Spectacular California Poppies: How and Where to Grow Them

Updated on July 3, 2017
Casey White profile image

Dorothy McKenney is a former newspaper reporter-turned researcher. Her husband, Mike, is a professional landscape/nature photographer.

Thanks to Adelbert von Chamisso

We can all thank Adelbert von Chamisso for the California poppy; he was the naturalist who discovered and named the species while aboard the Russian exploring ship "Rurick" in 1816. Chamisso named the flower Eschscholzia californica in honor of the ship's surgeon and entomologist, J. F. Eschscholtz. Ten years after the initial discovery, English collector David Douglas gathered some seeds of the California poppy in southern Oregon for the Royal Botanical Society of England, and the rest is history, as the flower became popular in many parts of the world when International travel became possible.

Today, the California poppy has been planted in many of the United States, and is the state flower for the state of California, where its seeds are also used in erosion control mixtures, roadside plantings, and restoration projects. It has been known by many names, including Golden poppy, California Sunlight, Cup of Gold, Flame Flower and Thimble of Gold.

Close-up views of the gorgeous California Poppy.
Close-up views of the gorgeous California Poppy.

California Poppies Are Easy to Grow

California poppy seeds, which will germinate after the first fall rains, are very easy to grow, as they only need to be sown no more than about a quarter-inch deep in the fall or early spring (in mild, wet winter climates). Seeds will also germinate when the soil warms in the spring. Enriching the soil with organic manure during the planting stage is a definite plus.

Requiring excellent drainage, clay soils (which do not drain well) are not suitable for growing them if you expect to maintain a healthy growth of the flowers.

If you live in an area that experiences higher temperatures in the summer, poppies will likely bloom only in the spring and early summer. Then, the tops tend to die back and the plants will become dormant during the rest of the summer.

They have a very fleshy taproot, so no supplemental watering is needed unless the growing season in your area is particularly dry. In cooler climates, they may bloom for the entire summer, which makes them very popular in coastal areas where water is available almost year-round. They may even not enter a dormancy period if growing conditions continue to be suitable.

California poppies thrive along the coastlines where there is year-round water available.
California poppies thrive along the coastlines where there is year-round water available.

Don't Include the California Poppy in Your Wildflower Bouquet

Should you decide you want a nice bouquet of budget-friendly wildflowers, you might want to pass on the California poppy, as the petals will fall off almost immediately when they are picked. Sorry, but we just can't have everything! You might opt instead for some of my favorite wildflowers, which include blue cornflower, pink or white sweetheart roses, purple thistle, orange safflower, and pink astilbe.

Are California Poppies Poisonous?

If you are worried about your pet becoming sick should it ingest a California poppy, read this 2012 report issed by the University of California's list of "generally safe" plants. The experts at wildflower.org tend to agree, reporting - after consulting with the ASPCA, University of California/Davis, Purdue and Cornell Universities - that "this doesn't mean that the plant is absolutely non-toxic to dogs, but the chances of it being toxic are pretty low."

Most Animals Really Don't WANT to Eat Your Flowers

The California poppy, according to a 2012 report by the University of California, is "generally safe" if ingested by your pet.  Wildflower.org says the chances of it being toxic are "very low."
The California poppy, according to a 2012 report by the University of California, is "generally safe" if ingested by your pet. Wildflower.org says the chances of it being toxic are "very low." | Source

Calling All Ladybugs!

Fortunately, the California poppy is rarely troubled by pests or disease, making it a very popular flower to propagate and maintain. Most of the pests you are likely to run across in your California Poppies are insects that feed on the sap such as thrips, aphids and leafhoppers; and Lepidopteran larvae, which feed on the leaves and flowers. A nice group of ladybugs in your garden can take care of most of those, but not all.

The good news is that is you have leafhoppers in your garden, although you may not want them there, they will help the ladybugs by eating the aphids. The bad news is that they will drink the juices of fruits and vegetable plantings; and they can and most likely will cause a variety of problems, including leaves that may appear yellowed and curled or have brown tips, so you might want to go ahead and invest in an organic spray like Safer Brand Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer, a natural solution preferable to chemical pesticides with toxins that can kill even the beneficial insects and cause detrimental, long-term effects on our environment.


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    • Casey White profile image

      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 7 months ago from United States

      Tamara: Thanks for your comments. I love ladybugs, too. They are cuuuute!!

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      Tamara Moore 7 months ago

      Poppies are incredibly bright and beautiful, and I also really like Ladybugs. I had no idea about the negative effects of Ladybugs, and am glad I saw this! Good to know they are not highly toxic; I have an English Bulldog and he eats everything... Thank you!