CA Poppies: How to Harvest Seeds & Extend the Bloom

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People often ask me how I manage my California poppies. This is what I do to extend the bloom period and collect seeds for next year.

California poppy, early in season
Poppy flower and bud early in the season (March 2010). Notice that the leaves do not have the powdery surface often seen on older plants.

Poppies emerge in early spring with blue-green, feathery, segmented leaves. As the season progresses, the flower and leaf stems elongate and are often covered with powdery mildew. In gardens that receive supplemental water, or during rainy years (like this one!), the plants may experience more and earlier mildew. Although this does not look great, it usually doesn’t effect the bloom much.

Poppies later in the season
Poppies later in the season. Notice the elongated stems and the gray powder on the leaves.

Harvesting seeds

The flowers go to seed next, forming long capsules. The capsules change from green to tan as the seed matures. Once the capsule dries, it will split open popping out (dehiscing) its seeds.

Poppy seed capsules. Left - not ready to harvest. Right - pod has mildew on surface, increased ridges indicate it is almost ready to dehisce (pop).
Green capsule and more mature tan-colored capsule. Notice how the ridges along the capsule become more pronounced. There is often one very prominent seam that reminds me of a zipper. This is where the capsule splits when it is ready to disperse its seeds.

I often harvest the pods before they are fully dry and store them in a paper bag in dry place. On a hot afternoon, I can hear the pods popping open in the bag. If left on the plant, the seeds are propelled about 6 to 12 (or more?) inches from the plant.

The seeds should be dark brown before you remove the pods from the plants.

Poppy capsule with mature seeds
Mature poppy seeds are brown. I’m not sure whether they will mature if harvested when green.
Bag of poppy capsules and seeds
Poppy capsules and seeds in a paper bag. Notice the earwig left of center in the picture. Insects will eat the seeds, so be sure to check for them. It is best to separate out the seeds as soon as possible and store them in a clean, dry container.

Extending the bloom

Next I cut the plants back nearly to the ground as shown below. Although often considered annuals, poppies can sprout and bloom at least twice in a season. The resprouted plants and flowers are smaller, but can brighten a garden into late fall.

Poppy plant cut back after flower/seed period
This is how I cut my poppies back after I harvest the seeds.
Poppy that resprouted from the base after being cut back
This poppy sprouted from the base a few weeks after I cut it back.

The dazzling California poppy

In 1903 the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) was officially designated the California state flower. And with good reason! This delightful and showy plant paints patches of hillsides bright orange throughout much of the state. With the abundant rains this year, the poppy fields were a special treat.

Poppies are also a must for new gardens, putting on a beautiful display before other plantings have a chance to spread their branches and fill their space. In fact, you can, and should, create your own superbloom in your native plant habitat garden!

Poppies bloom in new native plant garden
Poppies were the first plants to bloom in this new native plant garden. Check out the Lawn Be Gone series to see how we transitioned from a lawn to a lively, colorful native plant garden. Lawn Be Gone (5) will be coming soon with a resolution to the rebate debacle.

See the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plant Guide for more information on California poppies.

3 thoughts on “CA Poppies: How to Harvest Seeds & Extend the Bloom

  1. Super informative. Thanks.

  2. Linda Lee Worlow

    Barbara, Enjoy reading your posts and your helpful hints. Cheers, Linda

    • weedingwildsuburbia

      Hi Linda. So glad you are still reading them. I’m working on the final post in the Lawn Be Gone series. I left it as a cliff hanger with the project being rejected for the rebate. Stay tuned! Take care Linda! Yours, Barbara

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