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How to Grow Poppies in New England

Garden poppies include a large number of annual and perennial flowering plants in the family Papaver. Their large, showy blossoms resemble festive paper flowers dancing in a light breeze. Winter hardiness varies for different poppy species, but most popular perennial types grow even in the harshest northern environment. Alpine poppies are hardy to Zone 5, and thrive in southern New England rock gardens, while Oriental poppies overwinter through Zone 4 and possibly northwards with protection. Iceland poppies return each year even in Zone 2, and are suitable for even the highest mountain reaches of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Dig a hole with the shovel at your desired planting location, about 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep. Use the spading fork to further loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole, as poppies require good winter drainage.

Remove any large rocks from the soil you dug out of the hole, and substitute in topsoil equal to the volume of the removed rocks. Replace any heavy clay soil with an equal volume of topsoil as well. To this soil, add 2-3 shovels full of compost and 6-8 shovels full of sand and mix well.

Refill the hole and water soil thoroughly. Let soil settle overnight. Add more topsoil and compost to bring soil level up to flush with the ground level. Use shovel to dig a small hole in the prepared soil; remove poppy plant from its pot and insert in the soil. Pull soil up to the plant stems but do not bury them. Top with a 1/2 inch of compost and water lightly.

Water daily for 10 days to help the transplanted poppy's roots get established. Taper off watering over the next week, and only water during extended dry spells thereafter.

Topdress annually with 1/2 inch of compost. Cover plant area with a 6-inch layer of straw mulch in winter, and remove the mulch in spring. Cover poppies which are located under heavy piles of snow in winter (such as near the roadside) with an overturned plastic garden tote staked in place with sticks or metal tent stakes through its handles to prevent compaction and excess water or salt accumulating around the roots and plant base.


Annual California or corn poppy types will bloom happily all summer in New England, but the seeds may not survive the winter in the ground. Collect some seed pods in the fall and keep them indoors. Chill them in the freezer for a few days before planting.

Poppy foliage virtually disappears shortly after the flowering season in early summer. Plant yarrow, a hearty New England garden plant with a later summer bloom, surrounding your poppies to fill in the space and add color in succession.

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