Oriental poppy – Papaver orientate

Oriental splendour in the garden. The oriental poppy is one of the most widely grown perennials. The original species has dramatic scarlet flowers, but a range of cultivated varieties is available with salmon-pink, deep red, orange or white flowers.




Plant in a sunny position into well-drained soil. Propagate by division. Sow seed of in April and keep in a greenhouse. April-May: Fix wire ring supports in place for the poppies to grow up through.



Stake plants. Flowering starts in late May. June: Flowering continues. Remove faded blooms. July: Cut down stems in mild areas. Plant seedlings from April sowing into nursery rows.



Cut-down plants may produce a second flush of flowers. October: Best time for planting. Set out into final position any seedlings of grown from spring sowings, if sufficiently developed.



Take root cuttings and keep them in boxes of potting compost in greenhouse or cold frame overwinter. Continue to plant out seedlings during mild weather, otherwise leave planting until spring.


In spring, propagate oriental poppy by division. Lift the fleshy roots and divide into sections 5-15cm long and 6-12mm across. Replant these, discarding the older, tired growth at the centre of the clump.

Take root cuttings in autumn or winter. Keep them in potting compost in a cold frame (protective outdoor box) or greenhouse until they shoot in spring.

Sow seed of P. orientale in the greenhouse in April and transplant the seedlings to nursery rows in summer. Set plants out in their final positions the following winter. Cultivated varieties grown from seed will not come true to type (resemble the parent plant), but they still give a show of colourful flowers. —


Oriental poppies make dramatic cut flowers, but their seed heads are even more striking when dried and used in displays.

To prepare the plants for this use, cut stems with well-developed seed heads and hang them upside down to dry in an airy room.


Variety Colour, Height (cm)

P. orientate, scarlet, 90 ‘Beauty of Livermere’, blood red, 60-90 ‘Black and White’, white with black centre, 70 ‘Marcus Perry’, orange-scarlet, 75 ‘Mrs Perry’, clear pink, 90 ‘Perry’s White’, white, 60-90 ‘Salmon Glow’, salmon-pink, 60-90

The oriental poppy belongs to the family Papaveraceae. Its distinctive flowers are much larger and longer lasting than those of annual poppies.

Oriental poppy originated in Asia. Its vividly coloured flowers, carried on bristly stems are often up to 10cm across and appear in early summer. The plants grow 60-120cm tall.

Planting schemes

Oriental poppy looks its best with companion plants. These should have flowers or leaves that contrast but do not compete with the poppy’s showy blooms. Thalictruni aqui-legifoliitm ‘Album’, for example, is a perfect foil for the scarlet ‘King George’ or the blood-red ‘Goliath’.

Grow a white or pink bleeding heart {Dicentra spectabilis) or sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) with the clear pink ‘Mrs Perry’. A red lupin such as ‘My Castle’ looks stunning grown behind the oriental poppy ‘Perry’s White’, while the pink-and-white lupin ‘The Chatelaine’ suits the salmon-pink oriental poppy ‘Salmon Glow’.

Planting and care

Plant oriental poppy in October or April, at 60cm intervals, but avoid planting when the soil is frozen or very wet. Choose a sunny position and deep, well-drained soil.

Stake the plants as they grow and remove the flowers as they fade. In mild areas, cutting the stems down after flowering may encourage the plants to produce a small second flush of flowers.

Concealing plants

Once they have flowered in May-June, oriental poppies can look untidy. Setting summer-flowering plants in front of oriental poppy helps to hide unsightly foliage.

Clump-forming plants are best, such as the perennial Potentilla ‘Etna’ or Potent ilia nepalensis ‘Miss Willmott’. The evening primrose (Oenothera peren-nis) and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ are both good choices.

Gypsophila is perhaps the best plant for concealing oriental poppy. Plant Gypsoplula paniculata ‘Bristol Fairy’ or try the annual type G. elegans.

Oriental poppy


Choose a sunny position in a perennial border, with plenty of space to spread. Plant ‘camouflage’ plants in front, to flower once the poppies are past their best.


Well-drained soil of any sort. It must be deep to accommodate the oriental poppy’s long, fleshy roots, which will not tolerate being cramped in shallow soil.


Water well if the weather is very dry immediately before the flowering period in May and June. Support the plants with stakes or wire rings.


Full sun May-June 60-120cm Any type, but must be well-drained and deep.


The oriental poppy rarely suffers from pests and diseases. However, downy mildew may cause yellow blotches on the upper leaves and a grey fungal growth on the undersides, especially in wet weather. Remove all affected leaves. If the plant is seriously diseased, apply a suitable fungicidal spray.

Old, diseased plants can form a reservoir of mildew to infect new stock. So if spraying does not work within two months, pull the plant out and destroy it.

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