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Q: I've heard it is impossible to transplant/divide oriental poppies. I have a number in my garden that have outgrown their space. What should I
A: Although poppies represent a bit of a challenge they are definitely not
impossible. The key is to understand their pattern of growth: as you know,
their huge thrust of energy is in the spring/early summer when they put on
their amazing display of flowers(oriental poppies are one of my favorites).
Obviously this is the wrong time to try and manipulate them in any way.
Soon afterward the foliage will begin to wither and die off; the plant is
entering a period of dormancy. This is your window of opportunity to do
what you need - division or transplantation. Personally, I recommend
rearranging a few strategic surrounding plants to give the poppies more
room. While this might sound ridiculous at first, many other species are
much more forgiving about transplantation. Given the notoriously bad
attitude that poppies have about being manipulated, this may be your safest
course of action. If this is not possible, relocating the plants in your
garden is your next best option, rather than division. A happy poppy
matures into a large specimen if you divide your plants, they may fit in
their space for a time, the next year, perhaps two, but if they are in a
good location, you will probably be facing the same problem within two
years. So after the foliage dies back, transplant them just like most other
perennials. Dig in a large circle around the center of the plant. Try and
move a little farther out and dig deeper than you would normally- poppies
have thick, fleshy roots systems that are a little more extensive than
typical perennials, both wide and deep. Try and and remove this whole plug
of earth(including your poppy) without breaking it up and move it to its new
location, having a hole already dug so that you can just shift the plant
right into its new place and backfill with dirt from the hole. The key
elements here are getting as much of the existing root system as possible,
and keeping disturbance of the root ball to an absolute minimum. If all
goes well, your poppy should put out new growth later in summer as if it
were never moved at all.
Just an aside and possible word of warning if you do move your poppies:
they have the ability to generate new plants from pieces of root. In fact,
this is a method used to propagate poppies asexually. What does this have to
do with transplanting my poppies, you may ask? Perhaps nothing, but the
last time I removed an oriental poppy from my garden, I replaced it with
another perennial planted in the same location. No surprise there, that is
what one normally does so there are not big empty spaces in the garden.
However, I was completely surprised in the late summer/fall by a large
number of poppy plants all growing up within and around my current and, by
that time, fairly well-established perennial. I pulled these out by hand,
trying not to interfere too much with the current plant's root system, but
could not find the roots generating these poppy plants. I thought that
would be the end of the story. Not so. I pulled poppy shoots throughout
that fall, the following spring, and a smaller number even the next fall. I
don't know if my experience is typical, but you may want to search/dig a bit
in the original location to see if you can remove any extra pieces of root.
It might save you some work later, especially if there are new additions to
your garden competing for the same space.