California Winter Experience

The Correct Planting Time for Shirley Poppy Seeds


Shirley Poppy 'Bridal Silk' - Papaver rhoeas seeds - Select Seeds

Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas) come in a variety of cultivars, ranging from soft pastels and scarlet colors to double and speckled blooms. These poppies are cool-season annuals with irregularly divided leaves, 3-foot tall hairy stems and flowers 2 inches wide that make excellent additions to flowerbeds and as cut flowers. Shirley poppies do best when planted in areas with a cooler summer climate and require planting at certain times of the year for best results.

    Spring Planting

    When you plant Shirley poppies, they do best when started from seeds outdoors in the location you want them to grow. These plants do not tolerate transplanting well. In the spring, scatter seeds over the prepared growing area and thin out seedlings unit the plants left are about six to eight inches apart. When plants are crowded, their season will be shorter. When you take the time to thin seedlings, pick off spent blooms and seed pods, these annual poppies will bloom for several weeks. Seeds sown in spring produce blooms in early summer.

    Planting in Late Summer

    If you can, sow Shirley poppy seeds in late summer, as poppies grow best when they have a period of cold to germinate. Planting in August or September helps produce more vigorous plants with more blooms than those planting in spring. Seeds sown at this time produce flowers in May or June. Late summer sowing is recommended in planting locations with light or well-drained soil. Sowing seeds in clayey or heavy soils in late summer can lead to seedling loss, unless you dig the site and add compost and sand to make the soil crumbly.


    Shirley poppies readily self-sow if you do not remove old seed capsules. In some cases, these aggressively self-sowing plants can become a nuisance, so to control the plant population, remove seed capsules weekly. To reduce reseeding altogether, remove the entire plant after flowering. The plants are not known to be invasive, however.

    Tips for Sowing Seeds

    Shirley poppy seeds are tiny, so mixing the seeds with some sand can help you scatter seeds thinly. Before planting seeds, clear the patch of ground where the poppies will grow, making sure the area has full sun. You can use a rake or a hand claw to scrape the ground and work up the soil. Then, shake the seeds over the planting area and cover with a few handfuls of finely crumbled sand or soil.

      Credit: Molly Allman from SF Gate


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