How to grow Papaver somniferum? This lovely poppy should be sown (surprisingly thinly!) either in pots in autumn or else directly into the ground in early spring. Poppy seeds require darkness and temperatures of around 20°C/68°F to germinate and should do so in under two weeks.
Somniferum grows quickly, with autumn sowing producing flowers from around May onward, spring sowing between June to August. Growing to 60 to 90cm tall, the poppy’s thick stalks support large, single-petaled, flowers (loved by both butterflies and bees) and broad, lettuce-like, leaves.
To achieve ideal growth, poppies prefer full sun and well-drained, fertile and deep soil, but may also be grown together in large containers. Seed should be sown no less than 20cm apart to allow space for the plants to grow. The soil should initially be loosened with a garden fork, spade or trowel to a minimum of 30cm depth and can also be enriched with nitrogen-rich organic fertilisers such as bone meal, compost or manure.
Following this preparation, a furrow should be made in the soil. Take the seed and mix it with fine sand, before sowing it very thinly along the furrow. Once this has been done, cover it with a maximum of 50mm of earth, pressing down lightly before sprinkling the surface finely with water.
Provided they have excellent drainage (the secret of how to grow Papaver species successfully!), poppies don’t require watering too often, but should be given the occasional deep soaking to promote strong root growth. A high phosphorus fertiliser can be added for the flowering stage, which should occur once the plants have been growing for approximately six to eight weeks. To further assure healthy, strong plants with more flowers and pods, thin out the seedlings as they grow, with the aim of roughly 30cm space left between each plant by the summertime.
From their first blooming, poppy flowers each last around three to eight days, after which their petals will start to drop. Overall bloom time can be slightly increased by cutting off the older flowers prior to their seed pods forming. Subsequently, the plants remaining energy is put into reproducing, the seed pods greatly fattening as a result.
As the season ends, the pods will eventually start to dry out and the vents at the top of each of them open as the seeds ripen. The plants can be left in the garden to self-sow the next year, or else the poppy’s seeds can be harvested by slicing off the pods.
So, there you have it; how to grow Papaver somniferum from seed, start to finish! This flower species readily self-seeds and is a wonderful addition to any garden.
Even better, its seeds are incredibly healthy and can be used for cooking and baking as well as propagating the plant. Further, the poppy’s light-green roundish pods are a favourite for crafts projects and fresh and dried floral arrangements.