My father planted some poppy plants back in the 50’s and they have thrived very well in his yard. Every year I would take one to him. He passed away in 1979. I now have my own home, and I have tried to transplant them to my garden in the spring, fall, and summer, but with no luck. The problem is I only have one plant left. They are a very pretty orange. When is the best time and what is the best way? J.J.F., Dearborn
The Oriental poppy is the most conspicuous of all the poppies and a popular garden plant. Poppies are easy to grow and care for, and are relatively maintenance-free and deer-resistant because many parts of the plants are poisonous if eaten. There are no special cultural requirements for Oriental poppies; they perform well under average garden conditions. However, because they have a large, fleshy taproot they are very difficult to transplant except when they are dormant. After the June blooming period is over, the plants die down entirely to the ground and remain practically dormant for a month or more, leaving large, bare spaces in the garden. About the middle of August new growth begins and a little tuft of green leaves appears.
The plants should be lifted and divided while they are dormant or just after the new growth begins. Root cuttings may also be made at this time and are very easily handled. The roots should be cut into small pieces 1 to 2 inches long, each piece containing at least one joint. These should be placed on a bed of soil, either in a flat or in a cold frame, being laid in a horizontal position. A light covering of sand or sandy loam should be spread over them to a depth of about 1/2 inch and the bed should be kept well-watered and partially shaded until active growth has started. If conditions are favorable, roots will develop from each joint and in a short time the leaves will begin to appear.
Oriental poppies will reseed and often revert to the brilliant flame of the old-fashioned type. Harvest the seedpods when the poppies go dormant, split them open, and gather the seeds to plant the following year. After they have sprouted and you have thinned the seedlings, you may consider mulching the bed to help retain water. In the heat of summer when the plants are dormant, there is no need to water them unless you are experiencing a period of drought. Poppies do best in full sun, although a few varieties can handle light shade. They rarely need fertilization. In the early winter after the first frost, apply a protective layer of mulch over the bed; remove it as the weather warms in the spring.