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How to Easily Plant, Grow, and Care for California Poppy

California Poppy

Home gardeners growing California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) from seed are rewarded with their wispy, fern-like foliage and lively orange, red and yellow flowers.

Spectacular, drought-tolerant plants are a favorite for use in container gardens, mixed beds, rock gardens, and water-wise (xeric) landscapes. Provides a long-lasting, easy-to-maintain display of colors. Very reliable.

First noted on the Pacific coast by Dr. Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz, who was the leader of a Russian expedition in 1815. This West Coast wildflower was officially designated the state flower of California on December 12, 1890.

Even though this flower is from sunny California, it’s a cool-season annual, 4-12 inches tall.

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Botanical Name: Eschscholzia californica

Common Name: California poppy, golden poppy, California sunlight, cup of gold,

Family: Papaveraceae

Plant Type: Herbaceous, perennial

Hardiness Zones: 6 -10 (USDA)

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Type: Well-drained, sandy soil

Soil pH: Acidic, neutral

Maturity:55-75 days from seed to flower

Height:4 to 12 inches

Spacing:4 to 8 inches apart in all directions

Bloom Time: Summer

Flower Color: Orange, yellow, red, pink, white

Native Area: North America and Central America

Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for California Poppies

  • Perennial in warm climates that self-seeds easily
  • Direct-seed outdoors in rich soil; needs full sun
  • Minimal watering, no fertilizer
  • Blooms early summer to early fall
  • To use as cut flowers, harvest before bloom opens

California Poppy Plant Care

Known for their bright orange flowers, California Poppies are undeniably the symbol of the Golden State, what some say is reminiscent of the ‘fields of gold’ sought after during the gold rush era.

The California poppy often blooms in the spring and summer along country roads and freeways in many parts of the state. This makes it a well-known symbol of California, and April 6 is officially known as California Poppy Day.

The flowers have four silky petals that measure about 2.5 inches in diameter. They range from yellow to orange in color. When it’s dark or when it’s chilly, overcast, or windy outside, the petals close.

The plants are robust and frequently grow unattended on vacant areas and along roadsides. But when you pick them, you’ll see that their beauty doesn’t last long because the petals often fall off before you can even put the flowers in a vase. At the beginning of summer, California poppies are at their best.

Once the weather has warmed up in the spring, plant these quickly growing flowers in flowerbeds or pots. California poppies flower all the way from February to September when grown in their native areas.

Light

California poppies grow and bloom best in full sun, which means that on most days they get at least six hours of direct sunlight. The sunnier it is, the better.

When grown in the shade, poppies often look ragged and are more likely to get infected with plant diseases.

Soil

Contrary to popular belief, California poppies really flourish better in nutrient-deficient soil. California poppies can grow well in both sandy and rocky soils, unlike other flowering plants that prefer rich, loamy soil.

However, avoid heavy clay soil as it is not suitable for these plants since it does not drain well. Planting in a container or raised bed can be easier than working with clay soil.

Water

Due to their low water needs, California poppies are a popular choice for drought-resistant xeriscapes. There is normally enough rainfall in the spring to adequately water the plants.

Many plants will go dormant and not require watering at all during the summer months in climates with high temperatures.

Temperature and Humidity

California poppy seeds will begin to sprout once the soil has warmed up in the spring and gotten moist from the spring rain.

California poppies will continue to thrive as long as temperatures remain warm to mild, approximately between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Too much heat can make plants go dormant. When cool weather returns, though, the plants frequently recover and even rebloom.

Also, California poppies like low to medium levels of humidity. For plants to remain healthy in high humidity, the soil must drain properly, and there must be sufficient airflow and ventilation around the plants.

Fertilizer

Even in nutrient-deficient soil, California poppies can be grown successfully without the use of fertilizer. When chemical fertilizers are used, they can cause leaves to grow more than flowers.

How to Plant and Grow California Poppies

Site Preparation

California poppies like rich, fast-draining soil, ample water, and plenty of sunshine. However, they are adaptable and will tolerate poor soil conditions and some drought.

Work a shovelful or two of well-aged manure or organic compost into the soil prior to planting to improve soil conditions and help promote abundant blooms. Read our article on how to prepare soil for planting here.

How to Plant California Poppies

Direct seeding is preferable, as poppies do not like to have their roots disturbed. Sow in early spring when the soil is still cool and light frost is possible (watch Flower Gardening from the Ground Up – video). May also be sown in the fall just before the ground freezes. Seeds will germinate in 10-15 days.

Poppy plants are not heavy feeders. Too much fertilizer will cause plants to produce excessive leaf growth at the expense of flower production.

Remove the spent blossoms, or use them as cuttings in flower arrangements, to extend the flowering season. Make sure to leave some faded flowers on the plants, especially later in the year, as poppies are self-seeding year to year.

Tip: For long-lasting blooms for cut flowers, snip stems and then seal the end using a lighter or match before putting them in an arrangement.

Seed Saving Instructions

Extremely easy for seed savers. When the blooms fade a long narrow seedpod is formed, turning from green to brown.

Once the seedpod turns brown, simply cut it off and allow it to completely dry before cracking open and removing the hundreds of small sand-like seeds.

Store seeds in a cool dry area. Read more about saving heirloom flower seeds here.

Common Pests and Plant Disease for California Poppy Plant

Poppies have few pest problems. However, aphids and thrips can sometimes appear almost overnight. Watch closely for these soft-bodied, sucking insects and release ladybugs to reduce pest numbers. Apply insecticidal soap with pyrethrin if plants are badly infested.

Foliage and flowers are susceptible to moisture-related diseases, such as gray mold, downy mildew, and powdery mildew, which can disfigure plants if severe. To reduce and prevent common plant diseases:

  • Avoid overhead watering whenever possible (use soaker hoses or drip irrigation)
  • Properly space plants to improve air circulation
  • Apply organic fungicides to prevent further infection

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30 Responses to “How to Easily Plant, Grow, and Care for California Poppy”

  1. John Dumitru on December 15th, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    “First noted on the Pacific coast by Dr. Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz”….you would be much more accurate to say: “First noted by a European on the Pacific coast by Dr. Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz”. The Native Americans used them long before he showed up. Here is a great resource: http://www.smokableherbs.com/california-poppy/ (it’s not mine). Please, let’s leave the Eurocentric world view behind and embrace the native wisdom of the world’s peoples. JD

    • Matthew on February 5th, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

      I for one prefer not to leave the Eurocentric world view behind. The current U.S. as we know it is Eurocentric-based because that is the predominate culture in our country and established our current form of government. We shouldn’t ignore the Natives but let’s not assume our culture and lifestyle is based on their original culture.

      • lurker on July 3rd, 2018 at 11:24 am #

        Bravo! It is refreshing to read a decisive reply to someone who attempts to control the conversation and impose groupthink. So, not only for the information/content, but for the invidualist over collectivist thought, I salute you. (Even on a gardening blog, some feel the need to force their own beliefs onto others, whether they share them or not. Hopefully, that era is over.)

        Now…back to poppy information….

    • Michelle on May 19th, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

      Thank you! Your response was totally appropriate and sensitive. We ARE a Eurocentric culture, but facts are facts. It was named by Dr. Eschscholtz because he was the first one who noted it and wrote about it, but it was used by people who were here way before he wrote about it. No need to state facts incorrectly! I think the webpage title may have put him off…

    • Anonymous on June 5th, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

      Malarkey to eschewing our European heritage and world view. It’s as valid a way of looking at the world as any other cultural point of view.

    • Olina on August 8th, 2018 at 11:59 pm #

      The current U.S. is not Eurocentric-based and is not the predominate culture. It maybe is yours but is no way a predominate one for all American people.

    • Dergy on September 3rd, 2018 at 5:58 am #

      lol. Omg, all that means is that he was the FIRST ONE TO WRITE ABOUT IT…pffft. Good grief.

    • Gerald on November 25th, 2018 at 9:07 am #

      To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This is s blog about horticulture. Please check your identity politics and anthropological grievances at the door.

      • Katharine Trauger on August 5th, 2019 at 4:24 am #

        Thanks for explaining more about the source of the botanical name! Saved me looking it up, which I’m too lazy to do anyway.
        My folks were German AND native American, so I’m just chuckling, here. 😉

  2. Chiemi on January 21st, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    What soil brand is recommended to pant these in?

  3. Erin on February 1st, 2016 at 2:07 am #

    I planted mine by seed around September just for fun knowing nothing about the plant. Well now I have a yard full of beautiful foliage but no blooms. Can anyone tell me if I will get some in spring? They are in the front yard and look like weeds if you didn’t know better. I wanna give a chance to bloom before I pull them.

  4. Yoli on February 29th, 2016 at 8:46 pm #

    I am in the same boat! Have had the green leaves for @ least 6 months. Hoping they bloom soon!!

  5. nikki on May 7th, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    Mine wont even come up. Planted seeds over a month ago and no signs of growth.

  6. Sue Smith on August 4th, 2016 at 1:33 am #

    I have good tall green leaf growth but no flowers yet (3rdAugust). Will thinning out help? Thanks Sue from Southport, Merseyside

  7. Gerry Blodgett on June 23rd, 2017 at 2:03 pm #

    Give him credit, at least he said “noted” and not “discovered”. Back to topic: I have a long 5′ wide planting strip alongside my driveway. Years ago during our first drought scare, I tilled it, laid down cloth and covered it with bark mulch. Golden poppies began to sprout up seeming to root only in the bark mulch itself and as years go by, they continue. I let them flower and wither then I pulled them all up by hand. In spite of this, each year I have a glorious strip of golden poppies as my “landscaping”. No water, no care except for some light weeding. I plan to introduce some purple (maybe lupine) for contrast.

  8. Meghan on July 9th, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

    Here in San Diego, our golden poppies bloom in January/February. They usually dry out and die by April/May but always reseed themselves for the following year. From personal experience I recommend seeding around December.

    • Rob on February 4th, 2018 at 4:44 pm #

      Hi, Meghan. My time-frame may be a little different. I’m in Spring Valley, SD county (15 mi East of the beach). I seeded Cali poppy my first time about April 2017 (I was late), I forget the dates when they bloomed, then they all died in July 2017 after a vehicle accident (car tire ruined the soil bed). The 3rd week of Jan 2018, they are popping out of the soil again(thrilling)! They’re about 2″ tall today 4 Feb 2018. I did not ever use any fertilizer, just broke-up the soil and scattered the seeds. Last night I watered them for the first time since their accident last year. I did not count how many are growing, maybe 30-40 in a 2×3′ bed. Maybe this time they’ll survive their entire life-cycle! Take care.

      • Linda on May 15th, 2018 at 10:14 am #

        Hi Rob: My garden is less than 2 years old (moved to a new property in the Talmadge area of San Diego, west of SDSU). I scattered poppy seeds when I moved in in December of 2016. Not mujch happened, just a a couple of plants during 2017 and I did not reseed. But THIS year. Wow. They are everywhere. Lush foliage and lots of blossoms starting in March and onward (May 15). Seed pods are formed on the first plants that came up and I will gather them as soon as they turn brown and reseed with them. All the seed was scattered on mulch and among the rock lined swales. They were never fertilized or even watered on purpose. The raised veggie beds and fruit trees are all watered with stored water or reclaimed city water and the flowers have to be strong enough to take care of themselves! This is a great plant in a rain scarce area but it definitely blooms (or not) on its own terms, depending on you area. Next year, there might be none or twice as many as now.

  9. Martha on August 21st, 2017 at 11:26 am #

    Should you pull up the withered poppies at the end of summer, or just cut back dead foliage? Do they come back on the same plant?

  10. Matt on January 13th, 2018 at 9:44 am #

    Will these flowers grow in a continental climate (midwest) and survive the winters? Also, are these a buffet for stupid rabbits (our neighborhood is infested)?

  11. dw on January 28th, 2018 at 2:05 pm #

    I think it was named by Adelbert von Chamisso, in honor of his friend Eschscholtz. — see http://art-botanical.org/DesertBreeze/022015-historical-illustration-california-poppy.html, and many other sources.

  12. cj on January 31st, 2018 at 10:41 am #

    I think these beautiful flowers were probably originally appropriated by someone or something way beyond our limited human understanding; and I do not think that She cares particularly about our present day machinations about race, color or national origin.

  13. Randy on February 1st, 2018 at 7:01 pm #

    I agree with John. His insight is spot on. The poppies were not “first noted” in the 1800’s. People have lived here for thousands of years. And, btw, the explorer was Russian not European. John Muir had a lot to say about poppies. It was he who coined the phrase “the golden state” and he wasn’t talking about the metal he was talking about the golden poppies.

    I am spreading these seeds all around my land …. I hope they re-seed long after I’m dead.

  14. Patti on March 26th, 2018 at 4:36 pm #

    I just threw some seed on my gravel yard a few days ago. I hope they’ll still grow and bloom. It’s been a cold winter in northern Arizona. I’m still waiting for my plum trees and weeping cherry tree to start blooming, although they’re blooming at lower elevations.

  15. zara on May 7th, 2018 at 9:15 pm #

    What is the climate of the poppy?

  16. Syddie on November 24th, 2018 at 1:45 pm #

    I live in New Zealand and have found California poppies here growing like weeds. They are obviously imported but grow really well here particularly near beaches as our temps don’t get as high as some parts of California. I did not know what they were until I found this website. Thanks a lot — much appreciated!

  17. Dan on April 7th, 2019 at 6:09 pm #

    What I would really love is a good picture series of the life cycle of the California poppy. I have a front yard full of very young poppies, and weeds. The problem is, I don’t know what their early growth looks like, so I can’t weed because I might pull the poppies by mistake. Ugh.

  18. John R. McCommas on April 13th, 2019 at 9:23 am #

    Organically? Why is it that people assume that all gardeners are Left Wingers?

    • Rosie on May 22nd, 2019 at 12:43 pm #

      Why do you assume that anyone who chooses to grow organically is a left winger?

  19. Christensen, Flowerhub on July 9th, 2019 at 1:43 am #

    I love poppies. I’ve been practising flower arrangements using poppies and the outcome were really awesome. Thanks for sharing it, gotta practice it this weekend.