Overview and Description
There are close to 100 species of poppies, some are annuals or biennials, others, like the Oriental poppies, perennial. Most of the Oriental poppy selections on sale today are hybrids. Hybridizing Oriental poppies started accidentally, when a British nurseryman, Amos Perry, happened to spot a salmon-pink flower sitting in the middle of his red poppies. He cultivated it and brought it to market as ‘Mrs.
The most common Oriental poppy is still bright red with a black center, but the varieties keep expanding, with new colors, flowers with pinked edges or fluffy petals and smaller, compact plants that don’t flop over.
- Leaves: Both the leaves and stems are rough and bristly. The oblong leaves are deeply lobed and up to 12 in. long.
- Flowers: Each flower has 4 - 6 petals, 2 - 6 in. across.. Many have a central dark splotch and dark stamens. Colors range from soft pastels to flashy brights and neons.
Although they grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 3–9, Oriental poppies are often considered cool climate flowers. They do not thrive in extreme heat or humidity, which makes them difficult to grow in the U.S. south and in hardiness zones higher than 7.
For the best flowers, give your poppies a full day of sun.
Mature height depends on the variety you are growing.
Most Oriental poppies reach somewhere between 3 - 4 ft. tall, with a spread of 1 - 2 ft. However there are several compact varieties that only reach 2 ft. in height.
The bloom period is brief, but exquisite, in early summer. Some varieties will only stay in bloom one day, although with enough buds you should get at least 3 days of bloom.
To extend the season, plant multiple varieties. In their defense, the plants are interested even before the flowers “pop” open.
Growing Tips for Oriental Poppies
Oriental poppies need a well-draining soil. Their fleshy tap roots and crowns will rot in damp soil. Wet winters can be a particular problem.
Starting from Seed: The easiest way to start poppies is from seed. Direct sow early in the season. The seeds need light to germinate, so simply scatter the seed on prepared soil and firm it down lightly.
Planting: Because Oriental poppies have a tap root, they don’t divide easily. Potted plants should be planted in their final growing spot. If you purchase bare root plants, make sure the hole is deep enough to accommodate the root and that the crown will be 3 in. below the soil surface. Planted to shallowly can lead to rot.
Caring for Oriental Poppies
Water: Once established, Oriental poppies are somewhat drought resistant, but they do best with regular water. An inch a week should do it.
Maintenance: Poppies pretty much take care of themselves. Once the flowers have faded, the foliage goes downhill quickly and unattractively.
The plants are ephemeral and eventually go dormant and disappear for the summer. Feel free to cut them back sooner than that, if you can no longer stand the sight. They will regrow in the fall, to gain strength for next year’s blooms.
Tall varieties had a great tendency to flop over. Planting the among bushier plants they can lean on will keep them upright.
Division: Crowded plantings may need division every 5 years or so. The best time to divide is when the plants are dormant, in late summer, if you can find them. The tap root makes division tricky.
Dig down deeply, so that you get the entire clump and lift the mass of long, thin, carrot-like roots. To divide, use a knife to through the roots, making sure each division has some taproot, some stem and at least one eye. Re-plant immediately and remember to plant them about 3 in.
below the soil surface.
WInter mulching will help protect the roots and crown from rotting.
Pests and Problems
- Insects: Insects don’t seem to care for Oriental poppies. Maybe they aren’t around long enough for the insects to find them.
- Diseases: Fungal diseases and rotting can be a problem in wet season. You can use a fungicide, if necessary.
Design Tips for Oriental Poppies
Oriental poppies have a brief but dazzling bloom period. Since their declining foliage is unattractive, they look best when tucked in with bushier perennials like peonies, campanulas and iris. Or interplant them with later blooming annual flowers.
It’s hard to find a bad selection of Oriental poppies, with their crepe paper petals and saturated colors. Some good performers include:
- ‘Black and White’ - aptly, if unimaginatively named, with clear white petals and a black center.
- ‘Goliath’ (aka ‘Beauty of Livermere’) - 4 ft. tall with huge, dark red blooms
- ‘John III’ - Compact 2 ft. plant with lots of cheerful red flowers
- ‘Mrs. Perry’ - Mr. Perry’s old fashioned salmon pink discovery.
- ‘Watermelon’ - Neon pink and 24 - 30 in. tall
- And of the von Zeppelin Poppies, with their unpronounceable names are some of the best.
- ‘Aglaja’- a gorgeous salmon-pink
- ‘Karine’ - pale pink with red spots
- 'Sinbad' - fluffy red petals