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Planting Annual Poppies

Martha Stewart Living Television

Poppies with their papery petals and pliable stalks, only appear to be delicate. But if you leave their seed heads to ripen, these resilient self-sowing flowers will take root just about anywhere, even between pathway stones or on a steep grade with lean soil.

Poppies have always been a favorite flower of Martha's. Sowing annual California poppies in perennial borders will allow flowers to blossom concurrently with spring-blooming bulbs. Grow summer-dormant species such as Papaver orientale among later-flowering perennials to fill in foliage gaps.

Planting Tip
For successive blooms, sow the seeds repeatedly from early spring well into late summer. If the climate where you live is mild, sow poppies in the fall for early spring germination. Poppies like plenty of sun. For optimal results, plant them in moist, well-drained, friable soil. ''Friable'' means that when you squeeze it, the soil should hold together for a brief moment and then unclump on its own.

Spreading Tip
Because the seeds are tiny, mix them with sand to ensure even distribution; the lighter coloration of the sand will give you some idea of where the seeds have landed. Pierce small holes in the lid of a jam jar with an ice pick. Combine sand and poppy seeds in the jam jar and sprinkle. The package will indicate that they should be sown roughly one inch apart, and at a depth of one-sixteenth of an inch, although, according to Martha, they'll do fine even without a 1/4-inch layer of covering. Water the seeds carefully with a watering can or a hose onto which a misting nozzle has been affixed and label them well. Thin when the poppies have reached a height of three to four inches.

Cutting and Arranging Tip
P. rhoeas and P. nudicaule, which resemble the double-flowering peony, are varieties that make good cut flowers. They grow well in borders where their slender stems can intertwine with other plants. When cutting poppies, keep a bucket of lukewarm water at your side so that you can plunge the stems directly into water. Once they're indoors, singe the ends of the stems with a flame from a candle, then return the flowers to fresh water.