Having just celebrated Armistice Day in honor of our war vets with red poppies popping up everywhere, got me thinking about the poppies we grow in our gardens. In particular the large Oriental poppy.
Papaver orientale, native to southwestern Asia, are one of the longest lived perennials. Gorgeous, enormous papery flowers are held high above course hairy green leaves. There is usually a black mark at the base of each petal and all have a black mound of stamens in their center. It is not uncommon for the papaver bloom to be 8 inches across.
Red is the original color for Papaver orientalis but there are now many new varieties in a wide selection of solid and mixed colors. There are bicolours with zoned centers, combinations of rose and yellow with pink and red, orange and apricot and white. All of these colors are represented in solid tones as well.
Some Oriental poppies will need staking but many of the new cultivars are shorter and stronger and can stand on their own. Poppies do not like to be divided so divide only when they loose vigour from overcrowding. Divide in late summer after all flowering is finished and leaves are beginning to die back. Because these poppies go dormant by late summer interplant them with bushy plants to hide their yellowing foliage.
Poppies like a fairly fertile well draining soil and full sun or part shade in very hot climates, and are hardy to zones 3-7. If grown in water logged soil they will surely rot out, probably the most important consideration when planting Oriental poppies.
After flowering you cut the foliage back to about 6 inches to tidy them up. If you give a feeding of a 20-20-20 fertilizer as this stage you might get blooms again in the fall. Always allow the foliage to die back naturally in the fall so the energy is returned back to the roots.
Oriental poppies often reseed and small seedlings will develop around their base. Transplant while young as they quickly produce a tap root which makes it very difficult to transplant later. It is this tap root that makes poppies suitable for dry land gardening. Oriental poppies also produce attractive large seedpods that are great for indoor use. Harvest the papaver seeds while still green and hang stems upside down to dry.