M. baileyi seedlings

Cultivation, Propagation

Meconopsis are not as widely grown as their attractiveness suggests they deserve. They have the reputation for being difficult, some certainly are, and some have proved, so far, impossible. But with understanding and knowledge, success with the more amenable ones should be possible, and to help in this way is the purpose of this part of our site.

Cultivation and propagation are described in four (linked) sections.

  1. Cultivation: growing the plants in the garden

  2. Vegetative (asexual) propagation

  3. Raising from seed (by a number of knowledgeable contributors)

  4. Diseases (under construction)

We present two main topics, namely the cultivation of Meconopsis in the garden and the means to produce more plants either for the garden or for sale by nurserymen and others. Basically, there are two sources for obtaining new plants. One is to grow plants from seed and the other is a vegetative method, i.e. by division of mature plants. For some species and hybrids, there is a choice of either method, e.g. M. quintuplinervia and M. 'Lingholm'. But for others, only one method is available. Seed is the only option for the monocarpic species, such as M. paniculata, whilst sterile cultivars can only be increased by division, e.g. M. 'Slieve Donard'.

Your viewpoints and experiences
It is likely that gardeners and nurserymen growing Meconopsis in different areas will have opinions and experiences varying from those expressed in this section. We would welcome input from readers and, if received, may be able to add to this section of the site. Please make contact by email to: plantmatters@meconopsis.org or by post to Evelyn Stevens.

1. Cultivation: growing plants in the garden (Evelyn Stevens)
Undoubtedly success with Meconopsis has a lot to do with climate. Meconopsis come from the mountainous regions of the Himalayas, western China and Tibet. These areas are cold, with snow cover in winter, and experience monsoon conditions with high rainfall during the summer growing and flowering season. They clearly thrive where the climates more nearly approximate those of their native habitats. Thus they flourish better in the cooler and wetter parts of northern Britain than in the warmer and drier south. Other areas which suit Meconopsis well include coastal British Columbia and northern Europe. We hear from some members that they grow exceptionally well in the far north, e.g. in Alaska and in Tromso in the north of Norway. However, with knowledge of their needs and an undertaking to manipulate to some degree the micro-climate of the beds where they are to be grown, success with Meconopsis is achievable in less favourable areas. One instance can be seen at Wakehurst Place in Sussex in the south of England in the bog-garden area, where M. baileyi appears to flourish. We hope that with the information given here more gardeners will be encouraged to gain satisfaction from attempting to grow these lovely plants.

Portrait picture needed

Sheet of glass protects hairy evergreen leaf rosettes against excesses of winter rainfall

This section seeks to give some basic principles and is written in the light of nearly 25 years' experience of growing Meconopsis in central Scotland, an area well-suited to these plants. Mainly in mind are the big perennial blue poppies, although in large measure, what is written applies to other species as well. The latter include MM. quintuplinervia, punicea, x cookei, integrifolia, pseudointegrifolia, napaulensis hybrids, paniculata, wallichii, superba, aculeata, and prattii and on a single occasion each, MM. latifolia and M. discigera. I have not had experience or success with more tricky species such as MM. delavayi, lancifolia or M. speciosa. The Welsh poppy, M. cambrica, including M. cambrica 'Frances Perry' and the double yellow and orange forms, grows very readily, as might be anticipated. It is almost a weed here in central Scotland and likewise in many other gardens, but in certain areas less favourable for Meconopsis this is a species that is often prized by gardeners.

This account on cultivation will start with a plant ready to plant out into the garden, either a pot-grown (home-grown or bought from a garden centre or nursery) or open-ground specimen. Early spring or late summer is a suitable time to do this when there is a good chance that it will become well-established before the onset of the more stressing weather conditions of summer and winter, respectively. It is preferable to place out into the garden before plants become root-bound, but even if they are, they respond well once transplanted into the open ground. Meconopsis are not particularly deep-rooted and therefore do not reach down to great depths in the soil and my experience is that they can be moved around the garden quite readily, if this is done with care ensuring minimum root-disturbance and watering well until re-established.

Thorough preparation of a bed for Meconopsis - note incorporation of additional soil components

Even though not being very deep-rooted, it is important to prepare the soil well. The aim should be to produce a nutrient-rich soil, at least the depth of the tines on your garden fork, with a friable, crumbly texture and with reasonable drainage. This is achieved by digging the soil thoroughly and by adding liberal amounts of organic matter e.g. garden compost, leaf-mould and well-rotted manure. Some growers maintain that Meconopsis are very greedy feeders and need as much manure as can be supplied. I have not felt the need to add large amounts of manure to our soil. This may be due to its inherent high nutrient level - after all, it is only 25 years ago that it was a farmed field. Occasionally I have applied some inorganic fertiliser granules and on one occasion, slow release fertiliser granules, but have not been convinced that they were of benefit. However, whenever I do any replanting, I make sure to enrich the soil, again digging well and adding more garden compost and some manure if available.

Probably important if the soil is on the heavy side and liable to water-logging, is the addition and digging in of coarse grit (ca. 3-6 mm). If water-logging threatens to be a problem raising the soil level of the bed slightly by the addition of more soil components can be a satisfactory solution. I have taken these precautions to some extent and by and large the plants thrive in our cool, not particularly sunny summers. Although not grown in truly boggy soil, surprisingly, even in wetter parts of the garden, the Meconopsis flourish, so I think they are possibly not as averse to winter wetness as is sometimes reported - but this tolerance of winter wet may be related to overall amount of winter rainfall: in areas of higher rainfall succumbing to water-logged conditions may be more prevalent. (In the area described, the annual rainfall is around 90 cm).

Healthy, recently emerged leaf rosettes of seed-raised M.baileyi in a bed of improved soil necessary for growing Meconopsis here

After planting, and at other times as convenient, a mulch of garden compost, well-rotted manure or bark chippings is placed around the plants, taking care to avoid covering the central crowns. This is done with the aim of helping to retain high moisture levels in the soil and high air humidity in spells of hot weather, as well as improving nutrient levels and soil texture. In the occasional heat-waves we experience, it is also important to irrigate the beds which I do by overhead irrigation. Possibly a seep-pipe (a hose-pipe with small perforations to yield a slow and constant release of water on the surface of the soil) would work as well. Probably the worst 'enemy' of Meconopsis is excessive heat and a dry atmosphere during summer droughts, so different from their homeland monsoon. Losses in the south of England appear to be associated with long, hot summers, e.g. the infamous summer of 1976, and even here in Scotland one feels the need for overhead irrigation if a hot, dry spell sets in.

Above-ground view of a mature plant of M. George Sherriff Group (MG113), similar to the plant of M. 'Barney's Blue' (below left), to show the spreading habit of growth. Note the presence of small new shoots marking the position of the apex of tips of rhizomes underground.

Left: a clump of M. 'Barney's Blue' which shows the underground system of roots and rhizomes. The formation of an extensive system of rhizomes which enable vegetative reproduction is characteristic of George Sherriff Group and results in a spreading habit of growth.
Sb=young shoot developing from the base of the previous year's flowering stem, R=rhizome reaching out from the centre of the plant with a new shoot (Sa) at its apex. Seven rhizomes are visible in this picture. FR=fibrous roots, DL=dead base of a leaf from the previous year.

Meconopsis thrive best in dappled shade in an open site, the aim being to give them enough sun-light, but not to be scorched during hot, sunny spells, These conditions can be provided by growing in the vicinity of deciduous trees and shrubs which will also give shelter from summer gales. Strong winds can damage the leaves and may bend the flowering stems. Meconopsis thrive less well very close to the base of trees, despite the fact that this may give them the dappled shade they relish. This is presumably due to competition with tree roots for water during dry spells.

Deciduous forms which die down in winter need no overhead protection, but this is desirable to shelter the captivating leaf rosettes of evergreen forms like M. napaulensis hybrids, M. paniculata and M. superba against the excesses of winter rainfall. A sheet of glass on a wire frame-work performs this task satisfactorily.

Sheltered, woodland glade conditions at Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland, suit M. 'Slieve Donard'

This is the end of Section 1; for other sections of Cultivation, Propagation click on one of the links:

3. Raising from seed
4. Diseases (under construction)

1. Cultivation: growing the plants in the garden
2. Vegetative (asexual) propagation

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