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Plant Now for Spring Bloom! Poppies, Delphinium, and Larkspur
Posted on : December 19, 2018

A garden blooming with poppies, Delphinium and larkspur in colors of light blue, dark blue, pink, purple and white are show-stoppers in the spring! Poppies and Larkspur are reseeding annuals on the Texas Coast and germination occurs the following fall/winter season with cool temperatures and moist conditions. The spring spikes of color put on their best show when planted during the winter so they can develop a strong root system and a healthy rosette of foliage. The leafy rosettes continue to add leaves and will occasionally throw a small spike flower. This spike flower must be cut back to the rosette, returning the energy for the rosette to grow larger. The larger the rosette, the taller and bigger the flower spike! If you do not remove the wimpy spike flower (produced during warm periods in winter), you will never get the beautiful 24-30” spike flower in the spring. The flowering period lasts for about 4-6 weeks and as the nights start to warm up the plant shifts gears and goes into seed production mode ending the bloom cycle. Most cool weather plants continue to bloom until after Easter.

Poppies are heirloom flowers and always found in the gardening grandmother’s garden. Once you have poppies in your garden, they will continue to reseed and return every year without any help. BUT IF YOU MULCH THE AREA WITH PINE STRAW OR MULCH, THE SEED WILL NOT GERMINATE. (Great way to keep winter weeds suppressed) Poppies can be grown by sowing the seed directly in the soil or by purchasing transplants. Do not place seed where water runoff will wash them out. Work decomposed granite in 2’x2’soil patches where you sow the seeds, as the aggregate keeps the seeds from washing and makes monitoring germination easy. Use a 50:50 soil/gravel ratio and work 6-10” deep into the native soil. Leave this area exposed to sunlight, yes full sun is best or at least 6 hours, and do not cover seed with any mulch.

An old fashion favorite is Bread Poppy; yes this is the seed found in the poppy seed bread we eat. Papaver somniferum is only available from seed and reseeds each year as long as the area is not covered with pine straw or mulch. The steel, blue gray foliage produces flower spikes 18-36” tall producing unique drooping flower buds and upright seed pods. Flowers can be single or double peony form, in colors of magenta, pink or purple and each generation can produce new color morphs and forms.

Iceland Poppy, Papaver nudicale is a native to subpolar regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Iceland poppy loves the cold! Plants grow well through the winter and start flowering when temperatures rise. Starter plants are usually available during the winter producing single, papery petals of white, yellow, orange, and pink, one cultivar sold is Champagne Bubbles with blooming height of 12-16” inches.

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, became the official state flower on March 2, 1903. The frilly, fern-like, blue green foliage adds a nice texture to the winter garden and produces cup shaped flowers of red, orange or yellow in spring followed by cone shaped seed pods for next winter’s crop. Blooming height is 6-12” and these poppies benefit from an aggregate soil as described above.

Native to England, Delphinium produces tall spikes of deep blue, light blue, purple or white flowers seen in photos of the English Cottage garden. Southern gardeners coerce Delphiniums in Texas gardens by using transplants in the winter for that beautiful spring bloom. Our inconsistent temperatures (warm to cool and warm again) really confuse Delphinium so on warm days plants “throw” short flower spikes thinking it is spring. Those flower spikes must be cut off to the base of the rosette so the energy is redirected to produce a larger rosette for that really big flower spike in spring! Stop cutting off the little flower spikes at the end of February as the plants will flower in March reaching 24-30”. Once cold temperatures are consistent, the plants will not try to bloom. Cultivars available are usually Pacific Giant Mix and Connecticut Yankee Mix.

Larkspur, Consolida acacis, is a cousin to Delphinium and considered a reseeding annual, never a perennial like Delphinium. Larkspur is best grown by direct sowing seeds to the gravelly, soil area during fall and winter. Sometimes transplants are available so plant them with as little disturbance to the root ball as possible. Larkspur seedlings are more vigorous when direct sown and allowed to grow where they germinate. The rule of cutting off the wimpy blooms during warm winter weeks is needed to produce a much larger and stronger vegetative rosette to flower in the spring. The finely cut fern foliage adds a wonderful texture to the sunny, winter garden. Larkspur bloom in colors of pink, blue, purple, and white and can be single or double flowers. Larkspur is a great everlasting flower to press and dry as the petals retain their color when dried and can be used in card making and 3D art projects!

These plants are available at the Arbor Gate, plant with expanded shale and Arbor Gate Blend fertilizer and grow them this winter.

Written by Linda Gay

Linda received her Associates Degree in Horticulture from Trident Technical College in Charleston, SC. She moved to Houston the summer of 1979 and worked in the commercial green industry until 1985. October 1985 Linda stared at Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens and retired in May 2011. She was the director for 11 years. Linda is first and foremost a gardener, constantly manipulating soils and putting new plants in the garden, always learning and growing. She has killed plants every which way you can and this experience has made me a plant expert. After 6 months of retirement Linda was very fortuitous and landed in the coolest gardener’s paradise, The Arbor Gate in Tomball, Texas.

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