How to grow oriental poppies

Martyn Cox

If your border is in need of a pick-me-up, plant some oriental poppies for vibrant colour and display

Prized for their large blousy flowers, these perennials are the star-turn of early summer. Flowering from late May until well into July, oriental poppies are dead easy to grow – the only challenge is deciding what to grow in the first place.

Oriental poppies and Super Poppies

There are hundreds of different oriental poppies in a wide range of eye-catching colours and shapes. Some have single flowers, others double, while the papery petals can be ruffled, crimped or, unusually, fringed to give the bloom a shaggy appearance.

Apart from these traditional border favourites, there’s a smaller group of plants known as Super Poppies. Bred in the USA, they have thicker, more upright stems and longer lasting flowers – a single flower can last up to 18 days. A clump can put on a display for up to six weeks and will respond with another flush of flower if cut back hard after the first flowers fade.

Growing poppies in the ground

Poppies will thrive in a sunny spot and prefer sandy, free-draining soil. However, they can be grown in clay soils if it’s improved by digging in some horticultural grit to make it more open.

To plant, dig a hole that is deeper than the pot and mix in some general purpose fertiliser granules with the excavated soil. Add some of the soil mix back to the hole and place the poppy in the centre of the hole, ensuring that it sits at the same level as the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with the remaining soil, firm in and water.

Planting oriental poppies in pots

Although most gardeners grow oriental poppies in the soil, they can be grown in pots. Choose deep containers as poppies have long tap roots and fill with a mixture of John Innes No.3 and a soil-less compost. If the roots are too damp they are likely to rot, so stand them on pot feet and avoid placing a saucer under the pot.

Looking after oriental poppies

Oriental poppies are a doddle to look after. When flowers start to drop their petals, snip out the entire stem so the plant puts all its energy into making more flowers and not into producing seeds.

After the last flower fades, cut the entire plant back hard to within 7cm of the ground. Give the plant a boost with a general purpose plant food and mulch with bark chippings to retain moisture. Fresh growth will soon appear, while some varieties will respond with a second flush of flowers later in summer.

As plants mature, the centre of clumps can die. However, it’s easy to revitalise plants in this state during spring. Prise them from the ground with a fork and divide into several smaller pieces, throwing away any dead bits. Replant as soon as possible and water.

What oriental poppies to grow

'Turkenlouis' – bright red

'Raspberry Ruffles' - a double row of frilly edged petals that fade as they age

'Perry’s White' – white flowers

'Shasta' – pink Super Poppy

'Patty’s Plum' – dark purple

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