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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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We carry both Oriental (perennial) and annual types of this colorful favorite.

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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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