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Home & Garden

How Does Your Garden Grow? Pretty poppies

I freely admit to loving poppies. From the diminutive California poppy to the dynamic, larger form of the Oriental poppy, these plants add brilliant form and color to the home garden.

Papaver is the formal botanical name for the true poppies. With more than 70 species, poppies present in annual, biennial and perennial forms and make spectacular plants for border, cottage, prairie and rock gardens.

Annual poppies come in several different types. True poppies include corn poppies, Shirley poppies, Icelandic and alpine.

Corn poppies or field poppies come in a variety of pleasing color displays of red, purple, scarlet and white, all with black centers. They grow from 1 to 3 feet tall.

The Shirley poppy is a smaller, 10 to 14 inches, form of corn poppy with blue, lilac, peach and pink color choices. Popular forms of Shirley poppies offer ruffled and double bloom forms.

Icelandic and alpine poppy varieties, as the name implies, prefer to be grown while temperatures are cool in the spring. Though officially perennial poppies, these plants are most often grown as annuals.

California poppies are cousins to the true poppies and extremely popular for the front of the border locations, containers and rock garden settings.

Annual poppies have a large range of height, color and bloom types for use in landscape design. They are extremely attractive in mass plantings of a single color or in color combination designed to compliment other poppies or neighboring companion plants. They are excellent short-term cover for spring bulbs with dying foliage.

Annual poppies are easy to grow; however, their one requirement is good drainage. One of the amazing benefits of annual poppies is their ability to reseed themselves. Who doesn't like free plants?

If you are planting poppies for the first time, seeds can be sown in the fall or in cool spring. Poppies are most successful when planted in cool temperatures. Seeds can just be scattered on the ground. As the seeds are very tiny, you can mix the seed with sand for a more even distribution.

Make way for the queen!

As charming and colorful as the annual poppies are, the real royalty in the family is the Oriental poppy. This beautifully colored perennial with its stately presence will truly add drama to your garden landscape. You may find that people are driving more slowly by your house or stopping to find out what that eye-catching plant is.

Oriental poppies were originally only orange in color and can still be seen growing on local farmsteads. Oriental poppy foliage is blue green with a fuzzy covering on the leaves that provides texture as well as visual appeal. These orange poppies and other older varieties require a little more planning. Following bloom, the foliage on these plants becomes unsightly and will need to be removed. Companion plants such as fall sedums, baby's breath, blanket flower or dwarf Russian sage can be planted to cover the old poppy foliage. New basal leaf structure will appear as summer progresses.

New Oriental poppy hybrids are available and offer longer bloom periods, stronger stems and pest resistance. Color options for these newer varieties include white, pink, red, burgundy and purple with single or double blooms often reaching 5 to 6 inches across.

Poppies are low maintenance plants once they become established. Both annual and perennial poppies will greatly enhance your home landscape. Fantastic, bold pops of color will greet you every spring and summer for years to come.

• The Master Gardeners are available to answer questions from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday at the University of Illinois Extension DeKalb County office in the Farm Bureau Center for Agriculture, 1350 W. Prairie Drive, Sycamore. Call 815-758-8194 or email Walk-ins are welcome.

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