Poppies are a flower that I only discovered fairly recently thanks to my friend Catherine Orr, who gave me some Fire Circle poppy seeds to try a few seasons ago (pictured above). Poppies are very easy to grow and bring so much beauty to the garden. Planted en masse, they make for a stunning display.
I normally sow poppies in spring and autumn. For spring sowings, it’s best to wait until the risk of frosts has well and truly passed. For autumn sowings, you need to ensure that the ground is sufficiently moist to aid germination, so wait until around April when it starts to rain occasionally. In saying that, it does depend on where you live. New Zealand’s climate varies dramatically from region to region and I do have to remember that not all of my audience lives in Auckland or even New Zealand for that matter. My personal gardening experiences are limited to our urban homestead in the Auckland region, so please take this into account when considering my advice. On the same token, what grows well in my environment may not necessarily thrive in your own microclimate. So please don’t blame me if things go wrong and varieties I’ve recommended don’t grow well in your garden!
Sowing poppies from seed
It’s really easy to grow poppies from seed and it allows you to grow unusual varieties which aren’t found in garden centres. It depends on the variety, but it normally takes about 90 days until maturity if you sow seeds in spring. Mine usually flower in December and January. Autumn sowings will grow slowly over winter and flower in late spring, for me, it’s normally around November. It’s nice to sow poppies in both spring and autumn for a staggered display of flowers.
For the best results, sow poppy seeds directly where you want to grow them. Poppies don’t transplant very well as they have a delicate root system, so it’s best to sow them from seed. In the past, I have tried raising poppies in punnets for transplanting later, but I found that germination rates were very low. If you’ve left it too late or don’t want to start them from seed, look out for poppy plants in garden centres from October onwards. Just be careful not to disturb the roots too much when you transplant them into your garden. You can try your local Palmers store. Awapuni also sell poppy plants and deliver direct to your door. Delivery is free if you order seven or more bundles of plants. Awapuni currently have Iceland, Oriental, Shirley Mixed and Peony Mixed varieties in stock.
Poppy seeds are very fine, so when you scatter them, you may find that they end up very close together. You can try thinning them out by transplanting seedlings, but be careful when doing so as you don’t want to disturb their roots too much.
If you’re planning to grow poppies from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours, sizes and heights. Poppies come in red, orange, yellow, white, pink and purple. It’s also possible to find poppy varieties which are bicoloured. My favourite poppy, Fire Circle (pictured above), sadly isn’t available for sale anymore. It used to be part of Koanga’s collection and as mentioned above, a friend I met through gardening circles on Facebook kindly gave me some seeds. However, I have some good news. Later in the season, I will be saving the seed and making it available to customers of Anita’s Garden. Keep an eye out on my seed catalogue, which I will publish in my weekly newsletter, for when it becomes available.
Egmont Seeds have an amazing range of poppy seeds which are sure to look lovely in your garden. I’ve already sown poppies for the spring and summer season, but in autumn I plan to grow Bridal Silk, a beautiful white poppy, and Ladybird, a red and black poppy, as the name suggests. To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
How to care for poppies
Poppies need at least 6 hours of sunshine per day, so be sure to sow or plant seedlings in the sunniest spot in your garden. They are not a plant for the shade. Before sowing poppy seeds, take the time to prepare the bed properly so plants receive adequate nutrition. Dig the area over that you wish to plant your seedlings in. Mix plenty of compost and some sheep pellets into the ground. Rake the ground so that it is nice and level. Be sure to water plants every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. Liquid feed poppies weekly to encourage the growth of healthy leaves and the formation of flowers.
Poppies don’t last very well in a vase so I tend to leave them to admire in the garden rather than using them as a cut flower.
Poppies are an annual which means that they will grow, set seed and die after one growing season. If you are growing heirloom varieties, you can save seeds from your plants so you will be able to sow those varieties next season, as I have done. Wait until the pods are completely dry on your plants. Break them off the plant and leave them to dry out a bit more inside. The seeds are contained inside the pods which should have holes if you are harvesting them at the right stage. If you harvest the pods prematurely these holes will be closed, so that’s a good way to know whether it’s time to harvest your poppy seeds. Carefully empty the seeds from the pods and store in an envelope in a cool, dry place. Don’t forget to label your seeds so you know what variety they are! It’s also a good idea to note the date that you harvested the seeds for future reference.