You will hear that Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) is hard to start and hard to stop, and to some extent this is true. But if you plant this magnificent California native from one-gallon cans in late fall or early winter, and the spot you choose has excellent drainage (hillsides, mounds, raised beds), you should have self-sustaining plants by the second year.
Plant carefully without disturbing the roots. Water thoroughly at planting and weekly through the first summer. The huge (4-6 inches across) white, crepe-papery flowers with bright yellow stamens each last about a week and then cleanly drop all their petals. The bristly seed pods are attractive among the flowers, which continue to open for weeks. Leaves are bluish gray-green, and stems can rise 6 to 8 feet tall or more. In a few years you will find yourself waiting expectantly for late May or early June, just so you can experience the heart-stopping display.
Matilija poppy does spread a bit, especially in irrigated gardens, but you can cut out new plants with a shovel (they spread by underground rhizomes). Or, if you have a large area that is unwatered in summer, just let them spread. Without supplemental water, on a sunny slope, three plants may become three dozen or more in twenty years.
In normal water years, Matilija poppy receives enough rainfall to take plants through the summer with no help at all. If rains fail, they will still grow and bloom without summer watering, but the flowers will be smaller and the plants will die back more quickly.
After plants finish blooming and the leaves turn brown, you can cut the stems back to about a foot above the ground for a neater appearance or for fire safety. They’ll shoot up again to full height by next spring and bloom again in early summer.
Thanks for your post on this plant. I’m considering adding it in the lower portion of my slope, although I’ve been a bit wary of its size and spread.
Do not be alarmed. This gorgeous plant is easily controlled with a hoe or shovel if you find it invasive. It is a great bank holder. And it requires no summer water at all. I planted three one-gallon plants on a slope in 1978. There are now uncountable numbers of plants, all holding up the slope. When they get too close to the wall I’m protecting I dig them out. No problem. Just glorious flowers for several weeks once a year. Let me know if you have specific questions. I’m VERY familiar with this plant.
Hi again Kris,
On further thought: I have heard stories over the years of this plant getting out of control, I think in irrigated gardens. I would not plant it in a small garden or where it might get summer irrigation. If you have a fairly large space that is not irrigated, and you’re willing to cut out plants where you don’t want them, this is a wonderful choice. If not, it might not be the right plant for you.
Previous renter neighbor planted Matilija Poppy near my property on back sloping hillside. Now, no renter is allowed. Property owner does not cut back annually and we are in a high fire area. Now it is taking over my fruit trees. What can I do?
I would chop them out near your fruit trees. Can you ask the property owner for permission to cut them back on his/her property? They really do need cutting back for fire safety. If you don’t have success with the property owner, you could ask the fire department for assistance.