colors against blue sky

 VTT Studio / Getty Images

Arctic Poppies Care

Arctic poppies are cold-hardy plants, even with their delicate-looking blooms. These perennials are also are also excellent deer-resistant plants.

Light

Despite living in subarctic regions and liking cooler temperatures, Arctic poppies prefer plenty of sunshine. However, they can be grown in partial shade.

Soil

Arctic poppies thrive in rich, well-draining soil. This type of soil can easily support different fungi, which can be a problem for Arctic poppies, so be mindful of watering, which can help to minimize any damage.

Water

Too much water may be the number one enemy to Arctic poppies. Soggy soil can lead to blight or fungus, which makes for unhappy poppy plants. With this in mind, your Arctic poppies will still get thirsty, and they appreciate a consistent watering schedule; just be sure not to drown them.

It's also important to avoid spraying water on the flowers and leaves, as the weight of the droplets can damage the delicate blooms. Water close to the soil to avoid this.

Temperature and Humidity

Arctic poppies are hardy plants and enjoy cooler temperatures. They do not handle heat or humidity well, and warmer climates pose a problem for this perennial.

The only exception to this preference for cool temperatures comes into play when you start Arctic poppies from seed. To germinate, the seeds prefer slightly warmer temperatures and a moist climate. Once they sprout, however, your little plant babies will need to be moved to a cooler, drier area with full light. Otherwise, the warmer, more humid environment could kill your new seedlings.

Fertilizer

Arctic poppies will appreciate a consistent and frequent fertilizing schedule. Use a well-rounded, balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20 to give your plants the nutrients they will need to produce their beautiful silky flowers.

How often you fertilize will depend on your soil. If you already have rich soil, you may only need to fertilize once or twice. If not, your poppies will appreciate consistent food, perhaps every other week or so.

Pruning

To keep your Arctic poppies healthy and continually blooming, be sure to deadhead, or remove old blooms. This will encourage your poppies to produce more flowers.

How to Grow Arctic Poppies From Seed

If you would like to grow these plants from seeds, there are two ways to do so. You can put the seeds directly into your garden where you want them to grow which is less ideal than starting them in containers, a method with its own risks. To start, you can save seeds from poppy pods.

  1. Save seeds from plants by picking the pods after flowering, when they start to go from green to brown and the crowns begin to open.
  2. Dry pods upside down in a paper bag in a dark, cool space for a few weeks.
  3. The seeds will fall from the pods and gather in the bag.

To sow seeds directly in your garden, you can plant them in the fall or the early spring. If you choose to plant them in the fall, they will stay dormant throughout the winter. When spring begins to warm the soil, the teeny tiny seeds will begin to germinate and make an appearance as soon as it is warm enough. For early spring planting, you can put the seeds in the soil as soon as the ground is workable for the same results.

Arctic poppy seeds need tender loving care when sowing in containers. They require a warm environment for germination.

  1. To plant in containers, sprinkle the seeds on the top of the soil.
  2. Lightly sprinkle seeds with a shallow covering of dirt or more ideally, vermiculite or sand. Be sure not to cover them too deeply.
  3. Make sure the soil is continuously moist, but not soggy.
  4. Once the seedlings appear, it is time to move the little plants to a cooler area with plenty of light.
  5. Once the first set of adult leaves, or true leaves, appear, you can start to harden them off by placing them in an unheated garage or greenhouse.

It is important to note that Arctic poppies have very delicate root systems and do not always do well when transplanted, especially if they become root-bound in their pots. In fact, a rough transplant can even kill your poppies. Be sure not to damage the root system when transferring your poppies from their growing container to your garden.

Another alternative would be to sow seeds in biodegradable nursery pots. This way you can plant the pot directly into the ground without having to disturb the root system inside.

Common Pests/Diseases

Watch for the threat of poppy blight, which appears as a whitish-gray fungus on the stems and bottoms of the leaves. Use fungicide and trim away weathered parts of the plant.