Iceland poppy does well in valley
December 16, 2003
A popular and easy to grow flower here is Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicale). Unlike many poppy species, Icelands are native to very cold areas, and don’t take heat and hot sun well. In the Vail area, it flowers for most of the season. In hotter areas it’s used for early season color as it goes to seed. Depending on where it is, it can get hot enough to kill the plant, so Icelands are also grown as annuals.
Their cheery colors of yellow, orange, white, and pink really brighten up a garden. The flowers rise up from the leaf mound on stalks, rarely reaching two feet, usually less. Once the flower expires and goes to seed, it does leave a brown stalk. If you don’t have an overwhelming number of Icelands, the plant will have a neater appearance if you snip the stalks down near the leaf mound.
Icelands are susceptible to a couple of insect pests. I have occasionally encountered aphids on them. In that case, insecticide is in order. There are environmentally-friendly bug sprays on the market, like insecticidal soaps. They kill aphids on contact, and do not leave behind a toxic residue. They pretty much are water soluble, so the spray is effective when you spray it, but only then.
There are also “granular systemic” insecticides for sucking insects on the market. The granules are applied to the soil around the plant, the roots take up the poison internally. When the aphids bore into the plant to suck out the plants fluids, they take in the insecticide and die. The advantage to granular systemics is they last for several weeks. The downside is that they are very toxic. They have to be handled carefully, including not breathing the vapors. We already put enough poison into our surroundings, so while convenient, I certainly recommend using something less toxic than systemics.
There is another insect that causes damage to Icelands. If you see your poppies develop flower buds that drop their petals right after the bud casing opens, it well could be tarnished plant bug. This fast-moving bug bores into the flower bud, and in the process of dining on the bud, injects something that disrupts the flower.
They are easy to see. They are roughly a quarter of an inch in length, and move quickly. The youngsters start out green, and as they mature they turn a muted greyish-brown color. They have a characteristic “bug triangle” on their back.
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Control isn’t too difficult. I have played the mighty hunter and taken them out by hand. Yep. Snuck up on them and pinched them dead. They’re tricky. They can run fast, and they also take to wing and fly away. For the squeamish, an insecticidal soap zaps them just fine. They aren’t real prolific, so if you get the upper hand on them, you’ll see poppy flowers again. I have also seen them attack Oriental poppies, and some other types of flowers. If you have a colony of TPB in your garden, say hi to them, tell them they’re cute, and then nuke ’em.
Iceland poppies are easy to grow from seed. Often you’ll see new ones growing from the seed of a nearby established plant. Their first year they remain a fairly small plant, but they flower their first season, unlike many perennials. Seed is often found in the grocery store seed collections and nurseries, but this valley can be hit-or-miss when it comes to finding what you’re looking for.