March 5th, 2008
California Poppy ‘Mikado’

Zanthan Gardens California Poppy
2008-03-04. California poppy ‘Mikado’.

One trouble with Spring in Austin is that when the trees start budding and the gardener feels that irresistible pull into the garden, it is already too late to start lots of plants from seed. I haven’t made a seed order yet, (I was too busy in the garden to look at seed catalogs in December and January) and already the spring plants are blooming. Arg!

Today (3/4), the first flower of the California poppies, Eschscholzia californica, opened. The flower is about twice as large as last year’s but then it’s blooming almost three months earlier. Given that this plant is one that oversummered, I consider this the “correct” time for California poppies to be blooming in Austin.

Last year (2007) I didn’t plant any California poppy seeds until the middle of January and those plants didn’t flower until late May. This year (2008) I was even later getting my seeds started. Those seedlings are up but I haven’t started transplanting them yet and here last year’s flowers are already blooming. So I better get busy.

Although the seed packet claims that California poppies “reseeds easily”, I’ve haven’t had much luck with them self-sowing. However they are very easy to sprout from seed which is much larger than other types of poppies. Now if I could remember to get them started earlier…

Garden History

Plant California poppy ‘Mikado’.

California poppies sprouting.

Begin transplanting California poppy seedlings. Because they have a long taproot, California poppies don’t like being transplanted. But they were only two inches tall when I moved them and watering them well at first helped almost all of them to survive.

Finally, two flowers on my California poppies opened today. The flower are quite small, not much bigger than a thimble. I planted them way too late for Austin (January 12th). They didn’t sprout until January 30th.

Zanthan Gardens California Poppy
2007-05-24. California poppy ‘Mikado’.

Here’s a factoid to demonstrate how late I was getting these in this year; in 1998, when I tried ‘Mission Bells’, they began blooming on February 28th.

Discovered that there were still plenty of seeds left in last year’s seed packet and sowed three rows. There are still seeds left! Several plants from last year survived the summer and just in the last month or so have been putting on a lot of growth.

First flower on a plant that over-summered. California poppies are perennials but they don’t usually survive Austin’s summers in my garden. The poppies I planted in February are just getting their true leaves and only two inches tall. Despite my springtime urges, spring is too late to plant California poppies in Austin.

Plant California poppies ‘Mikado’. I always start these too late (like Jan). The ones that flowered last spring overwintered. Start earlier.

Transplant a dozen California poppy ‘Mikado’ seedlings that I started on 2008-10-10. All that’s left from squirrels digging in the seedbed. Note: They always look to small and crowded to transplant. Wait until they have a few true leaves and are two to three inches across–later than for larkspur or bluebonnets. Don’t worry about crowding or thinning.

California poppy transplants have recovered and it has also self-sown, a first for me.

by M Sinclair Stevens

21 Responses to post “California Poppy ‘Mikado’”

  1. From Susan (Austin):

    I planted my California poppies from transplants — which I bought in November or early December and then didn’t put in the ground until March! Such organization on my part. I don’t think they would have bloomed much at all if we hadn’t had this cool, wet spring.

    And I’ve never had a California poppy reseed (and I’ve had them a number of times) but there’s a patch on Rosedale Terrace, a short little loop of a street that runs between Alameda and Mariposa, just up from Travis Heights Elementary School, that blooms wildly every year, and is clearly not replanted every year. It covers an area about 12 or 15 feet long and maybe 6 or 8 feet deep and when the plants are blooming it is gorgeous. They’re the standard golden orange color that I have this year but I sure like that Mikado.

    — Susan from South of the River

    I wonder if our heavy clay is too much for them? When I visit San Francisco, I see them growing everywhere like the wildflowers they are. This packet of seeds (from Botanical Interests via Central Market) sprouted readily. In fact, I had many more seedlings than I could transplant. If I am successful again next year, I’ll share the bounty. — mss

  2. From r sorrell (Austin):

    I’ve never had luck with any type of poppy. I planted California poppy seeds, and they never came up. I’ve planted growing poppies from the nursery, and they died. I see them everywhere; they just won’t grow for me.

    The seeds of California poppies are much larger than some others and I find them a bit easier to get started. I made a straight row in my seedbed by pressing a board into it, watered it, and then planted the poppies. I find that it is important to water the row BEFORE planting any seeds because the ground in Austin is usually so dry. These came right up and I transplanted them when they were very small. They remained small for a very long time and I was glad when they finally flowered. — mss

  3. From firefly (Maine):

    Beautiful photo — I love the color gradation in the petals.

    I’ve had terrible luck with poppy seeds too. The past 2 years I have tried doing as the packet directs — just throwing them on the surface of the ground in early spring — and I think I see them germinating, but they always seem to vanish somewhere along the way. The same thing happened with Nigella seeds. So far I have been too occupied with other parts of planting to look into the reasons behind that.

    This year I sprinkled a packet of red poppy freebies on the soil in the sweet pea pots. They have definitely germinated, but aren’t growing all that fast.

    The Nigella I put in a flat of 1″ peat cells. They finally germinated and are very small, but I’ll try planting them anyway.

    I’ve tried just tossing seeds into the meadow and have met with complete failure. The meadow has too many rank competitors. So I have to start anything new I’m trying in the seedbed and then transplant. In our warmer climate, I have more luck starting seeds outdoors than in flats indoors. — mss

  4. From Kati (Ontario):

    The colour of ‘Mikado’ is wonderful. I should try some in my gardens.

    The clear orange goes well with all my blues. If I get them planted earlier maybe they’ll bloom with the bluebonnets in March. — mss

  5. From Ki (New Jersey):

    I planted California poppies a couple of years ago and it re-seeded last year but I haven’t seen any this year. Your “Mikado” is a beauty. The ones I planted were no name plain yellow and orange ones.

    I wonder under what conditions it reseeds best. Successful California poppy growers, share your secrets with the rest of us! Your oriental poppies look great, though. — mss

  6. From Steve Mudge (Fort Worth):

    I’m a transplanted landscaper from Southern California now living in Fort Worth. I was sometimes hired to do revegetation of native habitat which often included creating wildflower meadows. Even in California there were problems with getting the poppies to reseed and regenerate the following year. The best results took place when the poppies were growing in original topsoils (which probably had various mychorizza and other critters which enhance the poppy’s health) and were planted in the fall. They are winter-growing plants in California (since that is the wet season there) so I would try that here as well as they are quite sturdy against the temps even up here in Fort Worth. Eschscholzia is also an obligate long daylength plant which means longer days trigger it to flower…If the seeds are planted in the spring they haven’t really gone through a short daylength cycle of winter (similar to a fruit tree needing enough winter chilling to produce). Lastly, I’ve suspected that the seed companies may be shipping inbred seed that doesn’t reproduce well…but that is only sheer guessing, no proof of that.

    One more observation–I lived in coastal Oregon(60-90 inches of rain per year–should be way to wet to grow poppies!) the year before I moved here…I threw some poppy seeds on the area of ashes left over from the burn pile and they thrived AND reseeded…so perhaps they, like many prairie plants, like the results of the occasional wildfire.

    Steve, thanks for stopping by and sharing your expertise. What a lot of great information. California poppies definitely should be planted in the late fall or early winter here in Austin. Most of the flowers I grow are overwintering annuals (they do best for me)–so October through December are usually my busiest months for seeding and transplanting. Thanks again for the info. — mss

  7. From Frances:

    What beautiful colors! Your journal entries are a great idea to let everyone know how you go about these gardening projects. We have had mixed luck with poppies of all sorts from seed here, sometimes great, then nothing from seeds planted in fall, the proper time here in TN. I had meant to order those CA poppy seeds shown on the cover of the Thompson and Morgan catalog and then promptly forgot all about it in the frenzy for veggies. Maybe next year.

    Frances at Faire Garden

    If I don’t keep a journal, I never remember what I did in previous years. I’m always surprised at how behind I am. One day I hope to be more organized and have the garden year run as smoothly as clockwork. — mss

  8. From Annie in Austin:

    No poppy luck here either, MSS – seeds did nothing! In other years I’ve bought Icelandic poppies in bud and enjoyed them as annuals.
    That color is lovely.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I love this clear color, too. Although it is intense, the petals are so delicate that the color is not jarring. Did you sow them in a seedbed or just sprinkle them in the garden. I’ve never had any luck with the latter method. — mss

  9. From Connie:

    Great post on one of my favorite flowers. That last photo is beautiful! I have to be ruthless in weeding them out here, as they reseed so heavily….I think they may need a little cold to germinate.

    Thanks. I really like the vibrant color of this particular variety. I don’t have any difficulty germinating them outdoors. They just haven’t self-sown, yet. I think my champion self-sower is cilantro; it’s right up there with dandelions. Luckily we eat a lot of it in our salsas. — mss

  10. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    No poppies in my garden, and I think even I’m probably too late to start some from seed at this point. I think a lot of gardeners are trying ‘winter sowing’ them in the more northern gardens.

    No poppies ever? Not even in May? I know you’re under snow and ice at the moment but…Anyway, the plants of the California poppies are quite compact. There are several varieties I want to try but as I haven’t even finished off this one seed packet in three years, they will have to wait. — mss

  11. From deb:

    I didn’t think we could grow poppies here. However, a friend received some seeds as a gift last year and just threw them on the ground. They came up and are doing fine.

    Where is “here’? Sounds like a wonderful place if you can just throw seeds on the ground and get flowers. — mss

  12. From melanie:

    Opium poppies grow very well here and always reseed a next generation. I really like the color on your California poppies.

    Where is “here”? Of course, these two plants, despite their names, are quite different in form, habit, and growing requirements. — mss

  13. From Ki:

    The California poppy is even more beautiful than last year. I love the yellow boss of pistils and stamens contrasted with the deep orange petals.

    I see you are using Twitter. I couldn’t figure out the utility of it but now I can see that it can be a great way to jot down notes as you have done, for future reference. I was only thinking of it as another tool for communication. I will have to amend my post on mini-blogs.

    Twitter is great for jots, or twits as they call them. I used to keep a garden journal in FrameMaker but Adobe has dropped that product (after buying out the company) in Mac OS X, so I’ve been casting around for different solutions. I don’t want to go back to pen and paper because random notes are so time-consuming for me to organize later. Twitter seems just the thing. — mss

  14. From Layanee:

    I have had them in the past and I did buy seeds this year. Still a bit early here to start them. Another couple of weeks!

    If you start them now, when will they bloom? They are perennials in their native habitat. Do you have to grow them as annuals because o the cold? — mss

  15. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    I put some California Poppy seed in around last October–they sprouted and are doing well–no flowers yet though, and today they are covered with a couple inches of snow!

    Gosh! The snow pictures on the news last night from the DFW area were amazing. What’s with snow this late in the season with everything already in bloom!?! — mss

  16. From Diana Kirby - Austin:

    MSS – welcome back! Wow – your photo is great – such a stunning color and clarity.I cheated and bought some California poppy plants at the Natural Gardener a few weeks ago and put them in. No signs of flowers any time soon, but then again, the deer munched them just a bit the first night or two. Seem to have left them alone now. I didn’t place seed orders either, sigh…

    I like the California poppies because the plant is fairly compact and the foliage is so delicate and such a pretty silvery gray. The flowers are a bonus. I’m very pleased with the color of this variety. — mss

  17. From Kim:

    I bought California poppy seeds and had happily strewn them about in the front yard in March… only when I pulled the last “lacy weed” out of the bed a month or so later did I realize what I was pulling. D’OH!

    I’ll try them again… and need to find some as pretty as the reddish orange hues of your ‘Mikado.’ And since I have sandy soil, it will test your theory about clay to see whether they reseed for me. They are definitely annuals here because of the cold.

    By the way, re: Twitter… was it hard to learn to use? And does it send a note to your site feed subscribers every time you update it?

  18. From Leah Wimberly Austin, Texas:

    Just discovered your website and love it. This is my 2nd year to grow California poppies in south Austin. I had quite a bit of reseeding from last year and planted new seeds from Botanical Interests again in December. I think I’ve had good luck with them because I brought in soil from Geogrowers. Is there a way to post a picture? Cheers!

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I’m glad to hear that yours reseeded. When did the seedlings start sprouting. Was it before the new ones you planted in December? Did any of your plants from last year survive the summer? As for posting a photo, you mean here? No. You can’t post photos in the comments, but you could add a link to a photo. I’d love to see what yours look like. — mss

  19. From Scott Burgwin - Port Dover, Ontario, Canada:

    I live on the north shore of Lake Erie In the late spring/early summer of 2007 I created my first garden using earth dug from a grassy/weedy area and mixed it with leaves that I collected from my neighbourhood that people were throwing out for trash collection (throwing out pure gold in my opinion)although this method transplanted many unwanted weeds and grass to my garden I still had a wildly successful one, a kind of extreme version of an informal English country garden. The whole garden was started from seeds which included California poppies. I simply mixed all my seeds together and broadcast them on to the raked soil and then threw a fine layer of soil on top of that. I had cosmos mixed with poppies mixed with nicotania mixed with chrysanthemum mixed with marigold mixed with nasturtium etc. etc., worked amazing, bloomed all summer long, nothing but compliments from amazed neighbours.

    I did harvest many seeds including a variety of poppy seeds but I am not sure whether the poppy seeds need to be chilled in the fridge and for how long etc. would appreciate advice regarding that.

    I’ve never chilled my poppy seeds and have never had any problem sprouting them. I did read once that it was good to sow them after a light snow. The implication was that the cold weather helped them sprout. Doesn’t snow much in Austin so I’ve never tested it myself. Why don’t you test it? Do half one way and half the other and report back. I’m curious to know if it makes a difference. You live in such a cold climate, I don’t imagine it would–but you never know until you try. — mss

  20. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    I still need to get with the program and try to grow some poppies in my garden…

  21. From Jan:

    We always had lots of California poppies and when we moved, I wanted to take some with us. So I raked up mulch and filled a garbage can and later spread it at our new place. This is central California 60 miles from the coast. And it worked great. I never water them and they last and last. But eventually, maybe in late June, the leaves start to turn yellow (it gets pretty hot here). I then randomly pull some up and others I just cut off leaving the root, but always leave some that then spread seed far and wide. They really like seeding in spaces with little competition such as wood mulch or rock mulch. It would seem that spreading lots of seed close to the time they would naturally go to seed, like mid or late summer, would work good.