Plant Shirley Poppies For Early Summer Color


Shirley Poppies are premier annuals for cottage gardens, but bring a huge amount of color into any garden in early June. They pop up quickly and bloom with abandon in an array of pastels dotted attractively with orange and scarlet.

I have always had them in the garden, partly because I love them, but partly because their reseeding each year made them so easy to grow.

Papaver rhoeas, as they are officially named, are better known to us as “Shirley poppies”. Cool season annuals, they can be planted as early as February in most years. I say “most years”, because in 2014 we had an unusually long and frozen winter where the snow didn’t quit.

A selected variety of Papaver rhoeas  (‘Fairy Wings’ mix) has annually reseeded in my garden, so I expect some early flowering from them starting in late spring.

If you do not yet have these delicate and showy flowers in your garden, don’t delay sprinkling some of the super fine seeds over a bit of open ground. They come in named mixes, including the ones that I love for their lavender and soft pastel blooms.

These annual poppies come in single blooms and double. Some mixes will have both, while others are selected for either one or the other.

How To Plant Shirley Poppies

Bloom, bud, and seedhead

Bloom, bud, and seedhead

The seeds are very, very small and need light to germinate.

Scatter thinly on top of the soil and lightly firm in. You may want to use a small container to fill with builders sand in which you mix the seeds. This will help to disperse the seeds a little more evenly, although I have always simply been careful to pinch it from my palm and rake into the soil.

Hardy Cool Season Annuals

They do like a bit of a freeze, but when I first planted them, it was later in the season, during May. They seem to bloom fairly quickly once planted, and need to be planted in situ. The long taproot makes transplanting somewhat futile.

Thin excess seedlings; when too crowded the plants will do poorly and have small unsatisfactory bloom.

Simply remove the plants when they go to seed during hot weather. You can save seed, or disperse them in the garden right after removing the old plants.

Tip for Reseeding

Don’t mulch, and be sure to cultivate, or dig up, the soil in late fall and very early spring. this seems to help the seeds to germinate.

Origins and History

The Papaver rhoeas or “Corn poppies” originate in the Old World, probably Asia. However, the colors we love today come from England, in the strains of “Shirley” poppies.

A vicar in the village of Shirley spent time with the age-old hobby of gardening and selecting certain colors. The results bear the name of the english village.

Recommended Seed Selections

The mixes I had planted were called “Fairy Wings” and “Mother of Pearl”. They are older selections, and it may be hard to locate a source.  These mixes had more of the lavender and subtle colorations included. Try to locate those- I think you will love them!

Botanical Interests




More Things To Do In The Early Summer Garden

donationDonate the cost of a coffee through Paypal for the work of publishing these pages. Please support my writing and webmaster efforts.
Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. Please consider supporting this site.

Shop shrubs at Nature Hills

Related Posts

Grow Spectacular Clematis This Year

Grow Spectacular Clematis This Year

This is something of a guide to choosing some spectacular Clematis varieties, and tips on how to grow them well. For further, detailed information...

Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.