We see a lot of photos of Oriental poppies, particularly red ones with their crepe paper-like flowers and classic black blotches, at this time of year as we near Remembrance Day. Oriental poppies originate from western Asia and southeastern Europe and are hardy to zone 3. Sometimes they can be confusing, so let’s talk a bit about them, how they behave, and how to care for them.
Oriental poppies are available in a generous assortment of colors ranging from white, pink, and salmon to bright and fiery reds. They all have black splotches at the base of their flower pedals and black stamens. The typical life cycle of an oriental poppy is a bit different from most perennials in that they tend to go dormant during the heat of summer, which is usually the time of year that perennials are in their glory, because these poppies love cool weather and hate the heat. When the weather cools down at the end of summer they being to grow new shoots from their roots, enjoy green growth above the soil as they form a green mound of soft foliage. Sometimes they even bloom again. When winter comes, they go to sleep once again to emerge in spring and bloom sometime after spring bulbs bloom and summer perennials flower. The cycle is then repeated as the summer heat sets in.
With this in mind here are some tips for growing:
- Plant in full to partial sun, with 6 hours of direct sun each day.
- Plant in well drained soil, they hate wet feet.
- Oriental poppies are clump forming and not invasive, give each clump at least 1 foot of space between them and other plants for expansion.
- Armed with the above information – plan your spot carefully, because Oriental Poppies despise being moved with their deep tap root and they will revolt by dying.
- Plant them with the crown (the spot where the leaves meet the roots) at soil level.
- Resist watering them in the summer as they go dormant, it looks like they’re dying but an overload of water will kill them. Water sparingly during the summer.
- Oriental poppies are not heavy feeders and will do well with being fertilized just once a year.
Blossoms can range from 6 – 12” in diameter. To keep them as cut flowers, dip the end of their stems in boiling water for 30 seconds to keep the milky sap from clogging up the xylem. If that happens, they can’t take up water. Sometimes the blossoms can last up to 2 weeks.
Give some oriental poppies a try and enjoy the bright colors they can add to your green space!