Dividing Oriental Poppies

poppy1This spring the clump of ‘Victoria Louise’ oriental poppies in the long border sent up at least 50 blooms. While the display was truly spectacular, I found it a bit too concentrated, so I decided that dividing and spreading the poppies out along the length of the bed would improve the border’s balance next spring.  Unfortunately with poppies you have to wait until the foliage dies back before you can move them, which generally means the heat of August – and true to form, the chosen day dawned hot, humid and 90.

Ah well, now or never….

The process of division turned out to be remarkably simple: simply pop the clump from the ground, shake off the soil, and separate out logical divisions based on how the fleshy roots separate.

poppy2The only real trick to the process is making sure that up remains up: if you’ve already removed the dried foliage, it can be difficult to tell from the roots alone which direction is skyward. As you can see, in my case the foliage was still attached, and I immediately replanted  5 divisions in the border, this time however, setting the poppies slightly farther back in the bed than previously, to make sure that there was a suitable fronting plant to hide the poppy foliage as it dies back next spring. Spreading asters, mums, boltonia and other fall bloomers planted just to the side are ideal candidates for this kind of thing; or, as I did, you can wait and insert a container of annual rudebekias to fill the gap left by the poppy. The one other advantage of dividing now is that you can get a very good sense of the varying degrees of camouflage you’ll get from the poppy’s nearest neighbors plants – unlike in the spring when the poppy towers above its barely emergent companions.

So, let’s keep our fingers crossed for a good display next season!


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