A complete guide to growing poppies from seed

Add colour and movement to the garden.
Red poppies in flowerAdobe Stock

Poppies may be an old-fashioned flower, but their vivid petals evoke a timeless beauty that’s captivated artists like  Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh, writers, filmmakers (who could forget the poppy field in The Wizard of Oz?) and garden designers for generations. They bring colour and movement to the garden and make an exceptional cut flower.

In Australia and New Zealand, red common poppies (Papaver rhoeas), also known as Flanders poppies, have become a powerful symbol of remembrance, widely used in both Remembrance Day and Anzac Day ceremonies. According to the Australian War Memorial, the significance of the poppy stems from the First World War. One of the first plants to grow in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium were poppies.

While wearing single poppies is generally reserved for Remembrance Day (November 11), one of the best times to sow poppy seeds is in autumn, around the time of Anzac Day. So if you’re looking for a way to commemorate a loved one while getting out in the garden, this is a thoughtful and productive way to do so. 

Find out how to grow and care for poppies and add some vivid colour and motion to your garden.

Flower oil painting on easel stand.
‘Poppies and Almond Blossoms’ by artist Emma Fuss. (Photography: Christopher Morrison)

While we may associate poppies with Anzac Day, poppies have been used to symbolise eternal sleep, remembrance and rebirth for thousands of years, and were often used as an offering in ancient Greek and Roman mythology. 

What does the poppy symbolise? 

Best growing conditions for poppies

If you plant poppies in the right spot, they require very little care – if any at all. They like well drained soil, full sun and a spot that’s free from weeds. It’s important to note that, once planted, poppies don’t transfer very well, so make sure you sow them exactly where you want them to grow. 

Poppies can be grown directly in garden beds or in containers.

Poppy field in full bloom against sunlight. Toowoomba, QLD, Australia.

How to sow poppy seeds

Before sowing poppy seeds, ensure you prepare the soil. Remove any weeds, loosen the soil with a garden fork and enrich with compost. Once the soil is ready to go, push the poppy seeds into the soil (about 3mm deep), keeping each seed 30cm apart. Another option is to scatter the seeds over the garden bed before covering them with a thin layer of soil.

Keep the soil moist (but not soaking wet) until seeds germinate. Water well during the growing season, taking care not to wet the leaves or petals (as this may make the plants susceptible to fungal diseases). 

Once seedlings emerge, thin them out so each plant is about 15cm-30cm apart and water regularly.

Red poppies and camomile flowers in a vase on an outdoor dining table.
Poppies are incredible in the garden, but also make a stunning cut flower. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

Best poppy varieties to grow in Australia

  • Common poppies (Papaver rhoeas)
  • Poppy Fairlyand (Papaver nudicaule)
  • Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale)
  • Californian Poppies (Eschscholzia californica)
  • Iceland Poppies (Papaver nudicaule)
  • Shirley Poppies (Papaver rhoeas)

It’s no secret that some poppy varieties including Papaver somniferum (widely known as alkaloid poppies) have very powerful medicinal uses. They may look exactly like other types of poppies, but are actually highly toxic. These poppies are illegal to grow in Australia without a permit.

Red poppy varieties that are widely available in nurseries do not fall under the same regulation as they are chemically different. For more information read The Department of Primary Industries factsheet on the NSW poppy industry.

Is it illegal to grow red poppies in Australia?
Red poppies growing in a field
The best time to sow poppy seeds is in autumn. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

When is the best time to plant poppy seeds?

The best time to plant poppy seeds really depends on your climate. In most climate zones, however, poppy seeds can be planted anytime from February through to May. It takes poppy seeds about 14-21 days to germinate after planting.

When do poppies flower in Australia?

In Australia, poppies tend bloom from late winter until November. During the growing season, deadhead poppies regularly to encourage even more flowering. Poppies are self-seeding, which means as the flowers die back they will drop seeds onto the soil for the next season. While allowing the plants to self-seed can create a wild, cottage style look, if you don’t want this to happen, simply prune back the flowers before they have a chance to go to seed.

Poppies can be perennial or annual, depending on the variety.

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