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Eschscholzia c. Alba – White California Poppy

Many gardeners know the orange flowers of the California poppy, one of the great native plants of North America. White California poppy, Eschscholzia californica alba, is identical with the exception of the color of its blooms.

The white California poppy – stunning in the garden

white california poppy
California poppy is best planted from seed.

You may find seed from vendors marked as ‘Ivory Castle’ or ‘White Linen’ California poppy.

California poppy is drought-tolerant and prefers well-drained, non-fertile soil. It is self-seeding and is well-adapted to Mediterranean climates. In my own garden, I tend to see a lot of foliage and not many blooms. This is the result of years of composting, which has led to richer soil conditions than California poppy prefers. Poppies like disturbed, sandy, rapidly draining ecosystems. In your own garden, do not plant poppies in poorly drained areas.

Plant California poppy from seed

You can get hundreds of plants for a couple dollars worth of seed. Most of the time if you buy established poppy plants (Alpine, California) from nurseries, you will spend a lot of money for a few plants that look miserable quickly.

Generally speaking, you should plant California poppy seeds in fall, although I tend to forget and haven’t found spreading seed in late winter to be a problem. Gardeners in hot climates who wait too late may find the plants start to wilt away before flowering. California poppies are cool season high altitude plants after all. These photographs were taken in mid-April in Georgia and by May the poppies will be done.
white california poppy

California poppies are perennials in zones 9-11. They bloom in spring and their deep taproots support the poppies through summer dormancy until they return again in fall. Because of their deep taproots, California poppies do not transplant well, very similar to butterfly weed in this regard.

California poppies are typically grown as annuals in colder areas. I prefer late winter seeding, but most people in zones 7 and higher are fine planting in late fall after the last frost. Poppies are somewhat frost tolerant.

How to Plant California Poppies from Seed

  1. In zones 7 and higher, plant seed in late fall/early winter after the last frost. Late winter is fine. Seeds germinate in 10 days-2 weeks.
  2. Select well-drained sunny areas of the garden where you can lightly work the soil.
  3. Spread the seed by hand and lightly rake to a shallow depth (1/4″). California poppies need heat/sun to germinate.
  4. When the poppies emerge, weed competitive plants as needed. Poppies are tough.
  5. Do not attempt to move, as California poppies have deep roots.
  6. Many nurseries recommend thinning poppies to 10″. I don’t thin. I just let them fight it out among themselves European style.

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