The heavy rains we had this past winter brought a spring "super bloom" of wildflowers to the fields and hillsides of California and most notable were the masses of golden orange California poppies that literally popped up everywhere. Declared the state flower of California in 1903, the California poppy (Eschsholtzia californica) is easy to grow and requires very little care.
These colorful, long-lasting flowers come in shades of red, orange and yellow and their foliage has a fern-like appearance. They prefer the cooler temperatures of spring and early summer and will stay in bloom along the coast until the weather heats up in July. A good time to plant California poppy seeds is around the end of November and into December.
California poppies will grow in most soils as long as it has good drainage and is not clay based or too fertile. Plant the seeds in full sun with about a 1/4 inch of soil covering them and lightly pack it down. Keep the soil moist as the seeds germinate, which will happen in about 10 to 15 days after planting. In the wild, the seeds begin to germinate as the fall rains begin. While they need a good supply of water at the early stages of their growth, once they establish they are considered to be drought-tolerant plants. It will take about 75 days for the seeds to flower after they have been planted.
Deadhead the faded flowers, but leave a few so that they will reseed your beds for flowers the following season. As the brightly colored flower petals fade and fall, an elongated seed pod will grow from the flower stem. Eventually, the pod will open and release its seeds. A few years ago, I planted a mixture of California wildflower seeds that included California poppies and the poppies come back year after year — much to the delight of the bees and butterflies that love to visit them. This area of my garden is not fertilized like the other areas since wildflowers, such as the California poppy, prefer little to no fertilizer, unlike most garden flowers. If fertilized, the poppy plants will produce an abundance of leaves and few flowers.
California poppies only have a few pests and turning a bunch of ladybugs loose in your garden will keep many unwanted bugs in check. Plan to release your bag of ladybugs just before dusk and water your garden before you set them free. The late hour and the water clinging to your plants and the soil will keep them hanging around even after the sun comes up.
Another way to keep them in your garden is to make a shallow "pool" from a terracotta pot saucer. Set the saucer into the garden soil, level with the dirt and fill it with small pebbles and water. Ladybugs usually flee the garden looking for a water source and this shallow watering station should keep the little creatures around to do their job. You might even see butterflies enjoying the water!