California poppy has been the California state flower since 1903. It is a native plant with a bright yellow-orange cup-shaped flower. The plant was used for food and oil by Indians indigenous to the area. California poppy self-sows in nature and is direct-sowed in spring by gardeners. It does not tolerate being moved once established and requires full sun. California poppy would make an excellent addition to a native plant container display.
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California poppy has bluish-green leaves that resemble parsley. They rise from the base of the plant and splay outward. The plants get 12 to 18 inches high and form clumps across prairies, meadows and in rocky outcrops. Interestingly the plant is pollinated by beetles and more recently the European honey bee. The golden orange flower ends as a thickly encased green pod. The seeds are tiny and black and readily scatter on the wind when the pod opens.
The flower must be directly sowed on carefully cultivated soil at a depth of 1/6 inch. Overseeding is recommended as the chance of germination with this plant is only 70 per cent. Soil temperatures need to be between 15.6 and 21.1 degrees Celsius for germination. Germination will take 15 to 30 days depending on consistency of temperature and moisture. In nature the seeds will remain viable in soil during periods of drought for years until necessary rains arrive. The plant forms a taproot through which it survives in extreme conditions.
California Poppy Cultivation
The poppy requires well-drained sandy soil in full sun. Due to the taproot length, the plant needs a very tall pot for container gardening. The pot should be at least 18 inches tall but taller is preferable. The taproot will not extend as deep as it would in nature if you keep the poppy lightly moist. If the poppy is allowed to grow in the same pot annually, the soil will need to be amended with fertiliser. Once a year before the plants sprout, a time-release fertiliser should be added to the soil and watered in.
Planting in a Container
Sow the seed directly into an organic potting mix in a large deep container two weeks before the last frost. The seeds will germinate as temperatures warm up. Thin the little plants early so they have room to grow without crowding. Leave 3 inches between each plant. For a truly colourful container, intersperse the plants with native lupin and bright penstemon. At the end of the season allow the plants to die back and reseed themselves. The plants will return the following spring and every season thereafter.
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