Friday, February 11, 2011

Sow Your Poppies Outside in February

Corn Poppies, Monet 1873

Yes, I am talking about the Midwest and, no I'm not pushing any envelopes here. As a kid, I remember planting my Iceland Poppies as a winter annual in my Sydney garden. The papery thin petals were of the finest texture and a very dear friend for the winter months. But unfortunately, Iceland Poppies don't perform well here in the KC area. According to Alan Branhagen, my friend and the Director of Horticulture at Powell Gardens in Kansas City, there are three poppies that are very successful in our area of the Midwest. Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Breadseed Poppy (Papaver somniferum) and the beautiful California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica).

Poppies are not a good candidate for being transplanted. So sowing them directly in the garden is the only way to go. They are actually winter annuals and February is the best time to plant them to be successful in our area. You can even sow on top of melting snow and it seems to improve their chances of survival. The freeze and thaw of the snow, gently places the seed and the seeds germinate once the soil warms. Poppies grow best in the cool weather and they tolerate frost and freezes very well.

According to Branhagen, the site where you plant them must be well-drained and most importantly bare ground. He suggests the bare ground where you planted your bulbs last fall and the poppies will start to bloom after most of your spring bulbs are over with. Summer annuals should be planted around them and they will prosper to cover while the poppies are fading away. Sounds like a great plan to me. Thank you, Alan.

Corn Poppies make beautiful red flowers for the cottage flower garden. Branhagen says “I simply adore the vibrant red flowers around the light saturated, long days of the summer solstice." Plants tend to reach a height and width of about 12”.He recommends one of my all time favorite annuals, Verbena bonariensis as a companion. I can just imagine the wispy, thin branches of the verbena with little its buttons of purple against the flamboyant red blooms of the Corn Poppy.

Beyond just red flowers, Breadseed Poppies cover a wider spread in color from plum purple to pink, reds and whites. Okay let's just acknowledge it and get over it quickly, this is the opium poppy. But Branhagen says “you can also find some varieties to make your own poppy seeds to decorate and flavor your baked goods. Two selections ‘Hungarian Bread’ and ‘Heirloom Pepperbox’ are great for culinary use.” I know you can find the Hungarian variety from Renee’s Seeds. The height can be up to 3’ high.

The Californian Poppies are the state flower of California. Branhagen says "their flowers are more eloquently bell-shaped and a lovely golden orange on the wild form which is my favorite." I can personally standup for the resilience of Californian Poppies from an experience I had working downtown in Kansas City. Next to the parking garage for my building, there stood an eye sore of an auto repair business. Surrounding the sign of the business and down the sidewalk was an incredible stand of Californian Poppies. The vibrant orange played so well with the blue and white rusted sign. With that kind of recall, after 25 years later it is amazing what an impact color can have on the mind. The Californian poppies go way beyond hot orange. Try ‘Butter Cream’, ‘Dusky Rose’ or the vibrant mixes like ‘Jelly Beans’, listed as a mouthwatering mix of shades orange, salmon, rose and gold. Most varieties are from 12-18” tall.

An excellent source of all these varieties and so much more can be found at the

So when the snow begins to melt, get out your boots and sow poppies on your bare ground. Let me know how it goes and if it doesn't work don't blame me, blame Alan. But thank you very much Alan for this fantastic information. Keep up the great work out there at Powell Gardens.


Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings said...

Great advice Patrick. Yes, sow poppies now and maybe even a bit earlier in Oklahoma.~~Dee

Patrick said...

Hey Dee,
I'm a huge fan of your blog. After reading your comment I thought how beautiful some of the California poppy varieties would look surrounded by your red dirt.

Anonymous said...

We still have plenty of snow on which to throw our poppy seeds here in the Northeast. Every year, I throw out seeds originally collected from my Mother's garden which are single and double pale peach colored poppies. I also have that yummy purple poppy , Lauren's Purple, that performs beautifully when tossed on the snow!

Patrick said...

How cool is that to have the seeds collected from your mother's poppies? As you get older, they will only become closer to your heart. My old neighbor had hollyhocks from her grandmother that we all appreciated. Thanks for stopping by again.

bakingbarb said...

I was thinking I would be sowing seeds for some plants I want but I would sow them during the winter this time. I figure its the best way for my garden and I've never been able to transplant poppies so I will be trying this also.