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January 14th 2014

FLOWER FOCUS: Iceland Poppy Primer

Written by
Floret

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Each season a handful of new varieties make the cut and gain permanent residence here on the farm. Making “the list” requires meeting a pretty strict set of criteria.

First, the item must grow somewhat easily and vigorously in my climate. This means no heroic measures; toxic chemicals or complicate procedures are required to produce a healthy plant.

Second, it must have a good vase life. I spend a great deal of effort growing and testing numerous potential candidates until I find one that is not only beautiful but lasts well too.

Third, it must have some unique characteristic, something that sets it apart, an added selling point of some kind. This may be a pleasing fragrance, an unusual shape, a muted or vibrant color, the variety is an heirloom, it looks old fashioned and romantic….anything different that will help me tell its story to customers and help it stand out in some way.

Lastly it must be beautiful! While all flowers are beautiful, I seek out varieties that take beauty to a new level. I want them to embody words like romantic, gorgeous, amazing, incredible, exquisite and stunning!

All of the items listed in the following Flower Focus posts have met these criteria and are the wonderful cast of characters that make up our wild and abundant garden.

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Papaver nudicaule/Icelandic Poppies are one of my all time favorite cut flowers. These are not to be confused with Papaver somniferous/Opium Poppies, the annual variety that makes those fun green pods. While both are beautiful, the Iceland Poppies are grown for their tissue paper like blooms and are a highly prized cut flower with upscale designers. Opium Poppies are grown exclusively for their pods and seeds while their billowy flowers rarely hold up long enough to make a suitable cut.

After years of hearing rave reviews about these brilliant flowers I finally had the opportunity to add them to our spring line up a few seasons back. Being the trailer that I am, I of course grew every variety I could get my grubby little hands on! Red Sails, the Champagne Bubbles series, the Temptress series, the Meadow Pastels mix and the San Remo mix.

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The Temptress series has long been the yardstick all other domestically grown varieties were measured by. Bob Wollam, a famous D.C. grower has spent many years singing their praises and a few years ago when the seed breeder dropped the line, Bob took up the cause on his own and worked to arrange tissue cultures of the remaining plants.

I grew the Temptress series during that first year trial and I’ll admit, they we amazing. Massive blooms on thick 20+” stems and they even came in a rainbow of individual colors including salmon, ivory and coral. Ahhh, my heart aches just thinking about them!

But sadly Bob was unable to save them and the only remaining seed has a tiny 30% germination rate. If you’re feeling lucky and want to try and save the last remaining seed, I heard Gloeckner had a few thousand left in storage.

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The Champagne Bubbles series is the closest replacement I’ve found so far. They are available in 5 individual colors: white, orange, pink, yellow and scarlet plus a formula mix. The seed is primed so it germinates much easier than most other Icelandic varieties. Stems generally reach 15-18″, plenty tall for cutting. Flower heads are nice sized, the colors are cheerful and clear and the stems are thick and sturdy. Pink, which is actually much more coral to my eyes, is my favorite color in the mix. You can see it pictured below.

Icelandic Poppy Champagne Bubbles Pink

Iceland Poppy Champagne Bubbles Pink

The San Remo series was really pretty. Flower stems were very tall, 24+” and blooms came in a wide range of gorgeous pastel colors. My biggest complaints were that they were only available as a mix and the stems were pretty wiry and thin. Cut flower growers can find plugs through Gloeckner, sourced from Headstart.  I believe a 10 week lead time is required on plugs.

Slugs have gotten all of the Meadow Pastels (syn.) Party Fun two years running now but we’re giving them a whirl again this spring. This series is also only available as a mix but I’ve heard great things from a number of growers. Sarah Raven, author of my favorite book Grow Your Own Cut Flowers, sings their praises often. Seed is available for commercial growers from Geo and for home gardeners from Sarah Raven(UK) and Johnny’s Select Seed (USA)

Red Sails was a beautiful monster red variety. Super tall, thick stems, brilliant flowers but that color wasn’t in high demand for us in the spring so I haven’t kept it in the mix going forward. If you can move that color then certainly consider growing this one! Commercial growers can get seed from Ivy Garth and Geo.

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There is mixed information about Icelandic Poppies being biennials or perennials. I actually grow them more like an annual here in our garden and aim for a few months of early blooming and then replace them with a fast summer crop like celosia or gomphrena.

If started early enough (this month ideally!) I’ve easily gotten them to flower by early-mid May in the unheated hoop houses. From newly planted plugs, we start getting blooms just 6 weeks after they go in the ground so the sooner they go in, the sooner there will be flowers.

I tucked 3 big beds of Poppies into a hoop house last fall as an experiment to see if we can get a March-April flush and then follow it with our typical planting. In the photo above, the furtherest bed running along the right side of the hoop is filled with tiny Poppy transplants. I was so worried that they were too small and would never flower in time.

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A month and a half later, here is the same bed, in full rolling bloom. Pretty amazing huh?! These guys flowered their heads off for two solid months after this was taken. If you want an extra early crop then tucking the Poppies under covered will give you a jump on the season but they can thrive straight out in the garden too!

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Seeds are tiny! They look more like dust than seed. Keep in mind that this particular flower takes extra care if you’re going to start it from seed. I sow ours in small seed trays (288’s) as early as possible (Dec-Jan) and then barely cover the seed with a fine dusting of vermiculite or sand. Then for the next few weeks I bottom water (set your seed tray in a flat of standing water and let it wick up the moisture from below vs. overhead watering) as to not accidentally wash away the babies with a powerful overhead spray. The seed flats are kept on 70* heat mats until the babies emerge and start to bulk up.

If you’re new to starting seed then go with the primed Champagne Bubbles series since they’re much faster to sprout than the others. If you can find plugs (baby plants), that would make things even easier and ensure that you get an abundance of blooms early in the season.

After plants are in the ground you’ll need to monitor them closely for signs of slug damage. Slugs love Poppies and you’ll want to put down slug bait (Sluggo is safe for pets, kids and you) from the start. We space our plants 9×9″ apart which results in 4-5 rows in each bed.

Icelandic Poppy proper stage of harvest: cracking bud

Iceland Poppy proper stage of harvest: cracking bud.

Once flowers start blooming, it can be a full time job to keep these beauties picked on time. I often comb through the patch daily snagging them at just the right time. The perfect stage to pick Poppies is in slightly cracking bud pictured above. Once the flowers open they are much more difficult to handle and process. If you’re growing for your own arranging needs then you can certainly cut them fully open but note vase life will be decreased by a couple of days. Growers will want to harvest at cracking bud stage for longest shelf life and easy transport.

coral poppy

Our bunches are harvested and rubber banded in the field and then carried back into the workroom (out of water) for their magic treatment. Pictured above is a bloom 1 day after harvest and then fully open just hours later. It’s amazing how those fuzzy little buds burst into such an incredible show in a matter of hours!

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To ensure the longest vase life (6-7days!) from your Iceland Poppies you must sear the stem ends. Our bunches are typically 15-18 stems and are rubber banded 3-4″ up from the base so that the heat treatment won’t melt the bands. If you only have a few, a lighter or a cup of boiling water will work just fine but if you’ve got buckets, then the Burnzomatic propane torch with the instant trigger (pictured above) will be your very best friend. We snagged ours at the local hardware store.

Flame or dip (in boiling water) the bottom 2″ of the stems for 7-10 seconds or until you notice them changing color and consistency. I generally hold 10 bunches in my left hand and flame them all at once with the right. And there you have it, that’s the trick for getting the most out of your poppies!

seared poppy stem ends

Above:  seared poppy stem ends.

Place them immediately into fresh water and you’re done. I’ve successfully stored them with out any issue for a full week in the cooler at cracking bud stage. They even did quite well fully open, so if you need to hold them for something special, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as you have a cooler.

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Ours always flower right through peony season and to me, there’s nothing pretty than the two together!

74 Comments

  1. the Garden by the Gate on

    Hi Erin,
    You are the most amazing, generous person to share all your knowlege and inspiration. I don’t know how you get it all done; writing all the posts can be so time consuming along with all the garden work.

    Trying my hand at Icelandic poppies this year for our wedding flower design business. They germinated great, but the little stems are so skinny! They are sort of laying down or curling. My lights are about 3 – 3 1/2″ from the seedlings. Is this too far away?

    Anyone else out there have some advice? Thank you so much!

    Reply
  2. Jean on

    Hi, I sowed a packet of your Sherbet Mix seeds in a flat in early Feb and, unfortunately, only got 6 plants growing out of the 100 seeds. I provided initial bottom heat (seedling heat mat), used a typical seed starting set with capillary mat, used new high quality seed starting mix (Johnny’s) and sowed seed on the surface. I’m trying again with another packet of your white Icelandic poppies. I’m starting them indoors up in the attic, so ambient temp isn’t too cold. Can you give any advice to improve my odds of success with this new batch? Many thanks.

    Reply
  3. Sue on

    I’ve grown Icelandic poppies a few times, but I’m getting inconsistent results. Most of the time the stems are weak and unusable as a cut flower (they don’t last more than a day) and every now and then, I’ll get a few sturdy flowers that are great. Is there something that I can do to have better results with my poppies? Like different site location or spacing or..? What’s the best way to get thick sturdy stems? Any advice would be great from you and the community. Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Lois Kendel on

    My Icelandic poppies keep reseeding what I’d love to have via email is. Should I trim the died stems off ? They are quite unsightly My goodness your bouquets are soooo beautiful!!

    Reply
  5. Mindi on

    Very helpful and informative Floret! Do you need to re sear the stems when you recut to arrange them?!! I read all the questions and didn’t see anyone else asking this. If you have a moment to answer, I’d be so grateful!

    Reply
  6. Tami on

    I absolutely love these flowers and was hoping to have them for my fall wedding. Do you know if they are typically available in October/November? Also do you know if they can be grown indoors? I live in an apartment (so no yard) but am interested in trying to container grow them. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Hi Tami, poppies are a spring flower and available this time of year (April-May) for us. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to grow indoors unless you have a greenhouse. I urge you to instead research what will be in season and available locally for your fall wedding–you’d be surprised by the many unusual flower varieties your local flower farmers can grow. I’d definitely seek out a local grower now if you can and see what they may have available. Best wishes!

  7. Lucille Withers on

    Thank you for all the thoughtful info on Icelandic poppies. I’m falling in love with them. I will be starting my first venture into growing them.
    Thank you!???

    Reply
  8. Tracy on

    Hi Floret. Fabulous post, beautiful pictures. Is there any way to force icelandic poppies out of the cracked bud stage and into bloom quickly?

    Reply
  9. Laura Kitz on

    Hi Erin and Floret team!

    I know you mentioned that you treat your poppies as annuals…. I’m wondering if you can recommend some flowers that you plant in your poppy beds once their season is over. Something fast growing and heat loving? Any ideas??

    Thank you so much!!

    Reply
  10. mary harper on

    Lovely photos. Thank you for sharing. I am painting icelandic poppies and would love a clear photo of their leaves. The florists cannot supply me with the leaves.

    Reply
  11. Ashley on

    Hi, I’m getting married in January and the only way that I can afford to have flowers at my wedding is to possibly grow my own. I’ve never planted anything with success but continue to try my very best. I am in love with icelandic poppy and peony flowers and was hoping that you would be kind enough to give me a few pointers in how to successfully force bloom poppy and peony bulbs. Any information you would be willing to share is greatly appreciated. Thank you for sharing the lovely article. The pictures are absolutely breathtaking.

    Reply
  12. Melinda on

    Why would my stems be withering on the vine before they bloom? They are very curvy stems. It is the orange variety.

    Reply
  13. Enrique on

    I think that what you posted made a bunch of sense. However, what about this? suppose you wrote a catchier post title? I ain’t suggesting your information is not solid., however suppose you added a title that grabbed a person’s attention? I mean FLOWER FOCUS: Icelandic Poppy primer is a little boring. You might look at Yahoo’s home page and watch how they write news headlines to grab viewers interested. You might add a video or a related pic or two to grab readers excited about everything’ve got to say. In my opinion, it could make your posts a little livelier.

    Reply
  14. Marty Nemko on

    Fantastic article. Too bad Temptress is no longer available.

    Reply
  15. Erin on

    You started your seeds indoors and then transplanted to covered hoop houses, is that correct? At what stage did you transplant and is it important to keep the seed medium from becoming dried out?

    Reply
  16. Don Lareau on

    Have you ever tried P. rhoeas, we did some paeoniflorium and they were great, dropped petals but kept opening for over a week, not ideal for florist but bunched customers like them but the P. Rhoeas??? Seems like it could be great??

    Reply
  17. Shawn on

    Fantastic photos. I had always thought the seared stems was probably just an old wives tale. Apparently, you know exactly what you are doing, down to the time of cutting! Now, you’ve managed to get me started on a seed buying binge, for those ‘Champagne Bubbles’. Already ordered Suttons in ‘pink’ shades & a mix, from Rohrer .. It sure would be nice, if those ‘Oregon Rainbows’ were still available in the U.S.A. I guess it would require a thoughtful & kind British connection, to ever get any.

    Reply
  18. Donna on

    I recently found a stand of Icelandic poppies growing in the wild while traveling. I nabbed 3 bunches with roots and put thm in a jar with dirt over the weekend and brought them home to Michigan where I hope to replant them. They are quite withered now and I’m wondering, do you think they will bounce back? Also where is the best place to,plant them and do they play nice with other flowers or will they take over and spread like crazy?

    Reply
  19. Carolyn on

    Hi Erin,

    This was my first year growing poppies, and they were a huge hit! I had been thinking about trying them for a few years now, and your primer inspired me to take the plunge! My market customers have loved them and all the bridal bouquets have this dreamy quality. Thanks for all the verbal and floral encouragement!
    Warm wishes from Maine.

    Reply
  20. melissa on

    Erin, can poppies be stored with closed buds in the cooler for an extended period of time? (sort of like peonies?)
    thanks for your insight!
    melissa

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Yes Melissa, they can. Harvest in the “cracking bud” stage and then stick into a dark cooler. You can hold them for 7-10 days like that.

  21. End of April Addendum | Gardens at Coppertop on

    […] poppies, violas, and pericallis in the massive Italian rectangular planters at front of house.  (This article about Icelandic poppies is one of my favorites with glorious photos.) early […]

    Reply
  22. Jonathan Leiss on

    I have a logistical question about burning the ends: When you make a bouquet or arrangement and trim the ends to about the same length, do you reburn the poppy stems? If so, how?

    Thanks from an inexperienced flower farmer.

    Jonathan

    Reply
  23. Mj on

    Hoping you will see this late post, any info on Papaver roheas as a cut? Geo has a new one listed for cutting…

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Oh, I better check it out!

  24. gretchen o'neil on

    Erin– My poppies are putting up stems (yay!) BUT, I’ve noticed on some of them they are failing (rotting?) at the top of the neck just under the bud. The rest of the stem is fine/sturdy. Upon opening the bud…its empty! Help! And many thanks in advance.

    Reply
  25. Val Schirmer on

    Going to be pricking out the babies into 72s and then into crates in our cool but heated greenhouse. SO excited about this trial!!!

    Any counsel for us, Erin?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      You sound like you’ve got it down! Just be sure to protect them from slugs. We use Sluggo (safe for pets/kids/you) Those slimy little buggers sniff them out in the night and do major damage to young plants.

  26. Navya on

    Hi Erin! Beautiful post, thank you for all the tips and tricks! Curious – once your poppies have bloomed (out of pod phase) do you ever keep them in the floral cooler? Or do you find the petals are too delicate for the cold?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Floret on

      I’ve had great luck holding them fully open for about a week in the cooler. Even though they seem fragile, they’re actually pretty dang tough!

  27. Katie on

    I am a home gardner, very excited about trying Icelandic poppies! I noticed on the websites of some of the companies selling these seeds, it says they do not recommend starting indoors because the plants don’t take transplant very well. Anything I should worry about as far as starting indoors?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Katie, I’ve had no trouble transplanting them and always start them indoors : )

  28. Ruby C. on

    These photographs are stunning. How long have you been planting these flowers? I really enjoyed reading.

    Reply
  29. Janey Pugh on

    As always you share your flower heaven with us. Truly amazing.

    Reply
  30. Rene on

    Thank you Erin! I love this focus on one flower! Oh and I bought Sarah’s book! :)

    Reply
    • Floret on

      You’re going to LOVE it!

  31. Erin Dunlop on

    Thank you some much for your blog! I am a floral designer and I am just in the baby steps of growing my own cut flowers. We have a small 3 acres, and I am so excited that you produce such a bounty on your small plot! I am truly thankful that you are willing to share your knowledge. I am in love with your blog…so thank you- thank you- thank you!!!!!

    Reply
    • Floret on

      3 acres? We do all of this on 2 so you’re in great shape!

  32. Yara on

    Erin!! Thank you for all of this awesomely useful information. It has made for some great winter reading. I drooled over the sweet pea post as well and immediately ordered from Owl’s Acres and just got my seed yesterday!! I planted my poppy seed in the fall into flats in my unheated greenhouse. They are still pretty small, but doing quite well. I will be planting them outside come spring… Would you recommend waiting till late March, early April? After any threat of frost? I am in Portland, Oregon area.

    Reply
    • Floret on

      I have 3 rows growing in an unheated hoop through the winter (planted out in late fall) and they took temps in the teens pretty well. I bet you could stick your babies out in March, cover with remay (if you have some) on really cold nights and be just fine.

    • Elizabeth Mathew on

      How well did the seeds grow from you order at Onestoppoppy shop. I do not see the San Remo mix with them. were you happy with the order and the results?

  33. Emily Peck on

    As usual, I’m living my flower growing vicariously through you until I’m out of baby/toddler stage and have a proper garden. :) Poppies are one of my all time favorite flowers – I love all of the tips you’ve provided because while I LOVE growing the flowers, sometimes I don’t follow through on the best way to give them a long vase life – I just plop them in and assume they will be happy. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  34. Val Schirmer on

    So excited to try these! Ordered pink & white Champagnes from Gloeckner yesterday. Going to try them in crates in our cool g’house (they’ll be with sweet peas – all 21 varieties! – and snaps) and also outside. We don’t have hoop houses. Any advice for the crates – soil? spacing?

    Reply
  35. Nikki Shenk on

    Love the post and pumped for more like it ahead! Thank you for this series. Crazy fact: I’m living in Russia and you can’t buy poppies because they’re illegal!

    Reply
  36. Jenny on

    Another well written informative post! Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  37. Stacy on

    Lovely post, Erin. I am curious if you’ve tried storing them dry in the cooler after searing?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Stacy,
      I sent 100 bunches with a designer who was doing an art show on the east coast a few years back. They were out of water for 24hrs and rebounded perfectly fine on the other end. I’ve never done dry in the cooler though. It’d be worth a shot.

  38. mj on

    Awesome post, thanks for sharing all your experience! I have clay-ish soil, which I try to amend as much as possible, but it’s an uphill battle. I have a sneaky feeling that they may not like my soil. Do you water these sparingly?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      MJ,
      Growers in the UK usually have really heavy soil + lots of rainfall in the spring and are still quite successful with them placed out in the open.There is an incredible woman in England, Sarah Raven and she grows loads of them and also sells seed. Her garden is solid clay and I know she shares some tips about prepping beds somewhere on here site. Good luck!

  39. Amelia Amish on

    thank you, thank you thank you loved all the information. I am super excited for the flower series.The poppies have just germinated! have followed you since country gardens came out ,your pictures are so gorgeous and have brightened many days.

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Fantastic news Amelia!

  40. Kim on

    Thank you for the wonderful new “flower focus”! I’m always learning from you and so thankful for all your INCREDIBLE hard work and willingness to take the time to share. Here’s to 2014, it’s gonna be great!!!

    Reply
  41. Shelley on

    Erin, Thank you for generously sharing your knowledge and experience! I love the photos and your descriptions. Thanks again!

    Reply
  42. Margie on

    Hi Erin,
    Amazing as always! We do have a question. Do you pot them up from the 288’s, if so, what size?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      I put mine out that tiny which made for more weeding early on. I bet they’d love to be bumped to 72’s or 50’s, grown on for a bit and then transferred to ground beds.

    • Margie on

      Thanks so much. Can’t wait to see our own bloom!
      It is just too exciting trying something new like this. Your encouragement can’t be compared, just amazing!

  43. Michelle on

    Wonderful post! Thank you!!!

    Reply
  44. Rose on

    You are awesome. Thanks so much. This will be my first year growing flowers to sell. I am soaking up the knowledge as much as I can. Keep it coming :)

    Reply
  45. Carolyn on

    Hi Erin,

    This is my first time growing Icelandic poppies and I am so excited! When you use the stems in design work, do you need to re-sear them? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Floret on

      I usually do but I’m not sure how essential it is once you’re to the arranging part. I know many designers that don’t and it doesn’t seem to be a huge issue. On the front end, to ensure the longest shelf life it’s a must though : )

  46. Kris P on

    I’m not a flower farmer but I love, love, love your blog! I grow flowers for my own enjoyment, recently even appropriating space in my raised vegetable beds for cut flowers (food for the soul). Your input on growing is invaluable and will be factored into my own approach. Here in southern California, the Iceland poppies are already blooming.

    Reply
  47. Kelly Sullivan (Botanique) on

    Iceland Poppies are my FAVORITE! I do like Meadow Pastels, mostly because the colors are similar to Temptress. Do you know why the Temptress series was dropped? It seem so odd given how amazing the flowers are…

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Kelly, I don’t remember why but it’s a total bummer! I can’t wait to try Meadow Pastels this season : )

  48. Melissa on

    So glad you focused on these this week! Trying the Icelandic types for the first time this year and I can’t wait! Poppies are one of my favorites!

    Reply
  49. Angela Humphrey on

    Thank you again for taking the time to share your knowledge, talent, and love! Icelandic poppies have been a mystery to me for awhile now–thank you for answering many of the questions I’ve had regarding these beauties :)

    Reply
  50. Laurie Pye on

    Ok Erin; I am new to the business of growing cut flowers. This will be our first year open to the public here in Niagara Ontario, so of course I am reading your posts for all of the wonderful real life info. you are so generously sharing. I do have to admit that the pictures you post of your arrangements make me want to grab my paint brushes instead of the trowel, they are whimsically beautiful. ;)
    Thank you, your efforts are not going unappreciated

    Reply
  51. Kailla on

    Your flowers and photos break my heart every time. So lovely to see in these winter months and to know that spring is maybe closer than it feels.

    Reply
  52. Jonathan Leiss, Spring Forth Farm on

    Thank you for the wonderful post. This is our first year growing poppies. We are trying Red Sails. We had great success (75%+ germination) with a light covering of vermiculite, but without it, the seeds got washed away, just like you said. We planted ours out last fall, and just put a few stragglers in the ground yesterday. We thought they needed the vernalization of the winter, but maybe not. They are under row cover. So far they look beautiful, but without this post, we would surely have picked them at the wrong stage. Thank you for sharing. Our poppies will be more successful now.

    Reply
  53. kristin burrello on

    thank you for the fantastic post, erin!
    keep ’em coming!!!

    Reply
    • Janette on

      Thank you for the very I formative information
      I picked my poppy and they started to drop l was so disappointed
      until I found you information.

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