Poppies have a short bloom time, but their vibrant color, papery petals and ease of care make up for their limited appearance in the garden. If poppies seem slow to grow or germinate, the cause is usually improper environmental conditions. Consider the amount of water and sunlight the plant receives, as well as the temperature.
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Under ideal conditions, poppy seeds germinate in 10 to 15 days. Poppy seeds germinate best when the soil is cool. Plant them two to three weeks before the last frost, and moisten the soil before planting. Broadcast them over the earth and cover them with a light dusting of soil. Some varieties, such as Icelandic poppy, need even cooler temperatures to germinate. If the soil is warm, poppies may germinate very slowly, or not at all.
Poppies grow quickly and generally bloom the first season after planting. Plant heights vary depending on the variety. Icelandic or Armenian poppies rarely grow taller than 12 inches high, making them a good choice for borders. Oriental and California poppies may reach 3 feet high. Plant them at the back of a border or mixed with other tall wildflowers. Oriental poppies become dormant in summer heat. A mixed border hides their browning foliage. The poppies may resume growth in late summer, as temperatures cool, and may even bloom again.
Poppies thrive on neglect. Plant them in a dry, sunny location and leave them alone. For best growth, limit fertilizer to one spring application if the soil is particularly poor. Avoid overwatering the plants, and don't place them in a constantly wet location, which rots the roots. Poppies don't transplant well, so place them in a location where they can grow for many years.
Annual poppies, such as Shirley poppies and California poppies, may grow slightly faster than perennial Oriental poppies. All poppies self-sow, and your poppy patch will slowly spread in two to three years. For best growth, select poppy varieties suited to your climate.