California Poppy – Perfect Wildflower – and problem solver

Full and ferny, blue-green foliage that stands 1 to 2 feet and holds brilliant 1 to 3 inch wide flowers with satiny petals of golden orange/yellow describes the wildflower – California Poppy. They’re the perfect choice for no care gardens almost anywhere in the country – even in hot dry areas. I find them to be the easiest of any poppies and the closest to a sure thing than any other wildflower I’ve ever grown.

California poppies are part yellow and part orange.  They literally glow in the landscape.

California poppies are part yellow and part orange. They literally glow in the landscape.

I can’t imagine a garden or flower borders they’d not be welcomed in.  The seed is inexpensive.  They’re easy to sow.  They germinate when the rains come in late winter and early spring. They love full sun and once they start growing – their long tap root makes them drought tolerant. And like vast majority of plants — they like good drainage.

The California Poppy is one of the best wildflowers to use if you want any of the following:

  • Want to have a beautiful show of color this spring with very little work.
  • Want to start a new garden or flower bed but don’t have time to do everything required — and want the work area to look great while it’s waiting for you
  • Want your new perennial bed to make a show even though the perennials are small
  • Want to have an award winning show without spending hardly any money
  • Want to have a beautiful no-fail flower show that is not permanent and can easily be “closed”
  • Want to be able to have them re-seed so you’ll never have to sow them again
  • Want to be able to save seed so you’ll never have to buy them again
  • Want to make a hard-to-cultivate slope beautiful
  • Want to start with something easy to get more confidence
California poppies en masse

California poppies en masse

Sowing Poppies in Beds that are already Prepared

Here in our area we’re having lots of moisture in the form of rain and some snow. Now is the perfect time to sow California Poppies directly where you want them.

Mine, that reseeded from last year, are already coming up. Last year in my second year bed – poppies continued to germinate for 4 months   — January through April.

If you have established beds sow your seed now if the ground is not frozen. (Some instructions for sowing poppies and wildflowers say to sow the seed 4 weeks before the last frost. I’ve always found that to be too late.)

Unprepared ground — The minimum amount you need to do

Prepare the planting area by removing the sod (if there is any) or weeding.  Loosen the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. Then sow your poppies.

After you Sow the Seed

If you’re a regular reader you know that I lightly sprinkle newly sown seed with straw to hold moisture in and keep the seeds in place.  Seeds need moisture to germinate and the light covering of straw will help hold the moisture in (assuming the soil is wet — which it should be) without your having to water.  (I’m not set up to water — so I never do.)

Again – the covering of straw should be very light.  Just enough to cover the wet soil.  But it will still allow enough light to allow the seeds to germinate.


If you live in an area with hot summers like I do, your poppies will bloom in spring and early summer. The tops die back after seed is produced and the plants go dormant until next year.   When plants start coming up in the spring, you can tell the ones that are from the prior year rather than from dropped seed. They’re much larger than the plant a newly germinated seed would produce.

California Poppies

California Poppies

Want award-winning, bigger-is-better form, shape and bloom?

Poppies pretty much take care of themselves. They’re wildflowers after all. But if you’re into having award-winning, bigger-is-better form, shape and bloom do this:

  • Thin your poppies and allow at least 10 inches between plants.

If you want to extend bloom time: deadhead.

Trouble with Deer?

Most animals avoid bitter tasting plants.  Poppies are said to taste bitter, so they’ll be a perfect way to have bloom and deer at the same time.

For more informatin be sure to read my post Backyard Landscaping Ideas – Wildflowers.

Final Thoughts

There are so many reasons to enjoy California Poppies.  If you haven’t experienced them in your yard and borders, I encourage you to not let another year go by without having them.


Sources for Seed:



Vermont Wildflower Farm — just click on the logo:

Related Post:

Backyard Landscaping Ideas – Wildflowers


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3 comments to California Poppy – Perfect Wildflower – and problem solver

  • Heather

    Ooh, now you’ve got me really excited, Theresa! I almost didn’t read this post because I feel like I have enough to do with my vegetable gardening right not, but I’m glad I did. I just happen to have slope at the rear of my yard AND a problem with groundhogs (who ate my dwarf sunflowers last year – which were my only foray into flowers) AND little time to deeply prepare new beds this spring, so these sound perfect!

    Any suggestions for another flower to put in that spot for blooms after the poppies are finished?

  • Theresa

    Heather, I’m so pleased this post gave you this great idea. Be sure to get ample seeds. Also be sure to sprinkle with straw to help with “rain wash” on the slope.

    Cosmos, zinnias and plains coreopsis make wonderful hot weather bloomers. I don’t know if the ground hogs would eat the zinnias, but they’ll probably leave the cosmos and plains coreopsis alone.

    Also you could sow Rudbeckia (black-eyed susan) — hirta is the wild version — Also oxeye daisy — that’s the wild parent for shasta daisy. They are both biennial — but might bloom this year anyway. Next year you’d get lots of bloom plus they should reseed next year for the year after. (Just look under Wildflower Seed and then Individual Species. Scroll and you’ll see them.)

    Eventually you may want to try a poppy mix. That way you’ll get extended bloom because some bloom later than the original California poppy. (For me the California poppy has always been the easiest and most sure poppy.)

    Good luck with this project Heather! I’d love to see the results of your efforts.
    If I can help you — let me know.

  • Theresa

    Poppy update:
    We’ve just had a week or more of very cold temperatures. Many days stayed below freezing and nights were in the teens.
    The snow melted yesterday and today was about 58 degrees.

    I checked on the poppies that were already up about 4 or 5 inches before the snow.

    They were not quite as upright as they were before all the snow, but they are definitely alive and well! Those taproots really do the job.
    Just amazes me how tough they are.


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