Problems With Growing Poppies From Seeds

Poppies of all kinds add summer color to any garden or yard. From the classic red Flanders poppy that covers hillsides in France to the California and Iceland poppies and even the opium poppy, the Papaver genus includes more than 400 species of flowering plants, mostly herbaceous annuals. You can grow poppies from seed, but there are some problems.

Transplantation Problems

When you start poppy seeds in flats or pots, they will be safe from pests that can decimate an entire seed packet’s worth of seedlings. However, when it comes time to transplant your poppies to larger pots or to a garden location, many will not survive the shock. The long taproot is fragile, especially when the plant is young. If you are careful and manage to remove the taproot intact, surviving plants often do not develop to their full size or potential, according to Jefferson Davis Community College in Alabama.

Snails and Slugs

Mollusks, such as snails and slugs, are attracted to young poppy plants. When you start seeds in containers in a protected area, snails and slugs will not be able to reach your seedlings. However, baby poppy plants often do not survive transplanting, so many people sow seeds directly into the garden bed where they want them to mature. Scattering iron phosphate granules on the soil around your poppy seeds kills the intruders. You can also use chemical snail bait, but iron phosphate is the choice of organic gardeners.

Insufficient Sun

Most poppy varieties require full sun to grow large and strong and produce the maximum number of flowers. If you start seeds indoors in flats or pots, must make sure they get at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. If this is not possible, hang fluorescent shop lights or special grow lights above your seeded pots or flats and leave them on at least 12 hours a day. If it’s possible to move your pots or flats outdoors during sunny days, this sunlight will help. Plants that do not get enough light will grow tall and spindly and will never become robust plants.


A fungal disease known as Rhizoctonia can infect poppy plants if you keep their soil too moist. The spores exist in many soils and enter your plant through its roots or stem when the soil remains wet for prolonged periods of time, according to the Back Yard Gardener website.

Powdery Mildew

A lack of air circulation and insufficient light can cause young poppy plants to develop this fungal disease. It appears as a fuzzy white to gray coating on the leaves. The leaves will soon become yellow, turn brown and then drop. The entire plant can die if you do not treat this disease with a sulfur spray or other fungicide. Prevent powdery mildew by watering your plants from below. Make sure they get plenty of light and keep a fan running in the area where they grow. Thin young plants so they are not crowded by other plants, which will block air circulation.

Failure to Germinate

Poppies are called “light dependent germinators,” meaning the seeds require light in order to sprout, according to the National Gardening Bureau. Sprinkle a fine layer of topsoil or potting mix over your seeds, but if you cover them too deeply, you might not have any successful germination.

Keywords: poppy Papaver, flowering annual plants, somniferum opium

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.