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How to Care for an Oriental Poppy Plant

Incredible bright red oriental poppy flowers growing in an evening garden

Papaver Orientale

Sometimes, the most beautiful things in life are fleeting. This is most certainly the case when it comes to papaver orientale, more commonly referred to as the oriental poppy plant.

Oriental poppies are lovely flowering plants that have that classic poppy flower appeal with equally lovely foliage. Though their blooming season is fleeting, the beauty of their blossoms make all of the effort of growing them completely worth it. These delicate flowers are also the perfect cut flower specimen.

Throughout this article we will go through some basic information about oriental poppies, where they come from, and how to care for them. We even go into some different poppy species to help you decide which one will be perfect for your garden or green space. Once you’ve read through, oriental poppies will be at the top of your spring planting wish list.

What do Oriental Poppies Look Like?

Beautiful image of blooming oriental poppies in pink

Growth Habit

Starting under the soil, oriental poppies grow from shallow and fine root systems. These are rather sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted, so keep this in mind when considering growing oriental poppy plants.

From these roots will grow a mound of thistle-like leaves. They have stiff and tall flower stalks that can grow to be anywhere from 1-3 feet tall, with each stem holding a single oriental poppy flower.

Oriental poppies also grow as a perennial plant type, meaning that they bear flowers that will continue to bloom year after year as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

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Leaves

Oriental poppies are loved amongst gardeners not only for their flowers, but for their attractive foliage too! Oriental poppy leaves are very thistle-like in appearance.

Each leaf is usually covered in fine downy hairs, as well as the flower stems. Leaves are deeply lobed and usually a deep green color. These leaves grow very tightly packed together, creating quite a display.

Something unique about oriental poppy leaves is that they will die off after the plant has finished flowering. This characteristic is what allows the plant to survive the summer drought of its native growing region.

Knowing that the leaves die away, it is best to consider this when planting oriental poppies. You may wish to plant them in a different area that won’t appear as being too barren once the leaves perish.

Flowers

Close up image of bright pink oriental poppy flower petals

Oriental poppy flowers are very easy to recognize, and are the epitome of beauty to nearly all gardeners. These flowers are a little bit large than other species, but still have the same flower shape.

Each oriental poppy flower has 4 large, overlapping petals. These petals have that classic crepe paper look and feel to them. Though brief, an oriental poppy bloom is spectacular.

When an oriental poppy bud first appears it will nod down at first, and will slowly raise its head as the flower unfurls. These flowers will usually bloom in early summer or mid summer and only last 1 to 2 weeks.

Oriental poppies grow in a multitude of different flower color options, ranging from maroon, purple, red, orange, pink, white, peach, and salmon. This species will often have a dark blotch of color at the base of the flower petal as well.

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What are some Other Poppy Species?

Iceland Poppy (Papaver Nudicaule)

The Iceland poppy is a boreal flowering plant that is native to North America and Asia. These are very hardy plants, but are short lived and are often planted as biennials.

Papaver nudicaule can be identified by its lightly fragrant, large, either white or yellow flowers with a bowl shape to them. They also have stunning blue/green foliage.

Shirley Poppy (Papaver Rhoeas)

Gorgeous patch of shirley poppy flowers growing in a sunny garden

The shirley poppy is an annual ornamental cultivar that has never actually existed in the wild. Shirley poppies are bred from European wild field poppies.

These incredible cultivars can be identified by their pastel colored flower blossoms. They can have mauve edges, and often come in gorgeous smokey tones of lavender and other shades of purple.

Opium Poppy (Papaver Somniferum)

The opium poppy is also commonly known as the breadseed poppy, and this is the poppy species that is grown for its edible seeds. They are native to the eastern Mediterranean region.

Papaver somniferum can be identified by its tall height, grey/green leaves, and strikingly red flower blossoms. These plants are commercially grown for their seeds, which are commonly garnished on bagels, or are used to produce opium by pharmaceutical companies.

Beauty of Livermere (Papaver Orientale ‘Goliath Group’)

The beauty of Livermere is a cultivar of papaver oriental that is one of the most beautiful poppy flowers available. The name ‘goliath group’ comes from their enormous flower blossoms.

This cultivar can be identified by its intensely deep red flowers with a midnight-black flower base. They have that classic overlapping crepe petal formation, but are loved for their deep and intense colors.

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Where is the Oriental Poppy a Native Plant?

Beautiful bright red oriental poppy flowers growing in a wild field

Knowing where a plant comes from can really help a gardener figure out how to keep it happy in other parts of the world. This will also help you decide whether to keep your plant as an indoor or an outdoor plant.

Oriental poppies are native to mostly Northeastern Turkey and Northern Iran, though they have easily become naturalized in parts of North America that experience cold winters.

These flowering plants can exist in USDA hardiness zone 3 through 9 as outdoor plants. They actually require cold spells in order to thrive, so keeping them as indoor plants in hotter zones may not always be ideal.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions for the Oriental Poppy Plant?

Now that we know all of the basic necessary information about oriental poppies, it is about time you learned the essential elements of how to care for one of your very own!

Oriental poppy care is easily achieved by any skill level of gardener, and it can be seamlessly added to the rest of your gardening routine. There are just a few things to keep in mind:

Focus image on bright red oriental poppy flower growing in a huge patch

Soil Type

Oriental poppies are rather resilient plants, and though they can tolerate a great many soil types, there are definitely some characteristics that the soil can have to keep your plants perfectly happy.

The number one rule for oriental poppy soil is that it is well draining. They can easily develop root rot if they are planted in soil that is not well draining.

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Additionally, they prefer to live in soil that is around 6.5-7.5 pH, and that is properly fertile as well. Luckily, there is one simple thing you can do to amend your soil and achieve all of these things.

Compost! Incorporating some compost at the beginning of the growing season of the plant will not only improve drainage, but it will increase the nutrient content and establish the perfect level of acidity in the soil.

Water Level

Watering your oriental poppy patch won’t take up too much time at all, especially since they only really need to live in moist soil during their active growing season.

While they are growing (usually starting in the late spring until late summer) they should be receiving at least 1 inch of water per week. Natural precipitation will usually suffice.

Once the plant has finished flowering and the foliage dies away, you can basically desist watering. This is because the plant goes dormant in the summer, and this is how it is so drought tolerant in its native growing regions.

Sun Exposure

Oriental poppies are sun loving creatures. This means that they will perform best when they receive a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Though they are completely able to tolerate partial shade, this can sometimes make them more susceptible to issues like powdery mildew, since their leaves grow so tightly packed together.

Stunning salmon colored oriental poppy flower petals

Temperature

Something awesome about the oriental poppy plant is that it is very cold hardy. It actually prefers to live in areas that experience those bitter cold winters and seems to dislike high heat and humidity.

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They can exist in USDA hardiness zone 3 through 9. Keeping them as indoor plants in hotter regions won’t actually work, because these plants require a cold spell in order to properly grow. They enter their dormancy period in the late summer and will remain dormant until the following early spring.

Fertilizer

An oriental poppy patch will respond quite positively to being fertilized. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: either using a slow release fertilizer in the early spring, or by incorporating compost to the soil.

Pruning

The pruning of an oriental poppy plant is very very minimal, as they tend to exhibit a naturally neat growth habit. You can pick away the dying foliage to help keep the garden tidy.

Otherwise, deadheading (plucking away spent flowers) will often encourage a secondary blooming period for your plant!

How do you Propagate Oriental Poppies?

Beautiful patch of blooming oriental poppies in red and pink

If you think you’ve got what it takes to keep an oriental poppy plant happy, we’ve prepared a few simple steps on how to propagate one of your very own!

It is always best to plant oriental poppy plants straight from seed. This is because these plants have very sensitive roots and do not like to be transplanted. They often won’t survive the process.

You can either order your seeds online (netps plant finder is a great resource), purchase them from a nursery, or find seed pods of an existing plant and harvest those!

1. Oriental poppy seeds require a cold spell in order to germinate. This means that you can either start your seeds about a month before the last expected frost of the spring, or you can wait until the late fall.

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2. If you’re starting your seeds indoors, you can sprinkle them in biodegradable pots that can then be planted directly in the ground. Otherwise, sprinkle them directly onto the soil.

3. Very lightly cover the oriental poppy seeds with a light layer of soil. Remember that the seeds need sunlight in order to germinate.

4. Germination should occur in a short 10-20 days. It is important that the seedlings are not over-watered during this period, but make sure to keep consistent soil moisture.

5. Pinch away any seedlings that are growing too closely together, and individual plants prefer to have some breathing room.

* If planting in the fall, feel free to cover the top soil with a thick layer of mulch to help protect those sensitive roots from extremely cold winter temperatures.

Bright orange oriental poppies blooming in the sun

FAQs

Are oriental poppies deer resistant?

An added bonus to planting oriental poppies is the fact that they are entirely resistant to grazing by larger pests like deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

What are the damaging agents to oriental poppies?

The majority of issues that oriental poppies will face will come from living in soil that is either too packed or watered too frequently. These plants are rather susceptible to root rot and powdery mildew, so simply avoided fine soil and watering it too much!

Is the oriental poppy hardy?

Something awesome about the oriental poppy plant is that it is very cold hardy. It actually prefers to live in areas that experience those bitter cold winters and seems to dislike high heat and humidity.

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They can exist in USDA hardiness zone 3 through 9. Keeping them as indoor plants in hotter regions won’t actually work, because these plants require a cold spell in order to properly grow. They enter their dormancy period in the late summer and will remain dormant until the following early spring.

Are oriental poppies perennial plants or annual plants?

Oriental poppy plants are a perennial plant type. This means that they bear flowers that will blossom year after year as long as the required essential elements for successful growth are maintained.

When can oriental poppy seeds be sown?

Oriental poppy seeds require a cold spell in order to germinate. This means that you can either start your seeds about a month before the last expected frost of the spring, or you can wait until the late fall).

Can you grow oriental poppies from root cuttings?

Oriental poppies can be grown from root cuttings, though it is a little bit safer to propagate your own plant by sowing seed. This is because oriental poppy roots are rather sensitive and do not like to be disturbed too much.

Do oriental poppies need fertilizer?

An oriental poppy patch will respond quite positively to being fertilized. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: either using a slow release fertilizer in the early spring, or by incorporating compost to the soil.

Can I transplant an oriental poppy plant?

Starting under the soil, oriental poppies grow from shallow and fine root systems. These are rather sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted, so keep this in mind when considering growing oriental poppy plants.

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How often should oriental poppy plants be watered?

Watering your oriental poppy patch won’t take up too much time at all, especially since they only really need to live in moist soil during their active growing season.

While they are growing (usually starting in the late spring until late summer) they should be receiving at least 1 inch of water per week. Natural precipitation will usually suffice.

Once the plant has finished flowering and the foliage dies away, you can basically desist watering. This is because the plant goes dormant in the summer, and this is how it is so drought tolerant in its native growing regions.

How tall do oriental poppy plants get?

They have stiff and tall flower stalks that can grow to be anywhere from 1-3 feet tall, with each stem holding a single oriental poppy flower.

Is the oriental poppy an invasive species?

Though the oriental poppy grows quickly and enthusiastically and also produces many seeds each year, they are not considered as being an invasive plant species.

Can oriental poppies tolerate partial shade?

Oriental poppies are sun loving creatures. This means that they will perform best when they receive a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Though they are completely able to tolerate partial shade, this can sometimes make them more susceptible to issues like powdery mildew, since their leaves grow so tightly packed together.

How deep should you plant an oriental poppy seed?

Oriental poppy seeds can simply be sprinkled in the top soil (or in biodegradable pots) with a light layer of soil sprinkled over top. This is because seeds require sunlight in order to germinate.

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Why are the leaves on my oriental poppy dying?

Dying foliage on an oriental poppy plant is entirely normal. Something unique about oriental poppy leaves is that they will die off after the plant has finished flowering. This characteristic is what allows the plant to survive the summer drought of its native growing region.

Knowing that the leaves die away, it is best to consider this when planting oriental poppies. You may wish to plant them in a different area that won’t appear as being too barren once the leaves perish.

What is the ideal soil type for an oriental poppy?

Oriental poppies are rather resilient plants, and though they can tolerate a great many soil types, there are definitely some characteristics that the soil can have to keep your plants perfectly happy.

The number one rule for oriental poppy soil is that it is well draining. They can easily develop root rot if they are planted in soil that is not well draining.

Additionally, they prefer to live in soil that is around 6.5-7.5 pH, and that is properly fertile as well. Luckily, there is one simple thing you can do to amend your soil and achieve all of these things.

Compost! Incorporating some compost at the beginning of the growing season of the plant will not only improve drainage, but it will increase the nutrient content and establish the perfect level of acidity in the soil.

Where can I buy oriental poppy seeds?

Oriental poppy seeds are pretty easy to find in most nurseries, or you can check places online. Netps plant finder is a website that is guaranteed to have what you’re looking for!

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