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Poppies are Popping

Posted on 09 June 2011

The desire to add poppies in a flower bed or garden has significantly increased in recent years. Why? Garden trends toward simplifying maintenance and yet achieving exotic plants with enticing colors has increased in the gardener’s palate.  Also, poppies are groomed for high altitudes and although they look delicate, they are hardy and thus do well in Colorado. They bloom early in Spring so flash of color after a dreary winter is welcomed. Plus, they germinate well and as a perennial come back year after year bigger and brighter than the previous year.

There are three kinds of perennial poppies: Iceland poppies, oriental poppies and alpine poppies. The Iceland poppy thrives in Zones 2 to 8 and reaches heights of 1 to 2 feet. Oriental poppies grow to 2 to 4 feet and thrive in Zones 4 to 9. The alpine poppy reaches heights of a mere 5 to 10 inches and is hardy in Zones 5 to 8. All require well-drained soil and full sun.

Poppies are no fuss but require a well drained area.  Careful placement of oriental poppy is essential. Its foliage dies back during the hot weeks of mid-summer, leaving a gap in the garden. A well-chosen companion plant such as baby’s breath, ground cover or whirling butterflies can help camouflage the open space. 

Related plants include Iceland poppy, a perennial that generally lives for 2 to 3 years. The popular oriental poppy, prefers higher elevations and cool temperatures. Opium poppy, another short-lived plant, will re-seed freely once established in a Garden.

All poppies can reproduce from seeds, which develop as blooms fade. Seeds mature as the large green pod turns brown or gray as it dries. Once mature, a set of chemicals unique to each type of plant provides nutrients and triggers the seed’s germination in spring. Poppy seeds contain abscisic acid (ABA) which controls dormancy until conditions are right for germination. The winds of autumn or snows of winter force the pods to drop their seeds and falling leaves and snows cover the seeds to provide darkness and water that the seeds will need for germination. Come spring, the seed responds to the warmth and wetness of the soil and germinates. This continues the family line as well.

Perennial poppies reproduce by root division in addition to seeds. With this method of reproduction, they are able to compensate for too much -or too little rain, late freezes and other challenges or disasters of nature that might stop the progress of germination. The perennial poppy grows in clumps, starting new plants  within  underground roots each year before dormancy sets.

As the temperature cool down in September, new foliage emerges from the crown and persists through the winter. Oriental poppies may be left undisturbed indefinitely. The clumps will become large, but they generally are not invasive. Try added a small section of colorful poppies to your landscape and see Spring truly pop right before your eyes.

Written by,  Janine Buchal 6/2011

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