How to Grow and Care for Oriental Poppy Plants

poppy

 The Spruce / Leticia Almeida 

Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) are herbaceous perennial flowers with large, brightly colored blooms featuring petals reminiscent of crepe paper. These plants are grown mainly for their flowers, although they also bear attractive foliage in spring. They are just one of the various types of poppies.

The most commonly found Oriental poppy flowers are orange (for example, 'Prince of Orange') and red (for example, 'Livermere'). But many cultivars exist, offering a variety of colors, including peach, maroon, and salmon. The blossom petals usually sport a dark blotch at their base. The large buds nod down at first, but they raise their heads as the flowers unfurl. 

The big, thistle-like leaves of Oriental poppy are downy, deeply-lobed, and rich green in color, offering aesthetic value in their own right. The leaves are tightly packed, and the flower stems are stiff and hairy, making Oriental poppy a good cut flower. The pods that succeed the flowers also have an ornamental quality and are dried for crafts.

When planting poppies, be aware that the aboveground growth dies back in summer, when the plant goes dormant. This can leave gaps in your planting bed, so design around the poppies accordingly. Good companions that will fill in after poppies die back include black-eyed Susan, daylily, catmint, and phlox. Poppies are typically grown from seed planted in spring or fall. They are fast growers (and fast bloomers), sprouting up in a matter of days once the weather warms in spring. Their glorious blooms are spectacular but brief, then the entire plant begins dying back, the show concluded for the season.

All parts of the plants are toxic to humans, dogs, and cats.

Common Name Oriental poppy
Botanical Name Papaver orientale
Family Papaveraceae
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 1-3 ft .tall, 1-2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Flower Color Orange, red, pink, purple, white
Hardiness Zones 3-9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to people, toxic to dogs, toxic to cats
Poppy
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida 
poppy
 The Spruce / Leticia Almeida 
poppy
 The Spruce / Leticia Almeida 
poppies
 The Spruce / Leticia Almeida 

Oriental Poppy Plant Care

Indigenous to elevated lands in western Asia, Oriental poppy has naturalized in parts of North America that have cold winters. A cold-hardy plant that dislikes high heat and humidity, this perennial needs cold temperatures in winter and, consequently, fares poorly in climates above USDA zone 8.

Apply mulch around Oriental poppies for the first couple of years for winter protection. Most varieties are clump-forming. It's best to propagate them by seed rather than by transplanting because the clumps like to be left alone. Some growers stake the plants, especially in areas subject to high winds.

Light

Give your Oriental poppies full sun, which promotes better flowering.

Soil

Grow Oriental poppy in a well-drained, medium moist soil enriched with compost. It prefers neutral to slightly acidic pH between 6.5 and 7.0.

Water

During the blooming period (starting when the bud forms), give Oriental poppy one inch of water per week. Otherwise, water when the soil is dry, but do not overwater, especially during dormancy.

Temperature and Humidity

Oriental poppy will grow in any normal temperature and humidity conditions within planting zones 3 to 7. Some cultivars are labeled for zones up to 9, but generally, the plant does not prefer high heat and humidity.

Fertilizer

Use a slow-release fertilizer in spring. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions. Alternatively, side-dress the soil with compost or manure tea.

Oriental Poppy Varieties

  • Papaver orientale 'Livermere': Also called 'Beauty of Livermere'; scarlet red flower; two to three feet tall; hardiness zones 3 to 8
  • Papaver orientale 'Bolero': Purple-red flower with purple eyes; one to two feet tall; hardiness zones 3 to 8
  • Papaver orientale 'Fireball': Bright orange, semi-double or double blooms; compact, at only one foot tall; hardiness zones 3 to 9
  • Papaver orientale 'Princess Victoria Louise': Large (6- to 8-inch) salmon-pink blooms; two to three feet tall; hardiness zones 3 to 8
  • Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum': Heavily textured, plum-colored blooms; two to three feet tall; hardiness zones 3 to 8

Propagating Oriental Poppies

Poppies can be divided and may need to have this done once about every five years if the plantings become too crowded. Division can be a little challenging, due to the plant's deep taproot. It's best to do this in late summer, well after the plant has bloomed.

  1. Carefully dig up the entire plant clump with a shovel or a pitch fork, digging deep to get below the long taproots. If the soil is dry, water the base of the plant deeply before you start digging, as it will make it easier to remove the root system.
  2. Divide the clump by cutting vertically through the root mass so that each portion has one or more eyes plus some taproot and stem.
  3. Plant the sections so their tops are 3 inches below the soil line. Water them well and keep them evenly moist.

How to Grow Oriental Poppies From Seed

Direct sowing is the standard method for growing Oriental poppies. The seeds need cold to germinate, so most gardeners sow the seeds in fall, when the soil has cooled after the heat of late summer. If you miss the fall planting, you can sow seeds in spring, about one month before the last frost.

Rake the soil so it is smooth and free of rocks. Scatter the seeds, then cover them very lightly with soil; they need some sunlight for germination. And that's all you need to do. Nature takes care of the rest. When the snow melts and the ground warms up in spring, the seeds will germinate and begin their growth. Be sure to mark the planting area because you won't see the plants for many months, and you might forget where you put them.

Potting and Repotting

Growing Oriental poppies in containers is not ideal because of their long tap root, they do much better in garden soil. However, if you have your heart set on them and growing them in pots is your only option, choose a container deep enough to accommodate the plant’s long tap root. Terracotta pots are best because they let excess moisture evaporate. 

Plant the poppy in the container filled with quality potting mix, which usually comes with a slow-release fertilizer. Water it deeply and keep the soil moist at all times.

When the plant becomes root-bound, it’s time to transplant the poppy to a large pot, or divide it and replant a section of it in a pot of the same size with fresh potting mix.

Overwintering

Oriental poppies are winter-hardy to USDA zone 3 but they benefit from a thick layer of mulch before the winter sets in to protect their root system against the cold.

Container-grown poppies need winterizing, as the roots are not sufficiently insulated. You can bury the container in garden soil, crate an insulating silo, or wrap the pot in burlap and/or bubble wrap for protection.

Common Plant Diseases

If not grown in full sun, Oriental poppies are prone to powdery mildew. Root rot can occur in soil that does not drain well. Ensure that plants have adequate air circulation and that soil is amended to provide good drainage.

How to Get Oriental Poppies to Bloom

Oriental poppies not blooming could have several reasons. The easiest one to rule out is whether they are getting insufficient sunlight. Oriental poppies need full sun to bloom.

The soil might be lacking phosphorus, which promotes flowering. Try a bloom-boosting fertilizer that contains more phosphorus than nitrogen.

Because of the long taproot, it can take at least one growing season, sometimes longer, for the plants to get established.

Poor drainage or too much water can be another reason why they don't bloom.

FAQ
  • Do oriental poppies spread?

    Oriental poppies form dense root clumps over time but they aren't invasive.

  • Should Oriental poppies be cut back?

    Cutting them back is not needed; the foliage dies back on its own after flowering. For a neater appearance, you can cut the shriveled foliage back to ground level.

  • Will Oriental poppies bloom the first year?

    It depends when you sow the seeds. They need to go through a cold period in order to bloom so if you started them in the spring, they won't bloom until the following year.

Article Sources
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. Oriental Poppy. North Carolina Extension Website

  2. Papaver orientale. NC State University Cooperative Extension.

  3. Poppy. Pet Poison Helpline.

  4. Plants Toxic to Cats. BBC Gardeners' World Magazine.