Have you ever observed a patch of poppies after a summer rain and thought they looked too impeccable to be true? When water droplets linger on their papery petals and the sun hits them just right, I’ll swear someone has replaced my homegrown poppies with perfectly plastic ones instead, uncertain how something so beautiful can exist in nature.
In this article, I’ll share growing tips for beautiful breadseed poppies, beautiful ornamental flowers that produce the poppy seeds used in baking.
Lauren’s Grape Poppy Seeds
Hungarian Blue Poppy Seeds
Breadseed Poppies Overview
What Is It?
Poppy seeds used in the culinary world come from breadseed poppies, hence the name. The botanical name comes from the meaning of somniferous, which is “tending to induce sleep”.
Breadseed poppies are also called opium poppies because various parts of the plant are used to make narcotics, such as morphine, codeine, heroin, and oxycodone. They are also referred to as florist poppies because of the showy blooms and ornamental pods that are commonly used in bouquets. The pods form after the flower blooms have faded in the fall.
Breadseed poppies grow 2-3 feet tall, boasting large, colorful cup-shaped flowers.
The plant grows to be two to three feet tall and produces large, vibrant-colored, delicate, and papery-looking flowers that are about two inches in diameter and form a cup shape. Flowers feature four to six petals each and a center full of stamens, attracting a slew of pollinators. Colors are usually pink, purple, or red, with an attractive dark center. The leaves are scalloped and slightly gray.
Seed pods range in size from about ½ to three inches. Poppy seeds are just 1mm in size and are typically gray, white, black, or blue. Compared to other poppy types, breadseed poppies have much larger flowers.
Is It Legal to Grow Breadseed Poppies?
The production of opium is strictly regulated to prevent illegal drug trade.
It is legal to grow breadseed poppies in the United States. It is illegal to use them to produce opium.
For home gardeners, growing poppies for their seeds may seem like a confusing endeavor. But fear not. If your intentions are pure and you’re growing a few poppy plants for their beauty, pods, and culinary use of seeds, I don’t think the DEA is going to come knocking. Some seed companies offer poppy varieties bred in Germany that contain lower, safe levels of morphine to ease anxieties. The cultivar ‘Sujata’ doesn’t produce any of the potentially dangerous latex.
Today, the growth of poppies for drug companies is highly regulated to monitor and track the end product, opium. This is to ensure it doesn’t enter the illegal drug trade and end up in the wrong hands.
It was discovered long ago that the sap of the opium poppy could serve as a natural painkiller and anesthetic. Early surgeries were done after giving patients large doses to induce unconsciousness.
Breadseed poppy seeds were introduced to the US for baking.
Native to Eastern Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and Central Asia, breadseed poppy seeds were brought to the United States from Europe primarily for inclusion in baked goods. Heirloom seeds still exist today, and growing them will carry on the legacy of some of the families who bred them hundreds of years ago.
How to Grow
Once established, breadseed poppy plants are fairly low-maintenance.
Optimal sunlight fosters larger, vibrant bread seed poppy flowers while reducing fungal risks.
Breadseed poppies perform best in areas of full sun. This allows them to produce their biggest and showiest flowers and also helps keep the risk of fungal diseases down.
Newly germinated or transplanted plants need frequent watering initially.
Watering newly transplanted plants and seedlings is crucial, especially in warmer regions. Once established, be sure to water about once a week, but overall, their needs are low.
Optimize soil with compost, good drainage, and moisture to prevent root rot.
Ensure the soil is rich in compost. Keep it well-draining, finely textured, and moist. If your soil isn’t draining, increase the level of organic matter. This will help it hold in moisture, allow it to drain, and encourage healthy microbiological activity.
Root rot is caused when the roots suffocate due to excessive moisture in the soil, and not enough oxygen is received. This leaves roots open to fungal infections, and rot pathogens have an optimal environment for feeding.
Mulch helps keep the soil moist and cool, adding fertility as it breaks down.
Control weeds, retain moisture, keep the soil moist, and decrease surrounding soil temperature by adding a layer of wood chips or organic straw. As these break down, they’ll add fertility to the soil and further support your poppies.
Temperature and Humidity
Breadseed poppies prefer cooler temperatures below 70°F (21°C) and moderate humidity.
These poppies thrive in cooler weather and produce their largest blooms in regions where temperatures do not get much above 70° (21°C). Humidity levels should remain low to medium for the healthiest plants and a decreased risk of fungal disease.
Optimal poppy growth requires careful nitrogen management to prevent excessive foliage.
Most poppies do best with extra calcium, but monitor the level of nitrogen closely. Too much can cause the plant to focus on the vegetation, growing an abundance of foliage and not blooms. Adding phosphorus encourages blooming.
Pruning and Harvesting
Regular deadheading throughout the growing season promotes continuous blooming.
Deadheading throughout the growing season encourages continuous bud formation and blooming. Pinching back is not necessary. However, after the first flush of blooms, cutting them back to the ground may stimulate a second flush.
For use in bouquets, cut your flowers when the buds begin to show color but before they have expanded and pollination has occurred. Using clean, sharp shears, clip stems as low to the base of the plant as possible at a 45° angle. A milky sap will likely ooze out. Some growers cauterize the ends by burning them to seal the sap inside, giving the flowers a longer vase life.
Flowers produce seeds for the next generation.
Plants will bloom in early to late spring and early summer, depending on your region. After a bloom cycle, the plants will shift energies into forming the seed pods and seeds for the next generation.
Floral Design Uses
Florists prefer poppy seed pods for bouquets due to their longevity.
These poppies are adored by florists as the dried pods serve as a unique filler to a fresh or dried bouquet. While the blooms are gorgeous, they last just a few days once cut, which is mainly why florists more often seek everlasting seed pods.
Drying Seeds to Save
Harvest and dry ventless pods for preservation, ensuring complete dryness before storage or planting.
Many years ago, when European families relied on these seeds for their baked goods or sales, they had to figure out a way to keep them in place. As a result, some poppies have been bred to form ventless seed pods that keep the seeds safely in the pod.
If this is the case for the variety you’re growing, you can leave them on the plant to dry. If there are vents in the sides and you notice seeds slipping out the sides, simply harvest the seed pods and hang them in a vented brown bag to dry. Don’t leave them on the plant too long, or they’ll crack, spilling out the seeds.
However you dry your seeds, ensure no moisture remains before storing them in an airtight container. Sow them next year for a new crop.
Poppies form a strong taproot once established, so although it’s not usually recommended to transplant them, many growers have had success doing so. Growing them in containers is not recommended.
Growing from Seed
Prepare garden beds by sowing seeds early, marking the area, and avoiding disturbance.
Sow seeds directly into a prepared garden bed as soon as the soil can be worked, around four to six weeks before your last frost date. Some light is required for germination, so just sprinkle seeds in the soil of the prepped bed. Mark the space well in case you receive snow after sowing so you can avoid raking over the area.
Start in small cell trays, burying them just slightly. Sprinkling a little vermiculite or perlite over the top of the seeds retains moisture and keeps seeds in place. Some light is required for germination, so keep seed trays in a cool, dry place where they can access light.
Depending on your region and time of year, seeds should germinate within 14 days in ideal conditions.
Allow Plants to Self-Seed
Manage breadseed poppies by collecting and clearing dropped seeds to prevent overwhelming self-seeding.
Breadseed poppies will readily self-seed. Remove some seed pods and clean up some of the dropped seeds so the area isn’t overwhelmed with germinating seeds in the spring. Mulch over top of them in the fall to keep them in place. They’ll go dormant for the winter and sprout in the spring.
Sow breadseed poppies in winter for strong, cold-hardy seeds with high germination rates.
All poppies love cool weather, and bread seed poppies are no exception. They’re cold hardy, and have high germination rates even when spring temperatures are cool. To winter sow your poppies, sprinkle seeds out in prepared beds to overwinter or in early spring once the soil can be worked. Alternatively, sow indoors in peat pots as early as late January.
When using the milk-jug technique, start the seeds a bit later, in February or early March, to avoid a strong taproot and be cautious when transplanting. Winter-sown poppies should be stronger, more resilient, and higher-yielding than their spring-sown counterparts.
Breadseed poppies come in a range of bold pinks and purples, making them perfect for mass plantings. They’re also lovely along garden and pathway borders.
When sowing seeds, spread thinly, rake lightly, then cover with soil.
If direct sowing seeds into a prepped garden bed, spread them thinly. Rake them in and just barely cover with about ⅛” of soil. Then thin them to eight to ten inches once they’ve germinated, removing any weak seedlings.
Enhance garden aesthetics by combining varied colors and sizes along fences.
- Add a mix of colors and sizes along a privacy fence or surrounding your mailbox.
- Plant them in mass in a standalone garden plot.
- Use contrasting colors to make your perennials pop, like a bold red poppy with a bright purple iris or lupine.
- Sprinkle them around hostas or behind lower-laying perennials.
These are just a few amazing breadseed poppy options.
A unique dark purple variety, Lauren’s Grape was discovered by garden writer Lauren Springer.
This stunning dark purple variety most certainly adds a unique flair to your garden. While featuring the classic crepe-paper look, the petals overlap a bit more than others and grow upright, almost like a cup. The center is full and interesting. It’s believed that garden writer Lauren Springer discovered this variety after sowing seeds from a bagel.
A plant reaching up to three feet, Hungarian blue produces coveted blue seeds and lavender petals.
This whimsical variety offers lavender petals and the ever-sought-after blue seeds when mature. Seeds should germinate in about two weeks after sowing, and the plant can get up to three feet tall. Save the seeds after enjoying the blooms in your summer garden.
This variety has a showstopping, red wine-colored flower with a pom-pom-like appearance.
If you’re looking for a showstopper to plant in mass, look no further. This unique and larger-than-life red wine-colored flower looks like a garden pom-pom and has swan neck curved stems, hence the name.
There are no serious pest or disease problems, but pests growers should look out for are aphids, flea beetles, and poppy root weevils. Diseases include leaf blight, downy mildew, and root rot.
Aphids and flea beetles can devastate poppy patches, requiring early intervention with water blasts.
- Aphids: Aphids don’t cause too much trouble if populations are small, but if you let an infestation get out of control, they could ruin your poppy patch and move on to the rest of your garden. Different types overwinter if you let them, and populations then spike in the spring. They produce many generations per season. Use a strong blast of water to remove them from your plants early in the day so they can dry in the sun. Insecticidal soap and neem oil are also great treatment options. If your garden is prone to aphids, try releasing lacewing eggs as biological control. Provide them with habitat by planting ammi and yarrow to keep them in your garden.
- Flea beetles: Flea beetles are usually just an annoyance, but they can do some serious damage to young poppy plants. They’re the tiny metallic bugs that quickly hop from plant to plant. After sucking juices from the foliage, plants are full of irregularly shaped and sized holes that are sometimes unmarketable. Remove plant debris to limit their winter hibernation spaces, control weeds nearby, and protect plants with insect netting as they establish to control them.
- Poppy root weevil: This pest came to us from Europe, Africa, and Asia. Its emergence in the spring lines up with new poppy seedling germination. After feeding for a week or so, it mates, and the female lays eggs on the lower leaves. Biological control includes targeting the larvae and pupae that are about to emerge below the soil surface by releasing nematodes. You should treat your garden in temperate times with two treatments applied two weeks apart.
Breadseed poppies are deer-resistant, and bees love them.
Common diseases in bread seed poppies include bacterial blight, downy mildew, and root rot.
- Leaf blight: If you notice spots with a translucent ring on the leaves, stems, buds, flowers, or seed pods that appear to be wet and black, your plants may have bacterial blight. Eventually, the plant will fully collapse and die. Any remaining diseased tissue should be removed from your garden. Ensure your seeds are treated and clean. Water deeply and follow a proper crop rotation plan to decrease the risk of bacterial blight.
- Downy mildew: You may see this if leaves remain wet during prolonged periods of cold, cloudy weather, especially when humidity is high. Avoid overwatering during these times. Downy mildew occurring in poppies is caused by Peronospora arborescens. To decrease the risk, provide proper airflow, practice deep watering techniques, and space plants appropriately. Fungicides can be applied if caught early. Follow all instructions and warnings before application.
- Yellowing on tops of leaves
- Distorted growth
- Purpling and brown powder on the undersides of leaves
- The infection starts low and moves upwards
- Root rot: This can be caused by various fungal infections or when the soil is over-saturated, and the roots simply can’t breathe. They lose the ability to properly grow, receive oxygen, and seek nutrients. This is when the fungal pathogen that causes root rot moves in. The plant will eventually die. Get your soil fertility and amount of organic matter right before planting anything to avoid root rot.
If you’ve grown poppies before but not breadseed poppies, I hope you’ll give them a shot! Overall, they are low maintenance, so long as you provide full sun, fertile and well-draining soil, and protect them from pests.