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Propagating Oriental Poppies
Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) are not blooming in the border; they're not there at all. In late July or early August after the flowers have dropped the foliage turns yellow and dies down to the ground. The plant becomes dormant. Oriental poppies are sensitive to disturbance of the soil around the roots during the period when they are growing. During this period of dormancy plants may be moved or propagated without damage.

When to divide

Ordinarily there's no need to divide poppies unless you want more plants. They do not encroach on neighbors or crowd themselves out. However, they are living things and have a finite life span. It is good insurance to start new plants and hold them in reserve.
Division or root cuttings

New plants may be created by division or root cuttings. Division is the easiest method of propagation and provides the largest plants in the shortest time. Root cuttings provide many more new plants from a parent plant than division. To divide a plant, dig the entire clump. The entire root system will be vigorous without the center weakness often seen in perennials. You can make several divisions approximately six inches across from each plant. Set the divisions in improved soil, spaced between 12 to 15 inches apart.

There are two methods of taking root cuttings. The first method is to take a section of the roots. The mother plant is left in place. This is a good procedure if you are creating reserve plants. The second method is to dig up the entire plant. Some of the brittle roots are inevitably left behind and sprout on their own, maintaining the clump.

It is important to maintain the orientation of the cutting. The top of the root cutting, the end closet to the crown, forms stems and leaves. The bottom produces roots. To help identify the orientation of the cutting while working with the cuttings, cut the top square and the bottom at an angle. Make cuttings between three and four inches long.

The cutting can be set immediately into predug holes in the garden. Cover with ½ inch of soil. Some gardeners prefer to start the cuttings in pots. The pots must be deep enough to permit the cuttings to be set ½ inch below the soil surface. New leaves will appear above the soil within a month. Potted cuttings can be set in the garden as soon as the leaves appear or over-wintered in the pot. Hold potted cuttings in a cold frame.

Moving in the fall

Oriental poppies can be moved in early fall when new foliage appears in. It is necessary to move a soil ball with the roots. Take care to disturb the soil around the roots as little as possible. Provide shade for the plants for week after setting them in their new location. Established clumps occupy much as a square yard.

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Updated August 8, 2011