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. It’s pretty much a weed. 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: from breadseed to medical uses (you know which one I’m referring to!). Unfortunately, many of the varieties flowers, though gorgeous, do not last more than a day or two- not that great my bouquet subscribers! 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 with an exceptional vase life (well, for a poppy at least!): 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, the pink looks like bubblegum, the yellow and oranges look like pineapple swirl sherbert. The Iceland 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.
Iceland poppies add an element of enchantment to the garden with their delicate petals resembling ruffled tutus. It's as if numerous ballerinas are dancing out in the garden when in bloom! Not only are these flowers scrumptious they are also amazing flowers to have for beneficial pollinators. Even with harvesting, Iceland poppies are incredibly prolific and open so fast that I find many happy bees collecting pollen and nectar!
Ready to conquer growing these for your cut flower garden?! Hopefully because I’m about to tell you how to successfully grow them!
Growing Iceland Poppies
Let me just throw it out into the cyber world that growing these flowers from seed intimidated me. Numerous “dos” and “don’t dos” that they seemed overly needy and I would need to be some kind of wizard to pull off growing them. This is not true. Actually, when it comes to growing these from seed: less hovering is key. They want to grow and they really don’t need us standing over them every minute of the day with mister in hand spritzing. With that said, once you sow the seeds: give them time, give them space. They got this! You got this!
I must admit, the first year I hacked them. I started them too late, planted too late, let them get root bound (which they really don’t like) whatever I could do wrong, by them I did. The one thing I did do right: I took notes which were able to guide me on all the mistakes to avoid, which now I can share with you. The following years I started the seeds in early winter (January) and had much more success.
Iceland poppy seeds are itty bitty, though tiny don’t let them fool you, they have a high germination rate. Going crazy with a entire envelope’s worth on one tray is not necessary. Not only will you being wasting seeds, you will also waste time in needing to go through thinning (culling) to not overcrowd the babie plants. In the beginning, a bamboo skewer was my go to for sowing tiny seeds. I had splurged a few bucks on a seeder, honestly, I should have taken those few dollar and bought a fancy coffee instead. I never use it. With practice, my once fumbling fingers can now handle the feel and steadiness required to sow these seeds, which does save me time. 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, so use it if you need to. With a majority of my seed sowing I prefer to place 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. If you prefer soil blocking, the 3/4 inch block are perfect. The key with starting these champs from seed is to not cover the seed, they will not germinate buried in potting soil. To keep the top moist, but not fully cover the seed, I like to: sow the seed on top, lightly spritz them in place with a spray bottle of water, then sprinkle a dusting of vermiculite followed by another quick spritz of water. Also, another game changer for these guys? A heating mat and dome lid. Set at seventy degrees Fahrenheit they germinate fast, like a handful of days fast. Once germinated, off goes the dome and into the unheated greenhouse they go. The poppies continue to grow happily in there for about eight to ten weeks before being snuggled into the garden bed. If you don’t have a heating mat and dome lid set up, do not despair! I’ve snuck them in my unheated greenhouse and they’ve had great germination, not as quickly but if you’re not in a hurry this works too.
Not in the mood to fuss with starting seeds 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. You will also have to go back and thin to their ideal spacing.
If you are like most of my family, you may not care to grow from seed at all. There are many places online to purchase plugs or at your local garden center, heck I even sell some of my extra plants in the spring! I find them easy to grow from seed, which is more cost effective for me. Being a small-scale farmer I have to pick and choose what splurges I will make but with that said, I understand growing from seed isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay too.
Planting Iceland Poppies:
Iceland poppies are machines in the garden. They don’t take up incredible amounts of space, I give them about sixteen square inches. Poppies by nature aren’t incredibly thirsty plants making them a nice addition to areas with limited water. Iceland poppies really are fuss-free once established. The one quirk they have, is when planting they don’t like their roots messed with too much, therefore be gentle and don’t let them get root bound before planting out.
I have not had any issues with disease or pests but do find towards the end of their season the earwigs love to snack on them (but we have issues with them come late May with everything!). Being in a dryer climate, we don’t have the incredible amounts of trouble with slugs like some other climates, if you have slugs be ready with some Sluggo because they love to feast on these plants! Also, if you are in a more humid climate, you may experience issues with blight, mildew, and dampening off. Not letting these guys drown in water will help them be happy and healthy.
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 compared to other cut-flowers but their fleeting beauty is well worth it, with proper harvesting and post harvesting techniques you can get a 3-5 day vase life. 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 once a bit of color is peeking from the crack in the bud. Once the flowers are at this stage, if left in the garden it will blow open when the warmth of the day hits them. It goes fast: you will walk out into the garden and it will look like they had a party without their outer shells shot across the garden like confetti while the flowers are happily feeding bees. If you want the blooms for yourself, you must harvest them before this! Otherwise, if I miss my chance I wait for the seed pods to form and use those. They are not as incredible as some breadseed poppy seed heads but they still add some interest to a bouquet or flower design!
To keep up with these prolific bloomers, I harvest 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, as I do with most cut flowers.
There are a few cut flowers that require interesting post harvesting techniques and Iceland poppies are one of them. In the case of the Iceland poppy they need the ends of their stems seared. Weird right? I thought so too. Some flowers ooze sap and other goodies that cut down on the vase life of not only themselves but this can also affect the flowers sharing a vase with them. In the case of the Iceland poppy we are looking to stop the flow of latex. We can choose from two different methods to accomplish this:
Hot water treatment:
Once the poppies are harvested, re-cut the stems (not much needs to be taken off) and submerge the bottom two-three inches of the stem into the hot water. The water does not need to be boiling, just as hot as you can get your tap to go. They can stay in there until the bottom is a bright green or if your like me with squirrel attention, allowing them to sit in the hot water until it cools is good too.
Burn with Fire:
This one is my favorite method. It’s less time consuming and more fun! If I don’t have to stop and deal with putting a bucket of hot water together, I’m going to take it. This method requires a cheap little butane kitchen torch like the one I purchased, which I will list at the bottom of this post. Let me tell you, the look on Graham’s face when I first started using the butane torch! Sometimes I wonder if there is trust in this marriage... he was so worried I was going to burn myself or the house down. Thanks for your faith in me Husband. Well, I haven’t. You won’t either. Just be safe, use common sense and keep it far away from small the little humans. And really, it’s a little kitchen blow torch nothing apocalyptic.
I usually put the torch on low, it doesn’t take much of a flame for our task at hand. In all of thirty seconds the ends of the stems will be seared. As when using the hot water treatment, we’re only looking at searing the bottom two-three inches on the stem. Don’t barbecue the stems, you don’t need them charred, just until they change into a bright green.
Whichever method you decide to use, follow up with putting the poppies into cool, fresh water in a clean bucket. I put them straight into the cooler, which has the temperature set for my cool loving flowers at about thirty-seven to forty degrees Fahrenheit, give or take. These flowers are not the best for storing too long, they really should be harvested, treated and then heading out to your customer or gracing your kitchen table. I tend to keep them in cooler for a about 24 hours, 48 hours max.
If you’re looking to grow a cold hardy spring flower for your customers or simply want to add to your pollinator garden, give these lovelies a go!
These along with many other fluffy flowers will be nestled into bouquets this spring with our SPRINGing for Flowers bouquet subscription.
I hope you enjoyed this dose of floral bliss and I am looking forward to handing you blooms soon!
Here are the Amazon links to a couple of products that we find as game changers for us while growing Iceland poppies: