Large, airy blooms sway in the wind on the long, slim stems of Oriental poppies. In colors of intense red and orange or gentle pink and salmon, these beauties with crepe-paper-like petals have bold, blue-black centers. Poppies have single or double petals and sharply pointed, hairy foliage that looks rough but is soft to the touch.
A cool-season plant, it goes dormant in mid- to late summer. Poppies bloom about the same time as Siberian irises (Iris sibirica) and lupines (Lupinus spp.). Look for a full feature story on poppies in the May-June 2005 issue of Gardening How-To.
Common name: Oriental poppy
Botanical name: Papaver orientale
Plant type: Perennial
Height: 18 to 48 inches, depending on cultivar
Zones: 3 to 9
- Sun: Full sun
- Soil: Well-drained, average soil
- Moisture: Moderately moist
- Mulch: Apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of organic mulch to deter weeds and retain moisture.
- Fertilizer: If soil is poor, apply a balanced fertilizer once a year.
- Pruning: Cut spent flowers to increase bloom time.
- Start seeds indoors in late winter or in the garden in early spring.
- Divide carefully in late summer. The poppy has taproots that don't like to be disturbed.
Pests and diseases
- Powdery mildew and gray mold may occur.
- ‘Flamingo' (pictured above) has compact growth, reaching just 20 inches tall and 24 inches wide. The pink flowers are 5 inches wide and bloom in early summer. Because of its sturdy stems, this cultivar is a good choice for windy spots. Hardy in Zones 3 to 8.
- ‘Beauty of Livermere' has deep red, 8-inch-wide flowers. It grows 36 to 48 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 3 to 8.
- ‘Perry's White' has white flowers with maroon centers. It grows 24 to 26 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 3 to 9.
- If you like a tidy garden, look for shorter cultivars that don't sprawl. Larger varieties need support when blooms make the plant top-heavy.
- Because the Oriental poppy goes summer-dormant, combine it with late-flowering perennials that will take over as the poppy's flowers and foliage disappear. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), or cultivars of black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) are good companions.
All in the family
- The Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis spp.) is a different genus, but has a similar common name. Prized for its pure blue color, it grows well only in the Pacific Northwest. It needs humus-rich soil and neutral to slightly acidic soil. Some are hardy in Zones 7 to 8 and others in Zones 5 to 8.
- Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a perennial with yellow flowers. It self-seeds easily, grows 24 inches tall, and is hardy in Zones 5 to 8.
Text by Mary Pestel, photo courtesy of Wayside Gardens, www.waysidegardens.com