I’ve always loved poppies. Some of my earliest memories are of going on walks with my Mom in our San Jose neighborhood with my chubby hands outstretched to grasp a cheerful orange flower growing in the cracks of cement. Before I could even feel the silkiness of the petals, my Mom took my hand and explained that is was the state flower and I was not allowed to pick it. My husband had a similar experience but with his towering older brother threatening to “call the police” on him if he picked the flower. Such an elusive flower to a child! So bright and tempting. Guess pretty much anyone that has visited or grown up in California has gotten a similar lesson as a child: don’t pick the California poppy.
Now living in Nevada and as an adult I laugh about this. The California poppy gives a lively flush of color but it spreads easily and grows in even the worst of soil. Our children now get to partake in picking the flower in a sidewalk crack on our walks. Of course, they aren’t the best for picking. By the time we make it around the block, it has gone limp and sad. Still a treasure to a child, we put the sad wilted flower in a bud vase upon the dresser in their bedroom where they can bask in all its droopy glory.
There are many varieties of poppies with unique purposes. As a flower farm specializing in cut flowers, we are going to be focusing on one of my favorite varieties that makes a delightful cut flower: papaver nidicaule, commonly known as the Iceland poppy.
Iceland poppies come in an array of dazzling colors that remind me of an ice cream parlor. The whites look like buttercream frosting and the pink looks like bubblegum. The yellow and oranges looks like a swirl of pineapple sherbert. The poppies are one of the first flowers to embrace us after a slumbering winter and continue to great us until the hottest days of summer when cosmos take their place.
The Iceland poppy’s delicate petals look like ruffled tutus. It's as if little ballerinas are dancing out in the garden when in bloom. They add an element of enchantment to the garden. The Iceland poppies are easy to grow with a little experience, especially once established.
Growing Iceland Poppies
I must admit, the first year I hacked them. I started them too late, planted too late, let them get root bound- whatever I could do wrong by them I did. The following year, I started the seeds in early winter and had much more success. The seeds are tiny, and I’ve experienced high germination rate, so no need to go crazy with sowing seeds.
A bamboo skewer is my go to for sowing these tiny seeds, much better than my fumbling fingers. It’s more time consuming to use a bamboo skewer (or a sharp pencil!) but worth not having to divide and risk shock in the end. I like to do two seeds per cell. I have started the poppies in different cell trays over the years, so far the small cells (128-200 cell trays) have been my favorite. The key with starting these champs from seed is to not cover the seed too much. The seeds are itty-bitty and will not germinate if buried too deep into the soil. To keep the top moist but not fully cover the seed, I like to sow the seed on top and then sprinkle a dusting of vermiculite. Also, another game changer for these guys? A heating mat and dome lid. Set at seventy degrees Fahrenheit they germinate fast. Once sprouted, I move them out into the greenhouse. They continue to grow happily in there for about eight weeks before being snuggled into the garden bed.
Rather not start them indoors? No worries, sow the seeds outdoors in fall or once soil can be worked in early spring. Just be sure not to cover the seeds! Once the days warm to their ideal temperature, they'll germinate and begin to grow but don't forget to water as needed.
Planting Iceland Poppies:
Iceland poppies are machines in the garden. They don’t take up incredible amounts of space (I like to give them eight square inches) and they aren’t incredibly thirsty plants making them a nice addition to areas with limited water. Iceland poppies really are fuss-free once established. I have not had any issues with disease or pests (but if you have slugs, they do find poppies tasty!). Plus, they attract beneficial pollinators.
The biggest chore with poppies is staying up with the deadheading or harvesting. This is an important task to stay up on to ensure they keep rewarding you with blooms.
Iceland Poppies as a Cut Flower:
They are gorgeous but they are as delicate as they look, once open. Iceland poppies don’t have the most incredible vase life but their fleeting beauty is well worth it. To get the most out of the poppies as a cut flower there are some essential tasks to follow.
Like most cut flowers, the poppy needs to be harvested before pollination. Once the flower is pollinated it has completed its duty and is on the downhill. I harvest the poppies at the “cracked bud” stage, when you can see a little color of the petal in the crack. Once in the cracked bud stage, if left in the garden it will blow open once the warmth of the day hits them. It goes fast. I end up harvesting these beauties twice a day in the peak of their season. Always in the cool of the day, mornings and nights.
Once harvested, I do not put them directly in water. There are a few cut flowers that require interesting post harvesting techniques and Iceland poppies are one of them. I actually have a small propane blow torch and I sear the ends of the stems until they turn a bright green, about eight seconds on low. I’m not looking to char them by any means, just enough to sear. In place of a propane torch you can immerse the end of the stems into boiling water until the stems change color. I personally have had more success with the torch (and it’s quicker!). Once seared, into fresh water and then to the cooler they go.
If you’re looking to grow something different and rewarding or simply want to add to your pollinator garden, give these lovelies a go.
You can find these poppies in our bouquets for our SPRINGing for Flowers Bouquet Subscription. Signups are now open and deliveries begin in April 2018.
Hope you enjoyed this month’s dose of floral bliss!