March 18, 2012

Sowing Poppy Seed Outdoors

Shirley Poppies, sown and watered-in well, with my 'terrier barriers' set up. When ever I freshly dig soil, Fergus and Lydia can help but dig in it, and run around in it. I use tomato cages to discourage terrier mayhem.
As a follow-up to my post on growing poppies, I thought that I would show you my step-by-step method for sowing not only poppies, but the same method can be used for any annual seed which needs to be sown on-site - those annuals that reject being transplanted, often due to their tap root.

Poppy seeds are mixed into sharp sand, to help disperse the seed evenly. since I am sowing Shirley poppies, in a small area at the end of a raised bed in my vegetable garden, I don't need many. Here, about a quarter teaspoon to 3/4 of a cup of sand.
 Poppies dislike being transplanted, which is why you rarely see them sold at garden centers, and if you do, you should avoid them, for they will fail. These are annuals ( or biennials for fall sowing in California) must be sown where they are to grow - so choose a spot where they can grow undisturbed to maturity, and where you can keep a watchful eye on them so that they do not get crushed, stepped on or lost amidst taller plants later in the season. Young seedlings will need careful weeding at first, for the tiny seeds will produce tiny seedlings. So growing them at the end of a raised bed will allow you to watch carefully, and fuss with them a little bit.

Seed is mixed into sharp sand.

I use sharp builders sand, which I buy from Home Depot in 20 lb bags. This is the sand sold for use in laying pavers, but any sharp sand like pool sand, sand box sand can be used. Look for sand that is quartz and is uniform in size ( like coarse salt), since you want the seed to be distributed through it evenly. Obviously, they goal here is to dilute the tiny seed with sand, so that when you sow it, you get an evenly broad casted area, and if you are lucky, very little thinning will be necessary.

The sand and seed mixture is placed into a sieve - look for one with large enough holes, so that the sand, and the seed can pass through.

Seed and sand mixture is 'sifted' over the prepared bed. Don't worry, the sand washes off of the sieve with a hose.


Much like sifting flour for a cake, the sand and poppy seed mixture is sifted over the prepared soil. Soil should be dug deeply, and raked clean of debris like rocks, roots a twigs. Most poppies appreciate a soil pH 7.0 to 8.0, and here in our New England garden, my soil in this bed tested at 5.5 ( acid) so powdered lime was dug in before I shot these images. (More on soil testing this week)

Soil is tamped down with a wooded block ( I just found it in the garden while cleaning up today, but you could use a brick). This ensures that the seed is pressed tightly onto the surface of the soil. Light helps poppies germinate, so do not cover the seed with more soil.

Tamped soil is watered-in carefully, and slowly, so that the moisture reaches down into the depths of the soil's surface. Water, ever if it is going to rain, for gardeners know that until it rains for a full day, newly sown seeds need consistent moisture, and not watering well, can postpone germination for a week.

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