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January 7th 2019

Poppy Primer

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When it comes to poppies, there always seems to be a great deal of confusion surrounding the different types, their growing needs and whether or not they can be used in the vase.

I thought it might be helpful to break down the four different types of seed grown poppies that are most commonly grown for cut flowers and explain what makes them different and special.

Erin of Floret with armload of Iceland PoppiesIceland poppies Papaver nudicale

Iceland poppies are technically considered a perennial and can survive cold winter temperatures, but because they don’t handle heat and insects very well, flower farmers typically grow them as hardy annuals or biennials.

This particular flower requires a good deal of care when starting it from seed because it is slow to get started and the seeds are as tiny as grains of sand.

bottom watering seeds in seed trays at Floret Flower FarmWhen starting seeds, it is imperative that you take great care and barely cover them with the finest dusting of vermiculite or sand. For the first few weeks, bottom water by setting your seed trays in a few inches of standing water and letting them wick up the moisture from below. This will ensure that you don’t accidentally wash away the babies with a powerful overhead spray.

Seed flats should be kept in a warm room or on heat mats around 70 degrees until the tiny seedlings emerge and develop at least 2 sets of leaves. I typically start seeds about 8 weeks before transplanting them into the ground.

Seedlings are slow to start and often stall out around the time that they need to be transplanted. If left in the trays too long, they will fail to thrive.

Iceland poppies growing in Floret hoophouseIceland poppies growing in Floret hoop houseEven though plants seem too tiny and delicate to be planted into the soil, it’s important that you don’t let them sit in their trays any longer than 10 weeks. Once plants are in the ground, they will explode with new growth and are typically in full flower about 6 weeks after transplanting. Even though they seem weak, they have a lot of hidden vigor.

The number one reason that people fail when it comes to Iceland poppies is because they don’t approach their seed sowing with enough care. This particular crop cannot be direct seeded and must be started in trays and transplanted into good growing ground when the time is right. This is not a beginner crop.

Harvesting Iceland Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Depending on where you live, you can either sow them in late summer and transplant them out in early fall to overwinter and flower in the spring. If you are unable to fall sow, seeds should be started no later than mid February in order to get flowers blooming before the heat of summer arrives.

We have successfully grown them in hoophouses and out in the field. I prefer to grow them undercover whenever possible because it allows me to have flowers up to 6 weeks earlier than those planted in the field. And the delicate flowers are protected undercover.

 Iceland Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Cracked bud stage of Iceland Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Once flowers start to bloom, it can be a full-time job just to keep them picked. The best stage to harvest Iceland poppies is when the buds are just starting to crack open and the tiniest sliver of color can be seen.

This is called cracking bud stage.

Post harvest care of Iceland Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Post harvest care of Iceland Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Iceland Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Iceland poppies have a surprisingly long vase life, up to a week if picked at the proper stage and treated.

Shortly after harvest, use an open flame or boiling water to sear the stem ends for 7-10 seconds and place into water with flower food.

Breadseed Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Breadseed poppies Papaver spp.

Of all the poppies, the breadseed varieties are by far the easiest to grow. While the cut flowers aren’t particularly long lasting, persisting just 2-3 days in the vase, they make a wonderful addition to the garden, leaving behind the most beautiful glaucous decorative seed pods that can be used both fresh or dried.

If you want to attempt to use their flowers in arrangements, harvest when they are only half way open and sear the bottom ends in boiling water for 7-10 seconds. I have tried more times than I’d like to count to get these beauties to last longer without any luck.

If you have any other tricks I’d love to hear the in the comments below!

Breadseed Poppy pods at Floret Flower Farm Breadseed poppies resent transplanting and do best when direct sown. You can plant them directly into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Keep in mind that slugs love them, so you’ll need to monitor growing plants closely.

One of my favorite things about breadseed poppies is that they self seed freely and once you grow them, you will forever have them popping up around your garden.

Harvesting Breadseed Poppy pods at Floret Flower Farm Harvesting Breadseed Poppy pods at Floret Flower Farm Drying Breadseed Poppy pods at Floret Flower Farm To save your own seed, pick the pods when they are starting to turn from green to brown or when the little vents around the crown open. I gather bunches of ripe pods and cover them with a paper grocery sack and turn them upside down to dry in the garage for a few weeks. As the pods and seeds ripen, they will fall into the bag and can be stored away for years to come.

Little envelopes of home grown seed make great gifts!

Field of Shirley Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Shirley poppies Papaver rhoes

Next to breadseed poppies, Shirley poppies are among the easiest to grow. One plant will produce flower heads for up to 6 glorious weeks, and as each blossom fades it leaves behind the most beautiful miniature seed pods that make amazing additions to boutonnieres and dried creations.

Field of Shirley Poppies at Floret Flower Farm While individual flowers are short lived, lasting 3-4 days if stem ends are seared 7-10 seconds in boiling water, it’s important to harvest blooms just as they are opening and before the bees find them. Unlike other poppy varieties, one thing to watch out for is that Shirley poppies produce clouds of dusty pollen. So if you have allergies, take care.

I love using their tissue paper like blooms in arrangements that don’t need to last super long, like wedding centerpieces and bridal bouquets.  

Plants are vigorous and free flowering. Of all the flower varieties we grow, none are more loved by the bees than Shirley poppies. Standing next to a row of these flowers in full bloom with the bees working through the patch is a sight to behold.

Hoop house full of Shirley Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Shirley Poppies at Floret Flower Farm Shirley poppies resent transplanting and are best direct sown. They can be planted into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.

If you are starting them indoors just be sure to take extra care when transplanting them out and don’t disturb the roots too much. Shirley poppies will vigorously self seed if pods are left on the plant.

So if you don’t want them as a permanent resident, don’t let them go to seed.

California Poppies at Floret Flower Farm California poppies Eschscholzia californica

While not actually a poppy at all, California poppies are a versatile, easy to grow, drought tolerant group of plants that bloom all summer long. They are well suited for small spaces and can either be direct seeded or started indoors and planted out as soon as the weather warms in the spring.

Like other poppies, these beauties self seed and will pop up everywhere, even in the cracks of the pavement.

Unlike the bright orange native variety that grows wild throughout the south, there are a handful of new cultivars that are as beautiful as they are hardworking.

Floral arrangement featuring California Poppies designed by Floret Low growing plants flower over an incredibly long period of time. California poppies are well suited for the front of the border and are great in containers if space is limited. One sowing will continue to bloom all summer long.

For cut flowers, harvest when the blooms are in colored bud. Individual flowers don’t last super long, only 3-4 days, but as they fade and drop their petals, the new buds on the stem will pop open giving you a total of a week’s worth of flowers from one stem.

These poppies do not require any searing to last this long in the vase.

Hoop house grown poppies at Floret Flower FarmSo depending on how much patience you have and how you plan to use them, you’re sure to find a poppy that meets your needs. No cutting garden is complete without them!

Do you grow poppies? Do you have a favorite variety? Please take a minute and leave a comment below about your experience growing poppies. Note: If you submit a comment and it doesn’t show up right away, sit tight, we have a spam filter that requires we approve comments before they are published.


  1. Cathy on

    I am just getting started and don’t think of myself as having a green thumb, but I grew some knockout roses and now am obsessed to try more. I live in the north suburbs of Chicago we are zone 5 and I wonder which of your beautiful flowers might do best here? Since I struggle a bit, I would like to try something that has the best shot at success.

  2. Colin Wright on

    ‘[Iceland poppies] cannot be direct seeded and must be started in trays and transplanted into good growing ground when the time is right.’

    I’ve got some Iceland poppies growing out front that I direct seeded this spring. I don’t recall the details, but I don’t think I did anything extraordinary. I live in Southern Oregon, on the edge between USDA Zones 8 and 9.

  3. Alison Engstrom on

    Hi Floret! I purchased a few varieties of breadseed poppies from you and I’m curious about watering. New York has had much more rain than usual and the growth I have had on the seedlings have turned a yellowish brown. Can too much rain hurt these plants? Thank you!

  4. Elizabeth Beattie on

    I love this guide so much as we are experimenting with a full bed of all the varieties you mention just to see what happens. We are in Ohio, zone 6 and planted in February. They all germinated really well and even the Iceland poppies gave us good germination from being direct seeded, although definitely not the best. We are just past our last frost date and patiently awaiting bloom time! It’s all so exciting. We definitely plan on fall planting for next season to get them sooner. Thank you for all that you do!!

  5. barb on

    what about soil preference?icelandics ?

  6. Megan Doddridge on

    I started my California poppy seedlings (first year grower!) from your sweet shop and wondering if its ok that they’re super leggy? How can I help them?

  7. Chelsea on

    Hi there! Chelsea in SeaTac Washington… we started our garden last year and made the mistake of using topsoil in our beds.. needless to say very few things thrived, but we had a couple of California poppies and a Shirley that raved the tough dirt and threw up some blooms! After some soil amendment this year we’re planting more Shirley, and several bread seed varieties from your shop. I’m excited to see their progress, thank you for the wonderful tips above!

  8. Tori on

    I live in Zone 6 Midwest. At this point it would be best to wait till next year to grow Icelandic poppies, right? It would have been best to start in February? We have really hot summers, here :(

  9. Britney on

    How far apart should i sow my bread seed poppies? I have my landscape fabric down and I’ve marked a 9×9 grid. Should i plant a few seeds in each circle or can i cut more circles closer together? Just trying to figure out the correct spacing…I’m in Sammamish Wa.

    • Team Floret on

      Hi Britney,
      9 inches apart for your Breadseed Poppies will be great.

  10. Kate Jackson on

    Thanks for the awesome information! The only thing that I’m still wondering is which poppies (seeds) need cold stratification?

    Thank you!

  11. Magyar Adrienn on

    I learnt this articles content and researching everything. I’m curious to know, why can that be that papaver orientale is not on this list? All other places listing that when talking about poppy types. Is it not good for cutting? Thanks for your answer in advance! Adri from Hungary

  12. Leslie Stewart on

    With the Shirley poppies, do they tolerate cool temps? You say direct sow as soon as the soil can be worked. Are they ok to put out with other cool season flowers in early spring (6-8 weeks before last frost) or do they need to be direct sown after all danger of frost?

  13. Pawel on

    Hello there, I’ve just sow two trays of Iceland Poppies! It is my first time I ever did it so I hope for the best, I fallow your tips from the book and from this post too :) I sow more than one seed per cells (3-4) and I just wondering if all of the seedlings will appear in the single cell should I get rid of the rest and just leave one the healthiest looking one, or perhaps I can leave two in one cell. Thank you :)

  14. Kym on

    When do I take off the plastic domes? And when do I remove from the heat mat? Thanks for help on this, very excited to grow poppies this year!

  15. Sarah Abare on

    Thank you for sharing! Just curious, when do you start direct sewing shirley poppies and transplanting Icelandic poppies? I live in the same region and would love your insight. Last year was my first cutting garden so I’m still learning so much! I was thinking mid-April, but just wondered what you usually do.

  16. Cachae on

    When sowing in trays, how many seeds should I sow per cell?

  17. Steph on

    Hi Erin! I just first wanted to say you have inspired me to expand my green thumb to the world of flowers as I’ve learned the last couple of years to grow a garden with more and more veggies and herbs! It’s such a fulfilling hobby!!! I tried this year for my first time the poppy seeds from your shop and I followed your instructions but am not sure on when I should take the covers off of these guys to let them grow before transporting outside! They came up strong, I’ve kept the clear covers on and have been bottom watering & then some of them wilted / have turned back into little hairs or seemed to disappear all together (assuming they got too sun to early? Did I over water/ too much moisture with the cover on? – my other tray has little sprouts showing tiny two leaves on the sprouts and so I’m trying to understand when do you know to take the greenhouse cover off of the trays 100%? This tray was planted in seed trays ~2 weeks ago. Thank you so much in advance!!!

  18. Kera M Barenaba on

    Such great info! So excited to get started and looking forward to receiving my seeds soon and get them in the dirt!

  19. Karri Mc. on

    Thanks Erin & Team Floret! Clear and concise information as usual. I also learned of the mistakes I was making but didn’t know it. Looking forward to SUCCESS this growing season. Yay!

  20. Laura on

    Well I feel better about my Iceland poppies now! I bought Iceland, Breadseed and Shirley from you last year and the Icelands were the only ones that didn’t grow. (Actually, one that I direct-sowed did pop up late in the season and I’m hoping it has made it through the winter to flower this spring!)

    Now, do you guys keep lights on these? You mention the heat mat but nothing about your light conditions (aside from barely covering). Do Iceland poppies germinate by light like others or is heat more important? I started some poppies inside last spring and they all expired on me… they came up but dried up eventually and I’m not sure why? Maybe they needed to be moved from the warm area after coming up? They didn’t even get to the point of true leaves. :( I will try again this year! I bought some of the new ‘Amazing Grey’ Shirley poppies and can’t wait to try those out. :D

    One method I read about online (from “Mr Brown Thumb”) was to direct seed poppies on top of the snow. This worked quite well, though not for the Iceland poppies, of course. Hopefully this year my indoor-sowing will be more successful. Thanks for the tips!

    • Team Floret on

      Hi Laura,

      Great questions. When starting Iceland Poppies, we use a heat mat set at 70* and lights if starting indoors, or daylight if we’re starting them in the greenhouse. The seed is barely covered with fine vermiculite and they germinate pretty quickly. The big thing to watch out for is watering. They MUST be bottom watered when small. It sounds like yours dried out. I’d try covering your trays with a clear germination dome to help keep the humidity up when they are small.

      Both Breadseed and Shirley poppies can be direct sown and will thrive but Iceland types need special treatment.

      Hope this helps! ~Erin

  21. Amy on

    I’m trying to grow a peony look-alike poppy this year, Papaver Somniferum Paeoniflorum. Should I follow your tips for the breadseed types, or is this something different?

    • Team Floret on

      Hi Amy,

      Follow the Bread Seed Poppy growing tips for that one : )

  22. Shayne on

    Thank you for this information. May you please further elaborate for this novice how to keep the Shirley poppy from “going to seed”, I want to be successful when planting mine. Very excited

    • Team Floret on

      After the blooms fade and drop their petals, they will leave behind little seed pods. If you let them ripen they will be filled with seed. If you don’t want that particular variety to drop seed in your garden (since then they will come back next year) remove the seed pods before they are full ripe. They make wonderful dried pods that can be used in autumn and winter crafting.

  23. Susie on

    I grew Iceland poppies for the first time last year. They were attacked by some type of pest/ bug that burrowed into the stem. I don’t think they were aphids. I grew Shirley poppies right beside the Iceland poppies and the pests did not bother them. I am wondering if anyone has had the same problem and can tell me how you dealt with them?

  24. nada talevska on

    Two years ago I bought poppy seeds at Monet’s Giverny. I sowed them directly in the ground and was delighted with a tall, bushy plant with blooms for several weeks. I harvested seeds for my gardening friends. I did not use them as cut flowers, that will change this year thanks to you!!

  25. Shanna on

    I’m growing breadseed poppies for the first time this year and I read that the seeds needed a period of stratification. So I sowed them out in late December (it gets below freezing where I am) and covered them very lightly with soil. But you didn’t mention stratification, so now I’m curious as to whether it’s really necessary! Have you heard the need for it and/or have you found it unnecessary in your experience?

    • Team Floret on

      We haven’t found that they need stratification in order to germinate.

  26. MWG on

    Thanks for this; it explains why the Iceland Poppies have eluded me. I tried for years to grow any poppies, finally succeeding in my own garden about 3 years ago with bearded poppies, peony and Shirley poppies. I use sterile aquarium sand, [about 2 tsp. in a clean pill bottle with holes poked in the plastic lid] pour my poppy seeds into this; shake it up and use this bottle to sprinkle these seeds in several places. I lightly [depending on variety] sprinkled soil on top, lightly fine mist sprayed with a plastic bottle. Sterile sand both helps in spacing these tiny seeds and possibly lightly abrades the seeds so that they start easier. I will incorporate some of these techniques this year. For me, poppies were a challenge I still am excited to see my poppies come to life in spring; it feels like I won the garden lottery.

  27. Rachel Martz on

    I have been hoping for a post like this! I had success once with direct sowing Icelands and Californias in the fall in Georgia as part of a wildflower seed mix. I wonder if it would be worth trying the same method with Icelands again, as I don’t currently have a greenhouse. Could being in a hot climate make me an exception to the transplanting rule? Thank you for all that you do!

  28. stacey g on

    I grew poppies for the first time this Australian spring just gone. Only Shirley variety on this occasion, they have firmly secured themselves as a regular for years to come. I have just purchased Iceland seed from you last week and look forward to trying them later this year. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge Erin, great post I learned a lot!!! :)

  29. Susie Armstrong on

    This will be my first attempt at growing poppies but I am enjoying trying new things and look forward to seeing if I can do it successfully. This article was extremely helpful, thank you!

  30. Francois du Toit on

    Thanks so much for this Erin! Can’t wait to read it. Also planting some Icelands this season! x

  31. Carmie Sanchez on

    I’m trying Iceland Poppies for the first time this year. Fingers crossed they perform well!


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