The National Garden Bureau celebrates 2003 as the Year of the Poppy.
The plant is special because it comes in an annual and perennial form, can be grown from seed, does as well in containers as in the garden and grows in almost any kind of soil.
Poppies deserve a place in any garden, the wildflower and meadow garden, perennial borders, cutting gardens and mixed- shrub borders. Their flower colors range from vibrant to subdued, from deepest crimson, bright orange and yellow to soft pink. The poppy flower may be single, double or semi-double.
Many plants in a number of genera reside in the poppy family, Papaveraceae, and bear the name poppy. The genus Papaver contains annuals and perennials. Annual poppies include Flanders and Shirley. Typically, they grow 2 to 3 feet tall, bloom in late spring through summer and bear red, purple, lilac, white, salmon, peach, pink or orange flowers. They have a distinctive dark blotch at the base of each petal.
Perennial poppies have more variation in size. Alpine poppies grow 5 to 10 inches tall bearing white, yellow or, occasionally, orange or red flowers. Iceland poppy grows 1 to 2 feet tall and produces orange, red, yellow, apricot, pink, salmon or white flowers. Its flowers may reach up to seven inches across above attractive blue-green segmented foliage. The Oriental poppy grows from 2 to 4 feet tall with scarlet, salmon, pink, peach, white or rose colored blooms, usually with a black blotch at the base of the petals. The foliage dies back after flowering, but begins to re-grow in the fall. All are hardy in northeast Kansas and bloom from late spring through summer.
Poppies grow easily from seed. In fact, they are known for self-sowing and easily populate the garden. They are not invasive though since they are easily pulled up. Poppies are frost tolerant and germinate best in cool weather and soil. Seeds should be sown in a sunny site as early as the ground can be worked in the spring. Place the seeds on the ground with a fine layer of soil covering them and keep them moist, but not waterlogged. Germination occurs in 10 to 15 days. Many people mix the tiny poppy seeds with sand to make handling and spreading them easier. Thin seedlings when they are about 1 inch tall.
Transplant seedlings on a calm, cloudy day and set them in the ground so the crown is just even with the surface. Give them enough spacing for air circulation to avoid disease problems. Unless the summer is very hot and dry, poppies do not require supplementary water or fertilizer. Deadhead spent flowers to keep them blooming longer and to prevent them from going to seed. Some gardeners stake taller varieties to prevent the wind and rain from whipping them.
Poppies grow well in containers since they are so drought tolerant. They add an airy touch. Be sure to use potting soil rather than garden soil in the containers to keep it from becoming too wet. Seeds may be planted directly into the container. When placing plants into a container, avoid disturbing the roots.
Poppies make beautiful cut flowers, although their blooms last only a few days before their petals fall to the table. It is best to cut the poppies from the garden when the bud shows a bit of color. Then, watch them unfurl over the next few days.
Pests or diseases seldom bother poppies. In fact, poppies do not like sprays. Aphids may attack young plants in bud and downy mildew, a fungus, can be a problem. Remove aphids with a hard spray of water. Avoid over-watering plants and allow plenty of air circulation around the plants to discourage fungal growth.
Once you plant poppies, you'll no doubt fall in love with them. And, because their seed is carried by the slightest of breezes, who knows where a poppy will pop up in your garden next year.
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.