Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

How to Grow Papaver

The Papaver somniferum plant, or Opium Poppy, is native to southeastern Europe and western Asia, producing white, pink, red or purple flowers in the summer and dropping its seeds in autumn. Best known for its hallucinogenic properties, Papaver plants are annuals and enjoy cooler but not freezing temperatures. In some countries Papaver is legal to plant but not to harvest due to its use in making addictive drugs like Heroin and Morphine. Still, many countries use Papaver seeds in foods and in making legal medicines. Papaver somniferum plants are surprisingly easy to grow, especially when cultivated indoors where conditions are easy to control.

Place the Papaver seeds in peat pellets to germinate, keeping the peat cool, around 60 to 65 degrees F. or a 55-degree air temperature. Begin germination at the very end of winter if your climate experiences winter frosts.

Water the seeds well until they germinate, which will take from one week to 21 days. Warmer temperatures will slow germination.

Thin the seedlings after they begin to sprout. Cut off the tops with scissors and remove all but two or three of the healthiest seedlings in each peat pellet. Water the seedlings sparingly after they sprout to prevent rot.

Pot the seedling along with the peat pellet after the roots begin to grow out of the bottom and sides of the pellet. Plant the seedling in a pot with a high-quality, lighter commercial potting soil, if the plant is to be grown indoors. If the potting soil feels heavy in your hand or contains too much clay, mix in sand, peat moss and vermiculite.

Plant the sprouted seedlings outdoors in full sun and rich, well-drained soil, as an alternative to indoor growing. When planting the Papaver seedlings outside, make sure to refrain from sowing the seeds until early spring or when the chance of frost has gone. Thin the plants as they grow so the Papavers are spaced at least 6 to 12 inches apart.

Water freely again after the Papaver seedlings develop their lettuce-like leaves. Fertilize the Papaver plants with a high-phosphorous fertilizer, such as a 10-24-4, once every three to four waterings, following the package directions for flowering plants.

Stop watering and fertilizing the Papaver plants when the flower petals appear. After about two weeks, the flowers will bloom and their pods will swell. Remove the pods and shake out the seeds after the pods turn yellow and dry to a straw-like texture.


When collecting seeds, store them immediately in the refrigerator if they are not going to be sowed right away.

If growing Papaver indoors, invest in some good grow lights. Keep the temperatures cooler but make sure to expose the Papaver plants to at least eight to 12 hours of light per day.


Watch out for “damping off,” a fungus that can grow when the Papaver seeds are beginning to sprout. Prevent damping off by providing lots of air circulation and keeping them moist but not sopping wet.

Garden Guides