Shirley poppies are my favorite ephemeral flower. Here are some things you can do to condition them so you can use them for cut flowers.
I grow Shirley poppies for my personal pleasure, and do not consider them a cash crop. The prospect of seeing new colorations and shapes gets me out of bed in late June through July when they bloom. The big fluffy ones steal my heart, and I have tried many ways to try to enable their use in bouquets.
judge a poppy by its stamens
The best time to cut Shirley Poppies is early in the morning before the sun hits them and before the bees come ’round. Ideally, the petals are about to break out of the pod, but if you miss that stage, it’s ok. Next best is as this one is here ~ just opened, and the bees have not yet burrowed around in the stamens .
You can tell everything you need to know about the poppy from the stamens. As the bloom just begins to open, the stamens are defined, sort of flat, and big. Newborn looking.
Soon they begin to fluff, the bees scurry around in them and do what they do ~ move the pollen around and remove some. Within a few hours, the stamens become thinner.
Shirley Poppies have close relatives with varying colors of stamens and filaments. Some annual poppy varieties (breadseed, somniferum) have white, golden, and green stamens, and the filaments may be white, brown, or black.
By the end of the day, they may discolor and shrivel in the sun.
Below is a fringed laciniatum poppy, and it is from seed from my mom who started me on these happy little things many years ago.
So. Cut early. Handle them gently because the critical thing is to keep the sap which will start to gather at the end of the stems. You’ll notice different colors of sap for different colors of blooms. Placing the handful of Shirley Poppies in a shallow bowl with the stems tipped slightly upward (as you’ll see in video below) is a good idea, because then the sap doesn’t drip off. I was sad to discover it stains cement floors.
There are lots of conditioning tricks people use, but the one method that works for me is by singeing the sap with the gentle flame from a cigarette lighter. The goal is for the heat to draw out the sap and and harden it a bit to make a sort of crusted seal. Heat with the flame close but not touching the sap just until the bubbling stops. Browning the stem doesn’t really help. I do not know the chemistry. And yes, i do them one by one. If the sap doesn’t bubble, it’s probably a fail.
Generally, annual Shirley Poppies last 3 days using this method. I find that the more petals they have, the longer they last. The single reds plain old do not like to be cut and that’s all there is to it. But the ones with lots of petals last longest ~ more than 2 weeks in my cooler. Worth it.
Seed sources I have used:
- One Stop Poppy Shoppe
- Swallowtail Garden Seeds
- Chiltern Seeds (sadly, not shipping to USA until covid restrictions lifted)
- Floret Flower Farm
- Summer Hill Seeds
- Select Seeds
Seeding Shirley Poppies is just about the easiest thing in the world. You can seed in autumn or spring even in USA zone 6. Have the soil prepared to a nice tilth, mix your seeds with a handful of fine sand, and sprinkle them thinly wherever you want them to grow. Nature takes care of the rest.