Annual poppies should be planted now, in February, for late spring and summer blooms. Poppies have vibrant, warm, crate-paper like blooms that are admired from far and wide. To guarantee success with growing poppies from seed you need to plant them in February.
There are three varieties that grow well, especially in the Midwest. The Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), the Breadseed Poppy (Papaver somniferum), and California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Poppies will disappear when the weather turns warm and other plants that thrive in hot and dry weather appears.
Poppies do not like being transplanted so be sure to plant them where you sow the seeds. They are actually winter annuals that can germinate in the fall and survive the winter to bloom, set seed and die the following season. It is found that it is easiest to sow the seeds now in late winter. Sown on top of melting snow even seems to improve their chances of survival. The snow and freeze and thaw cycle gently plants the dark, round seeds and they germinate as conditions warm but before we often get too warm. Poppies like it cool and of course, tolerate frosts and freezes well.
The site that you plant them in must be at least half day sun, well-drained and most importantly be bare earth. They look great in an open area next to a canopy gazebo, or in bare places where you planted bulbs last fall is a great spot and the poppies will bloom after almost all your bulbs blooms have faded away.
Poppies won’t sow well into mulch or too much plant debris. Warm season summer annuals should be planted between them to fill in as the poppies naturally die off in summer. With soil disturbance, they sometimes can self sow, germinating in winter and reblooming the following spring.
Corn poppies have been agricultural weeds since our species began cultivating the earth. They thrive on soil disturbances such as tilling up the soil. Poppies have been remembrances of wartime. The poppies would grow freely in soils of war torn areas. In Midwest gardens poppies do not become weeds, but form accents for Cottage gardens.
Companion Plants for Poppies
Regal lilies (Lilium regale) make nice comapnions with white, fragrant flowers that bloom at the same time. Verbena bonariensis is another good companion that carries on with color after the poppies have gone. The selection ‘Legion of Honor’ is the classic red but other strains include “Shirley” poppies in pastels and the pure white selection “Bridal Silk”.
Breadseed Poppies are much stouter plants and their petals can be in many colors from plum purple to pinks, reds and white. When the flowers drop their petals the seedheads are very ornamental, maybe even more so than the flowers. The dried pods can be cut and used for dried flower arrangements.
California Poppies are the state flower of California. Their flowers are more elegantly bell-shaped and are a golden-orange on the wild form. How they bloom is fun too: the pointed green “cap” of their bud comes off as the petals emerge.
They have beautiful threaded leaves of bluish green. Other varieties such as ‘Buttercream’ and ‘Milkmaid’ are creamy white colored and ‘Dusky Rose’ or ‘Rose Chiffon’ are rosy pinks.
Try planting some poppies this February and enjoy the rewards of not only getting outdoors and starting your gardening early, but of lovely blooms in late spring to the Summer Solstice.