Growing Blue Poppies

Growing Blue Poppies

| Author: Mélanie Gauthier | Category: Discover
The blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) has been the floral emblem of the Reford Gardens for decades. Notoriously difficult to grow, few gardens have such a large collection. Part of our success is due to the climate of the Lower St. Lawrence, which provides the plants with the humidity and cool night air that the Meconopsis enjoy. The early and heavy snow cover also protects the plants and prevent them from drying out during the winter mouths. Growing to 1.5 metres (5 feet) in height, they begin blooming in mid-June and flower until the end of July.

Meconopsis betonicifolia

The blue poppy is one of the most beautiful flowers in the plant world. Their gorgeous blue flowers, delicate petals, exotic origins and difficulty to grow have made them a gardener’s favourite as well as a horticultural challenge. The native habitat of the blue poppy is the alpine valleys of the Himalayas. Discovered in Tibet at the turn of the 20th century and introduced to gardeners at the Chelsea Flower Show in London in 1926, the blue poppy has never ceased to fascinate gardeners. Blue poppies were introduced to Grand-Métis by Elsie Reford around 1935. She obtained seed from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland and succeeded in germinating them. Within several years, she had planted a blue poppy glade to show her growing collection. She realized that the blue poppy adapted easily to the moist and mild climate of the region. She never ceased to marvel at the beauty of the flowers and was proud of her success in growing them. For more than thirty years, she also experimented with other forms of meconopsis. 

In Elsie Reford’s gardens, the blue poppy blooms from the end of June through the end of July. The beds of blue poppies are found in the Blue Poppy Glade, where they live under a canopy of mature ornamental crabapples and birch trees that protect them from the wind and direct sunlight. They are planted alongside white martagon lilies the Lilium martagon var. album (also known as Turk’s Cap Lilies) and ferns. Blue poppies are also grown in trial beds in the reserve (not open to the public). Today, our beds contain more than 10,000 plants, making it the largest collection in the world.

Description: The blue poppy grows to a height of 80 to 102 cm (32 to 41 inches). The leaves are pale green, elliptical in shape, velvety in texture with jagged edges. The flowers, whose diameter reaches 8 cm (3 inches), are sky blue in colour with a ring of golden anthers at the centre.

Growing Blue Poppies from Seed 
The following information identifies the steps and some tips as to how to be successful with their germination and cultivation.

Storing the Seed: Keep the seeds in a refrigerator until the moment you wish to sow them. The cool temperature in the refrigerator prolongs the life of the seeds and helps their overwintering, a process by which the seeds undergo a metabolic transformation that permits their germination.
When and Where to Seed: Seed indoors between January and March. Because light is necessary for the germination process, place them in a tray in an area with natural or artificial light.
Soil: Use a potting soil like Pro-Mix. Use a pencil to create a small depression in the soil to serve as a planting bed. Do not seed the seeds too close together. Cover the seeds with a light mixture of Pro-Mix and then cover the entire tray with Saran Wrap. Make sure that the Saran Wrap adheres to the soil mixture until the moment the seeds germinate. Once they have germinated, delicately lift the plastic and keep it off the soil using small sticks or toothpicks; this helps protect the seedlings from cold air and assures proper oxygenation. Open and close the plastic cover regularly in order to ensure that the condensation drops on the soil. Once the plants have reached the leaf stage, lift the corners of the plastic in order to allow for increase aeration and to allow the plants to acclimatize to their environment.
Watering: Success in germination is dependent on generous watering and good drainage at the time of seeding. Throughout the germination process, it is recommended not to water. The seed requires humidity at the beginning of the germination process and afterwards should be provided with conditions that favour good oxygenation. The first plants should appear on the surface of the soil about the 20th day and can appear up to the 60th day.
Exposure: After germination, place the trays where there is additional sunlight, but away from direct sun.
Potting Out: The seedlings are very sensitive to seed rot. Use a sterile soil that has no pathogenic organisms. When the seedlings are strong enough, when there are at least two well-formed leaves, transplant them to multi-cellular trays with the following soil mixture: 6 parts Pro-Mix and 1 part shrimp compost and 1 part (sterile) sand. Once the plant have reached the 4 or 5 leaf stage, transplant them to individual 7 or 10 cm pots (3 or 4 inches) containing the following soil mixture: 4 parts Pro-Mix, 1 part shrimp compost and 1 part horticultural sand. Leave them in a cool place, away from direct sun. Acclimatize the plants gradually by taking them outside once the danger of frost has passed.

Growing Blue Poppies in your Garden
Planting: Space the plants 18 to 24 inches apart (46 to 60 cm). Meconopsis require a well drained soil that is rich, deep and moist without being saturated and acid (pH between 5 and 6.5). This soil should be made up of equal parts of a good garden soil, shrimp compost and peat moss to a depth of 24 inches (60 cm). Meconopsis require a light soil that allows the plant to set down its root system, which protects the plant during excessively warm temperatures. Keep the soil constantly moist. During hot and dry spells, take care to water regularly at the end of very hot days.
Soil acidity: In order to maintain the acidity of the soil, every spring, add a fine layer of peat moss of about 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) and take care to mix with the soil using a garden claw.
Fertilization: To prepare the bed for planting, use a granular fertilizer with 1-2-2 ratio, such as 6-12-12 with 4 ounces (125 grams) per 7 cubic feet (0,2 metres). This fertilizer should be spread uniformly on the soil. Afterwards, use a liquid fertilizer of 20-20-20 alternating with 15-30-15 that is diluted according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. It should be applied every two weeks up to the last week in July. In subsequent years, apply in the spring a granular fertilizer of 6-12-12 of 15 grams per plant when the plants begin to emerge into leaf. Then, fertilize every two weeks alternating with a 20-20-20 and a 15-30 -15 up until July 15th. Good soil fertility should be maintained in order to permit the plants to produce shoots which assure the regeneration of the plant as well as its bloom the following year.
Division: It is recommended to divide the plants every three years. Division should be done in the autumn, at the end of September or the beginning of October. The Meconopsis betonicifolia is a perennial with a short life span and should be divided in order to assure the plant’ regeneration.
Winter Protection: No special winter protection is required. Avoid areas where large amounts of ice accumulate during the winter. It is recommended to plant the blue poppies in a bed where there is at least a slight slope or incline.

Good luck!



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