Plant this wildflower variety's seeds in fall or spring for a striking pop of color during the growing season.
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While you've likely tried planting tulips or hydrangeas in your garden for added interest, have you ever considered growing poppies? "Poppies are ancient symbols of peace and tranquility," says Kelly Funk, the president of Park Seed. "They combine spectacular beauty with heartfelt sentiment, making them popular choices for special occasions and everyday enjoyment."

Beyond how aesthetically pleasing they are to look at, poppies are also incredible pollinators. "Poppies are great at attracting butterflies and bees due to the easy access to the pollen on the long filaments and exposed anthers of the flower," Funk says. "Their showy blooms make lovely cut flowers and are also deer and rabbit-resistant."

Native throughout the world in a wide range of colors, the flower can be grown as an annual, biennial, or short lived perennial plant, reaching full bloom in late spring or early summer. 

big red poppies in bloom in a flower garden
Credit: Tennessee Witney / GETTY IMAGES

When to Plant Poppy Seeds

Viable in hardiness zones 2 through 9, when you plant your poppy seeds may depend on where you live. "I sow poppy seeds in my zone 7b garden in autumn for blooms in early spring and then a second sowing in the spring for summer flowers," says Stephanie Rose, an author, master gardener, permaculture designer, herbalist, and the founder of Garden Therapy. "In cooler zones, sow them in the spring."

As a general rule Funk recommends sowing four weeks before the last frost.

How to Plant Poppy Seeds

While most gardeners choose to plant poppy seeds in the ground to add color to their garden, the flowers can also be planted in containers.

In the Ground

When it's time to plant your poppies, Rose says to choose a sunny spot in your garden with visible soil. "The seeds need to be in contact with sunlight to germinate, so if you have a lot of mulch, pull it back to plant," she says. 

Unlike some other types of plants, you won't be sowing poppy seeds one by one. "Instead, mix the tiny seeds with sand and sprinkle throughout the spot you want them to naturalize," Rose says. "Mixing them with sand allows for more even sowing." When covering the prepared soil, be sure to spread the seeds thinly to avoid overcrowding. Once sowed, keep the soil moist for up to a month for germination. "They can take seven to 30 days to germinate, so be patient," Rose says. 

In Containers 

You can also sow seeds into pots and grow them in your home. For starting poppy seeds inside, Funk says to sow them in containers six to eight weeks before the last frost. "Cover with a humidity dome to retain moisture while seeds germinate," she says. "Keep it at 50 to 60 degrees." If you want to move your poppies outside once temperatures are warmer, Funk says to be very careful as poppies don't like to be disturbed. 

How to Care for Poppies 

As is the case with any plant, poppies have their own set of care requirements that ensure they will thrive. Whether you're growing them in containers or outdoors, you should adhere to these standards.

Light

Since poppies need sunlight to germinate and because they can't withstand constantly moist conditions, Funk says the plant should be kept in an area that gets full sun. Make sure your poppies are positioned somewhere the sun is hitting them for about six hours a day.

Soil

"Most poppies come from drier parts of the world, so good drainage is essential," says Kelly D. Norris, a horticulturist and the author of New Naturalism. "That said, poppies are also doggedly adaptable to a variety of soils, including gravel, sand, and clay." 

For optimal conditions, Funk recommends planting the poppies in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained loamy soil.

Water

While poppies need frequent watering when they're germinating, this can be scaled back once growth begins. "Poppies need limited watering once they have settled into their location," says Funk. "If you give them too much water, they can become tall and leggy." About once a week should be efficient, but you can put a finger in the soil to feel if there's any moisture present. If the soil is damp, hold off on watering.

Fertilizer

Many plants need fertilizer to encourage growth, and poppies are no different. "Lightly fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer until plants are fully mature and begin flower production," Funk says. "Fertilize every two weeks during the first growing season."

Once the first season has ended, you'll only need to fertilize your poppy plants at the beginning and the end of the season, or as needed.

Deadhead

Deadheading—the process of removing dead flower heads from you plant—keeps the poppy blooming throughout the season. "Deadhead blooms as they expire to encourage new flowers to emerge," says Funk. "Using garden shears or just your fingers, cut the flower stem just under the dead blossom, leaving the remaining healthy leaves."

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