The best time to plant most California native plants (late fall/winter) is past. Use spring and summer to see what these plants look like at their best and to make a wish list for next year. One of the most rewarding and inexpensive ways to garden with California natives is to sow wildflower seeds and have the plants “naturalize” in your garden. That is, to allow them to “self-sow” when bloom is over and seeds have formed so that they will come back again on their own the following year.
Seed of our State flower, the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), is easy to find in nurseries and home stores. Occasionally you will see them sold as seedlings in nursery six-packs. Because of their long tap root, transplanting from a container doesn’t work as well as sowing seed directly where you want the plants to come up.
I have read that they are poisonous to livestock so don’t sow them in a pasture. Although flowers can be found in white, pink, and red, most are a bright clear orange. It’s fun to watch bees rolling around gathering pollen in the cup-shaped flowers. Seed capsules open explosively, throwing the seeds in all directions. Unlike many other California native wildflowers, California Poppies are perennials. Spring is the major bloom time, but they can bloom lightly into late fall. By their second spring, they can look kind of ratty so most people pull them up at that point because many new fresh ones will have come up to take their place.
One drawback to the California Poppy is that it closes on overcast days or as evening approaches. A poppy that doesn’t do this is the Wind Poppy (Papaver heterophyllum). It is an annual, dying after distributing its seeds from a capsule, which looks a saltshaker. In my garden it has a much lower germination rate than the California Poppy. I give it some supplemental water in dry years, something I don’t bother doing with the tougher California Poppy. Although flower color is also orange, in my opinion the colors clash when grown next to each other. California Poppy takes full blasting sun; Wind Poppy would prefer partial shade. The whole plant of the Wind Poppy looks more refined, with its flowers on dainty stems held high above the body of the plant. Finding seed for sale is a little more challenging than for the California Poppy but is well worth the trouble.
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