If you wish to grow the vibrant and beautiful California poppies into your own garden, you need to follow a careful process to make sure the plants will thrive. This is a very cheerful annual or tender perennial that’s fairly easy to grow. It can be used to fill gaps in your flowerbeds or to simply add it as a companion for the other flowers in your garden. The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is named after a Russian physician who discovered the plant in 1815. Given the abundant presence in its wild habitat, the poppy’s name also celebrates the geographical region where it’s commonly found.
The California poppy has cup-shaped blooms that are usually bright orange. Some varieties can be yellow while others have a darker shade like bronze. Despite the apparent fragility, the soft petals of the plant are quite well-prepared to handle wet and windy weather. California poppies reach their growth peak in the spring season. Depending on the climate, some gardeners can enjoy this flower’s beauty for extended periods of time if they benefit from cool summers. To grow the official state flower of California in your garden, check out the following handy guide.
1. Site Preparation
Before planting the California poppy, you need to prepare the soil to ensure it can sustain the plant well. This flower favors rich and fast-draining soil and should always be grown in full sunlight for best results. If your garden doesn’t offer ideal conditions, it’s worth mentioning that this poppy type is very drought-tolerant so it can adapt pretty well.
The flower can handle sandy or rocky soils that aren’t as full of nutrients compared to other soil types. Just make sure you avoid planting it in heavy clay soils. For more effective drainage, it’s recommended to opt for raised beds. With the help of quality compost, you can enrich the soil and help the California poppy grow faster.
2. Seed Sowing
When it comes to seed sowing, it would be ideal to choose early spring before the soil becomes too warm. The California poppy is the kind of perennial that likes to have its roots undisturbed and that means direct seeding works best. Ideally, seeds have to be sown from around 7 inches apart in every direction. Alternatively, the seeds can also be sown in the fall but make sure the ground is still soft enough for planting.
Thanks to the pleasant spring warmth and adequate moisture, you can expect the seeds to germinate without any issues assuming no extreme temperatures. If you live in a hotter climate, your poppy plants can become dormant during the summer period. To ensure the most successful results, make sure you plant multiple rounds of seeds. They’ll usually germinate in about two weeks and poppies start flowering after 60 to 75 days.
There’s no need to invest in any fertilizer for California poppies. A little plant food can help them, but make sure you avoid overfertilizing as it can have an undesirable effect of producing too many leaves and not enough flowers. If you’re really worried about poor soil conditions or see some troubling signs such as yellowed leaves, then it’s safe to add fertilizer.
Considering their drought tolerance, you can usually count on the sporadic spring rainfall to cover the watering needs of the California poppy. Watering once or twice daily can usually help the germination process, but once the plants are fully developed, you should avoid excessive watering, unless the soil is extremely dry. This is because all that extra moisture can help diseases and create favorable conditions for mildew and rot. Another good tip to follow is to prevent poppies from becoming too dense as they need a solid airflow level and ensure efficient drying of the plant. Thin them with a shovel and remove the unwanted plants from the roots.
5. Insect and Disease Problems
The California poppy doesn’t have lots of pest and disease problems to be concerned about. Some of the most notable issues involve insects like aphids and leafhoppers that feed on either the sap or leaves. Just make sure you inspect your poppy plants from time to time as certain pests like aphids and thrips can appear very suddenly. To control the spread of these harmful insects, you can release helpful ladybugs in your garden. For more difficult infestations, you might have to rely on an insecticide.
In terms of diseases, you only need to be careful about moisture-related issues. Plants can suffer from powdery mildew and stem rot in areas with too much rain or if they’re not planted in the right soil conditions. Fighting against plant diseases requires adequate prevention measures. This translates to proper plant spacing, avoiding overhead watering, and ensuring full-sun planting. Sometimes applying organic fungicides can also contribute to the prevention process.
6. Seed Saving
Once the blooms start to fade, the only thing left will be a brownish seedpod. Simply cut this little seed container and let it fully dry. The seeds inside resemble sand grains and can be easily stored in a cool and dry place. If you want to extend the flowering season, leave out some spent flowers as these poppies can self-seed every year.
California poppies have a very prolific reseeding ability. If left unchecked, the plant can easily take over your garden. It’s considered an invasive weed in some areas despite being so appreciated in California landscapes. A good management method is deadheading which contributes to a significant reduction in seeding. As the blooms start to fade, deadheading can also help to extend the bloom period though this usually works well only for coastal climates or areas with cooler summers.
8. Good Companions
The California poppy makes the best pairings with plants that have a similar provenance. Some great examples are Artemisia arborescens and Cistus populifolius that offer some nice backdrops for the vibrant orange hue of this poppy’s flower. For an enhanced contrast, it’s recommended to associate the California poppy with darker hues. Black flowers or dark purple ones like French lavender represent good examples. Ornamental grasses can also form lovely pairings with California poppies. Eremurus stenophyllus and Stipa grandis are particularly good companions.