How to Grow and Maintain California Poppies

The beloved California poppy, known as the official state flower of California, this hardy plant is designed to be a survivor. Able to withstand droughts, reseed itself, and thrive in soft, sandy soil without much in the way of nutrients, the Eschscholzio californica can be found scattered through prairies, as well as adorning back yard gardens. In fact, this sturdy plant even has its own official day, April 6! Not only that, but May 13th to May 18th is designated “Poppy Week”. Though it shares it’s name with its more infamous cousin, the Papaver somniferum, the California poppy is legal to grow, harvest, and enjoy. Rest assured, there are absolutely no addictive opiate properties.


These tender perennials will require at least 6 hours of good, solid sunlight if they are to flourish. So, first things first, locate an area on your property that will give them this. Believe me, they’ll thank you for this and reward you with vibrant, fresh and healthy blooms. Though they can survive in shady areas, they won’t thrive, and can even come down with fungus and rot. If you do notice that your poppies are suffering from a fungal infection, know that there are fungicides available on the market to counteract it.

Soil Requirements

Proper drainage is the key when it comes to growing and maintaining your poppies. Try to stay away from soil that is densely packed, or mostly clay. The hardy California poppy prefers sunlight and sandy soil. Also, avoid fertilizers. In fact, too much fertilizer or too rich a soil can actually hinder their growth, not enhance it. If you do try to apply fertilizer, the result will be very little flowering, with the plant becoming mostly stems and leaves. Like most wildflowers, they are tough and easy to maintain, thriving in poor to average soil with a pH of around 6.6 to 7.5.

Seeding Your Poppies

This tough wildflower doesn’t need much in the way of pampering. You can actually just scatter the seeds, also known as maw seeds, along the ground and most will take, producing gorgeous blooms for you. Actually, many gardeners recommend this, as poppy seeds require the sun to germinate. These self-sowing flowers have no problem throwing caution to the wind, as well as their seeds, so once you’ve established your first batch, they’ll begin to seed and bloom on their own.

It’s recommended that you sow your poppy seeds into the ground after the last frost, rather than starting the seedlings indoors. This gives their roots a chance to grow healthy in the sandy loamy soil, without being disturbed as they would during the transplanting process. As stated, you can toss caution to the wind and just take a handful of seeds and let them land where they may. But, if you’re heart is set on following a plan, then plant each seed 6 to 8 inches from the other seeds. It takes up to 15 days to see your poppies sprout, and will become full-fledged, mature plants in around 75 days.

Finally, as this plant is self-sowing, remember to keep some blooms on the plant when their season ends, as it’s then that they’ll begin to shed their seeds. By allowing them to self-seed, you’re guaranteed to have a good supply of poppy plants for many years to come. Also, if you adore songbirds, know that California poppy seeds are a favorite for your feathered companions, and are even used in some commercial birdseed products.

Maintaining Your California Poppies

As a general rule of thumb with these flowers, less is more. As previously stated, they thrive in soil that is void of nutrition and prefer little water. In fact, if you reside in an area that’s prone to droughts, then the California poppy would be a good choice for you, as they do quite well weathering long periods without much water. As you can see, the California poppy is the perfect plant for those who lack a true, “green thumb”, as they pretty much take care of themselves. Plus, they have very few natural pests, so use of pesticide can be avoided.

Uses of the California Poppy

This tough, yet lovely plant just doesn’t sit around taking up space in your garden or prairie. Believe it or not, you can actually harvest and make good use out of the poppy’s you grow. Simply do an online search for “California poppy recipes” or uses, and you’ll be surprised at what this little flower can do!

While it’s not an opiate, it does have sedative properties. According to WebMD, the California poppy is used to treat insomnia, muscle aches, anxiety, depression and even bed-wetting. Keep in mind there is no hard evidence to back up such claims, but if it works for you, it can’t hurt. In addition to perceived health benefits, people also harvest the seeds to make baked goods. Golden California poppies have their seeds harvested for cooking oil, as well as common place additives in commercial products.

California Poppy Tea

The California Poppy shares a love hate relationship with some gardeners. Some view it as a pest, an invader, a weed. But still others see it as a lovely, familiar part of the landscape.That being said, people do use them to make certain consumables, such as California Poppy Teas. Consumers who make and drink this tea, report favorably on its ability to encourage relaxation, relieve headaches, and anxiety.

To make your poppy tea, select either the stem, flowers or leaves, or use all three. Next place your poppy parts into a tea basket, submerge in hot water, and steep for around 10 minutes or so. The weaker the tea, the shorter it steeps, the stronger the tea, the longer it steeps. Remember, California residents can only harvest the California Poppies that exist on their property. They are a protected species, and you can be fined if you pick them in the wild.

Final Thoughts

An excellent choice for the gardening novice, the California poppy is simple to seed, grow and maintain. Each bloom only lasts a couple of days, but they make up for it by blooming all summer long. Once established in your garden, they’ll continue to propagate via reseeding and the spreading of their long taproots, so you’ll always have more popping up, each year. The perfect plant for both beginning and seasoned gardeners, the California poppy is one flower that will add vibrant color to your garden, year after year.

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