Shirley Poppies are annual poppies that produce stunning blooms with crinkled tissue papery petals and vivid colouring. They are not long lasting in the vase, although they can still make such an impression, regardless of their short vase life. Learn how to grow Shirley Poppies using the right growing techniques to get the most out of these sweet romantic flowers.
When we first started the flower farm I scoured the seed catalogues looking for beautiful flowers in breath taking floral arrangements.
Amazing Grey Shirley poppy was one of those flowers that stood out right from the start. The muted purple and pink petals where uncommon, and reminded me of a watercolor painting.
The variation of the colours from bloom to bloom made them even more interesting and quite fascinating.
I ordered some seed and started them indoors in winter.
They were very easy to grow, and provided great visual interest in the garden that summer.
What Are Shirley Poppies?
Shirley Poppies belong to the species Papaver rhoeas of the genus Papaver, and of the family Papaveraceae.
They are also known as Corn Poppy, Field Poppy, and most famously, Flanders Poppy.
Shirley poppies originated from England in the parish of Shirley, from which they have gotten their name. They are a hybrid of the wild field poppies, and were discovered by Reverend William Wilks in the late 1800’s.
They were selectively bred over time to have their current characteristics and traits.
- Unlike the wild field poppy, the Shirley Poppy was bred for a white border surrounding the petals and lack of a dark blotching pattern at the petal base.
- Interestingly, I have observed the wild field poppy characteristics in some of the self seeded Shirley Poppy seedlings growing at the farm. There are dark blotches at the base of some of the flowers, which always makes for an interesting appearance.
- The poppies have multiple forms, including singles, doubles, semi- doubles, and picotee forms.
- The picotee flowers have edges that are a different colour than the petal. They are quite striking, even when the edge is pencil thin.
- The flower colours vary from pinks, salmons, whites, and shades of violet.
- Petals are crinkled and have the appearance of tissue paper. They are sometimes speckled or veined with a different shade or colour than the base petal colour.
- Poppy pods nod as they grow, and the stems and pods are covered with fine hairs.
- Flower height is about 18 to 24 inches in height, and the blooms are about 2.5 to 3 inches in diameter.
- Shirley Poppies produce very tiny seeds, almost like small dust particles.
- The poppy pods that hold the seeds are interesting in appearance, but quite small and not as decorative as those from other poppy species, such as the Breadseed poppy or Papaver somniferum.
- You can harvest the seeds at the end of the season to plant Shirley poppies again next year, or just allow them to self seed on their own back into the garden.
- Once the plant starts to bloom in early summer, it will continue to produce stems in various stages of growth throughout the summer months.
- Shirley poppies grow from a mounding plant which produces multiple stems throughout the growing season, from mid to late summer.
- These poppy plants can be grown in mass plantings, which makes a spectacular floral display.
Use As A Cut Flower
- Shirley poppies are good cut flowers for event work, or for an occasion for which their short lifespan will not be an issue.
- They will not last more than a couple of days without special post harvest care.
- Even then, they will only last for three to five days.
- The flowers are not long lasting in the vase, however searing the ends at the time of harvest will help to prolong vase life.
- To do this you can simply hold a garden torch to the cut end of the stems for about seven to ten seconds until they become scorched.
- Then place directly into water.
- Another option is to dip the stems into boiling water, again searing the end of the stems.
- Then remove from the boiling water and place into the vase or container of water to be used for display.
- The poppies are best harvested in the cracked bud stage for longest vase life, which still is generally about three to five days at the most with the additional post harvest care.
Are Shirley Poppies Perennials?
Shirley poppies are hardy annual plants which readily self seed, and are not perennials like Oriental Poppies. If the location is ideal for their growing needs, the seeds that are dispersed in the fall can germinate the following year, starting a whole new crop of poppies. These poppies can give the appearance that they are perennials by returning to the garden year after year, from the previous season’s seeds.
Are Shirley Poppies Hardy?
Shirley Poppies are hardy annuals that love cool temperatures, and can tolerate late spring frosts, whether they have been direct seeded or transplanted into the garden. Make sure that they are hardened off prior to transplanting, to increase their durability to the outdoor elements. If the seeds have been direct seeded, they will germinate at just the right time in the garden. They will be naturally hardened off and conditioned to the growing area.
Shirley poppies are also deer resistant due to their unpleasant taste, which is an added bonus.
How To Grow Shirley Poppies
Shirley Poppies are propagated by seed.
Growing Shirley Poppies From Seed
There are a number of ways to grow these poppies from seed.
Shirley poppy seeds can be:
- grown from seeds indoors and planted out into the garden in early spring
- winter sown into milk jugs, or
- directly sown into the garden
Starting Seeds Indoors In Winter
- Plant seeds in cell trays or peat pots with a good seed starting medium. Just remember that these poppies do not like to have their roots disturbed, so give them lots of room to grow.
- Make an indent in the centre of the soil in each prepared cell and sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the soil.
- Bottom water the tray after planting and as needed, making sure to keep the soil moist during germination. It’s important to prevent the germinating seeds from drying out.
- Place on a heat mat until the seeds have germinated by sixty percent.
- Then place under grow lights until the seedlings are ready to be hardened off, and transplanted out into the garden in spring after the last frost date.
The first year we grew Shirley poppies we started them from seeds indoors.
They were very easy to start from seed, and germinated quite well in cell trays on heat mats.
Then once transplanted out into the garden, they lagged a bit behind, until they took root and started to grow. I realize now that this was due to the transplanting process.
What we have learned from our experience is that these poppies prefer to be direct sown, however all methods mentioned can still grow a nice crop of Shirley poppies.
Direct Sowing Into The Garden
Direct sowing Shirley poppies is the best method for seed propagation.
The reason for this is that this method allows for the seeds to germinate and root in place, without any disruption of the root system, which often occurs using other methods.
To direct seed:
- Prepare a seed bed, by removing all weeds and loosening the soil.
- Sprinkle the seeds over the prepared growing area, and tamp down gently.
- Alternately you can mix the seeds with some sand, and disperse this mixture over your seed bed. This technique helps to disperse the seeds more evenly across the garden bed.
Winter Sowing In Milk Jugs
- Another way of successfully germinating Shirley poppy seeds is by using the winter sowing method.
- Sow the seeds on top of the soil inside a milk jug prepared for winter sowing.
- Ensure proper drainage for successful sowing using this technique.
- Secure the jug by taping the lid in place, and place outside for the winter.
- The seeds will germinate when it is time to safely do so, according to the climate in your area.
- Make sure to take care when transplanting these seedlings into the garden, keeping in mind that they are sensitive to root disruption.
Are Shirley Poppies Easy To Grow?
Shirley Poppies are very easy to grow.
In fact, these poppies do not need a lot of extra care at all once they have been sown or transplanted out into the garden. Once they are established they will continue to produce new buds and poppy flowers throughout the whole growing season.
They are easiest to grow by direct seeding, as the plants don’t tolerate root disturbance.
That being said, we successfully transplanted our first bed of Shirley poppies which grew well once they set root in the garden.
Do Shirley Poppies Need Cold Stratification?
Shirley poppies do not require cold stratification for germination as perennial poppies do, however they will survive a long winter chill if planted out into the garden in the fall.
They will then germinate at just the right time for the area in which they are grown.
Do Shirley Poppies Need Light To Germinate?
Shirley Poppies do need light to germinate, so when planting the seeds make sure that they are not covered, and can access the light required for the germination process.
Some gardeners may use sand mixed in with the fine seeds when dispersing into the garden using the direct sow method. The sand will not prevent access to light, and rather will afford a more equal distribution pattern for the seeds, as they are so tiny and fine.
How To Grow Shirley Poppies In The Garden
- Shirley poppies are hardy to USDA zone 3.
- Plant in well drained poor to average garden soil.
- The self seeded Shirley poppies are known to grow anywhere they like, including between cracks in the sidewalks.
- Plant these poppies in full sun for best results.
- They will also tolerate partial shade.
- If transplanting, water regularly until the seedlings start to grow and get established in their planting area.
- Shirley Poppies are drought tolerant once established in the garden and will tolerate dry conditions, although during periods of drought they will still benefit from regular watering for flower production.
- Since Shirley Poppies reseed so readily, deadheading can help prevent seed dispersal, and therefore reduce or prevent reseeding.
- Deadheading will also reserve energy for the plant, which it can then put towards flower production, rather than seed production.
Will Shirley Poppies Self Seed?
Shirley Poppies will readily self seed if the seed pods are left to mature on the plant.
The seeds are tiny and readily dispersed from the poppy pod into the environment when mature.
They can disperse a distance away from their original location, and you may find them growing in completely different areas the following season.
Are Shirley Poppies Invasive?
Although Shirley poppies can easily reseed themselves, they are not considered to be invasive.
Shirley Poppy Amazing Grey
There are many popular cultivars of Shirley poppies, and Amazing Grey is one that is at the top of my list.
Shirley poppy Amazing Grey is just like it’s name says. It is absolutely amazing, and grows in shades of grey, muted purples and pinks.
The crinkled petals are intricate and delicate all at the same time.
Just like with any other poppies, it’s always good to get a closeup look at just how beautiful the flower faces are. They are beautiful from a distance, and even more so closeup.
I love it when this poppy self sows it’s flower seeds, and continues to produce these wonderful flowers for the next bloom season.
Our poppies are now self seeding, and are popping up in new areas of the garden.
It’s always a pleasant surprise to see an unexpected and new Shirley poppy face in mid summer.
The colours are often breathtakingly beautiful.
Although the vase life is not long, these sweet flowers still offer a short but gratifying floral experience, and I will continue to grow them as long as they stay.
It’s worth having them in the garden space, and they are a treasure in the vase.
Have you tried to grow Shirley poppies for the garden and the vase? Be sure to leave a comment below to share your experience.