Oriental Poppies

The hybrid Oriental poppies present an eyeful of color in the late spring and early summer garden which it would be hard to match. During the past few years we have been growing these poppies in considerable variety and we find them so outstanding that they draw the immediate attention of all visitors.

With a bed or border of well-established Oriental poppies, the gardener can count on a riot of glorious color through late May and June. To the original reds and oranges, a long list of entrancing shades and tints have been added. From mahogany reds, the range now runs through crimson, crushed raspberry and mulberry, to scarlet, flame, cerise, watermelon red, rose pink, salmon, coral pink, pink, flesh, ashes-of-roses and lavender pink. There are also several whites and golden, salmon, apricot and flame-orange shades.

Colorful Oriental poppy up close

With such a wide color range and with variations in height – from 1 to 4 feet – in blossom size – from 3 to 11 inches across – and in form – from the characteristic crinkled singles to completely double – it is easy for every gardener to select varieties which will fit into his garden picture. The brilliant colors do best in full sun, while the pastel tints, which fade in strong sunshine, can be successfully grown in light shade.

In selecting varieties, it pays to read descriptions carefully and to order plants of colors, heights and blooming dates which suit your needs. Such planning in advance is a good investment. Since Oriental poppies once established can be left undisturbed for a good many years to come.

The real reds are the toughest of the tribe and among the largest and sturdiest growers, but red is not the easiest color to blend or contrast with other early summer flowers. True reds, run from crimson to scarlet.

The watermelon reds, cerises and rose pinks are excellent companions for other garden flowers. The delicate flesh pinks for cutting or growing outdoors in light shade are really exquisite.

When ordering, select early, mid-season- and late-flowering sorts so as to lengthen the blooming period in your garden. When conditions are right, you may have second bloom in fall.

Cultural Directions

The first step in preparing a bed for Oriental poppies is providing excellent drainage. If there is any doubt about the underground water draining off promptly, it is best to resort to a raised bed. Although sandy loam in which plenty of humus (peatmoss or other decayed organic matter) has been incorporated, is considered ideal, poppies will grow in clay soil or even in black muck soil. If you have clay, use even more humus and double-check the drainage. Poppies are not fussy about the type of soil in which they grow, but they do insist on good air circulation, so do not place other perennials too close to them in a mixed hardy border.

Your poppy plants will be delivered in August or September. Note the height of each variety and size of flowers, as well as color, before planting, and place each accordingly. Don’t forget to select lightly shaded positions for the pastel tints and muted colors if you want to leave the flowers on the plants after opening to make a show in the garden. In full sun the blooms burn and fall prematurely. If light-colored varieties must be placed in a sunny spot, it is best to cut the flowers as soon as they open for indoor arrangements. Burn the tips of the stems to a cinder immediately after cutting and plunge in cool water. So treated, the cut poppies will last from three to six days.

As soon after delivery as possible, plant the roots 24 inches apart each way. The bed should be well and deeply prepared and holes dug deep and wide enough to accommodate the roots comfortably. When each plant is set, the crown should be at least 3 inches below the soil level after the hole is filled in and the soil gently firmed down. Handle the long, fleshy roots carefully, for they are extremely brittle. Mark each plant with a “permanent” label. Water well – not a mere sprinkling but a thorough, deep soaking applied gradually. If this uncovers the crown, cover it again,├»leaving a slight mound so that water and ice will not stand around ,it. Hill up again slightly for the winter just before the ground freezes. After the first bard freeze, mulch with excelsior or straw to prevent heaving. After the first season this will not be necessary, for the strong roots, once established, will hold the plants firmly in place.

When in growth, Oriental poppies enjoy a summer mulch; the crowns are easily injured by careless cultivation with a hoe. Since the handsome, fernlike foliage dies back entirely after bloom, a summer mulch shows the gardener where the plants are in case the labels have been displaced, thus preventing damage ‘ to the crowns while they are dormant. In the fall, when new foliage appears, it will push up easily through the mulch.

Spring-flowering bulbs can be planted in front of Oriental poppies, with the miniature bulbs in front and narcissus, hyacinths and tulips just in front of the poppies. Pansies, dianthus and pyrethrum can be used to edge poppy beds, with hardy asters and chrysanthemums planted behind the poppies.

If you want to increase your stock of Oriental poppies, you can do so by digging plants in late July or August which have been in three or four years. Dig a hole 18 inches deep on one side of the plant, gently freeing the exposed roots from adhering soil. From this exposed side a few 6- or 8-inch root cuttings can be taken. Then replace the soil without loosening or exposing the roots on the other side of the plant. If you wish to dig the entire plant, cut down to a depth of 18 inches around the entire plant and lift it out carefully. Then gently loosen the roots from the soil with a rod or stake, take as many 6- or 8-inch root cuttings, as you wish from the roots and reset the old plants 3 inches deep. Plant the cuttings in an upright position (upper end up), with the top of each set 2 inches below, the surface.

If the original poppy plant is old enough to have formed several crowns, these can be cut apart to make several plants. To make two plants from one, dig down about 8 inches below the surface around the crown, cut off the main roots about 6 inches below the crown and refill the hole, leaving the lower roots where they are. Then replant the crown with its 6-inch roots, with the top 3 inches underground.

Since root cuttings planted in August usually bloom the following summer. it can be seen that home propagation assures the home gardener of a good stock of plants at moderate cost.

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