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Picky poppies

While short-lived, planted in groups poppies reseed

Photo: Shelly Nold
Photo: Shelly Nold
Photo: Shelly Nold

Poppy flowers are beautiful and almost mystical. The silky blooms lure you in, and you want to grow them, but successfully growing poppies in Kentucky can be a bit of a challenge. A challenge does not stop most Kentucky gardeners, and in the right spot, you can enjoy a rainbow of poppies in bloom. 

The Iceland poppy, Papaver nudicaule, is a smaller variety, growing only 12 to 18 inches tall. It should be planted in full sun in an area with rich, moist and well-drained soil. In many areas of Kentucky, you will have to add soil amendments to prepare the soil properly before planting the picky poppy.

Poppies prefer a cooler climate, but I have seen them grown successfully in Kentucky—mainly because they reseed themselves each year. You can buy plants or seeds to start, but plant them together in a group where they can flower and produce seed for the following year. 

The ‘Wonderland Mix’ typically blooms from late May to early July with flowers of white, yellow, red, melon and crimson. When the heat of summer kicks into high gear, poppies seem to fade away, leaving behind lots of seed for next year’s crop. Tuck them in behind some summer-loving perennials like coneflower, black-eyed Susans or salvia, and you won’t even notice they are gone.

The most beautiful poppy planting I have seen in Kentucky was in a raised planter made of stone. The soil was rich, and it provided just the right amount of drainage to keep the plants healthy and happy for their short, but celebrated time in the late spring garden. 

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