Primroses are one of the first flowers up in the garden. The bright blooms are always a welcome sight in spring. These plants are easy to grow and will reward you with bright colors every year. Let’s dig into how to grow primroses!
Primrose Flower Plant Overview
Primroses, originally used medicinally, now adorn many US gardens.
Primroses have been around since ancient times. They were used medicinally by ancient Greeks and Romans. Fast forward to medieval times, where primroses symbolized spring and rebirth. Rich with mythological and symbolic associations, they appear in the folklore of several cultural traditions. By the 17th century, they were being planted and enjoyed for their beauty.
Today, they are a garden mainstay found in many gardens across the USA.
Common primrose is one of the popular varieties of primrose.
There are many types of primroses and even more varieties. This article only covers primroses from the genus Primula. Evening primroses are actually part of the genus Oenothera, which is a native perennial.
Some of the more popular species of primula primrose include:
1. Common Primrose
Diverse common primroses, with wrinkled leaves and vibrant colors, bloom early, vital for pollinators.
Common primrose (Primula vulgaris) is a small perennial flower. It can be identified by its wrinkled, pointed leaves and five-petaled flowers. The flowers are commonly pale yellow but also may appear in shades of pink, purple, or white. They are one of the first flowers in late winter to early spring. This makes them an important food source for pollinators.
2. Cowslip Primula
Cowslip primula charms with fragrant, nodding yellow-orange blooms, bringing joy to spring gardens.
The cowslip primula, Primula veris, is a small perennial flower with fleshy leaves and slender stalks of yellow or orange flowers. The flowers are small bell-shaped flowers that nod downwards. They have a lovely fragrance. They bloom in springtime and are a welcome sight to people and pollinators.
3. Drumstick Primula
Vibrant flowers on a slender stem, drumstick primula is perfect for spring gardens.
Drumstick primula is a charming and distinctive species of primula. Primula reticulata has globe-shaped clusters of flowers on a single slender stem. It comes in various colors and is a unique and interesting addition to a spring garden.
4. Japanese primrose
These vibrant flowers have twisted petals and distinctive foliage.
Japanese primroses (Primula japonica) feature flowers in vivid shades of pink, red, purple, and white. Each flower has a slightly twisted petal, which gives it a unique and elegant appearance. The foliage is pointed and gross in a rosette. This is a very unique and beautiful primrose.
5. Polyanthus Primrose
Large, colorful flowers make the polyanthus primrose ideal for stunning spring displays.
Polyanthus primroses are hybrid varieties of primroses – Primula x polyantha. They have large five-petalled flowers that come in many color combinations. They are often used in showy spring flower displays.
There are a few ways to obtain and/or propagate your primroses.
Obtain primroses easily from garden centers, nurseries, or flower shops.
The easiest way to get a primrose is to go to the garden center or nursery and purchase one. Check the perennial department for most types of primroses. The hybrid varieties with very showy flowers may even be found in flower shops.
Place bare root primroses in water for 3-6 hours before planting.
You can purchase bare root primroses from garden catalogs. Once your bare root arrives, soak it for 3-6 hours before planting it. Next, dig a hole two to three times wider and deeper than the root ball. Place the bare root into the hole, keeping the crown level with the soil line. Fill the hole in and water it well.
Divide primroses in spring or fall, replanting one in its same spot and the other 2/3rds of the plant elsewhere.
Dividing your primroses is a great way to propagate them. This is best done after they have finished blooming in fall or early spring. Dig up the entire plant with a shovel. Divide the plant into sections with the sharp end of a spade, your hands, or a garden knife.
I generally use the rule of thirds for plants. Divide two-thirds of the plant and leave a third to replant in the same place. Replant the divisions and water them well. This is best done on a cool or cloudy day.
Plant primroses correctly for survival and growth by choosing the right garden spot.
Since primroses are perennial and will come back year after year, it is important to plant them correctly to ensure they survive and thrive.
Dig a hole at least twice as large as the plant. By loosening the soil around the plant, it will have an easier time rooting into the soil and will establish itself faster.
I like using one-third organic matter and two-thirds of the existing soil to fill the hole. Organic matter can be compost, manure, sea soil, or worm castings. I don’t measure too closely, just a few scoops or handfuls. Fill the hole up to the plant’s crown and gently pack the soil around it. Water the new primrose very well. Keep an eye on it and add extra water for the first season it is planted.
How to Grow
Primroses are fairly low-maintenance perennials that will provide bright spring flowers for years if given their ideal conditions.
Preventing primroses from being exposed to too much sunlight is essential to prevent leaf damage.
Most primula varieties thrive in part shade conditions. An eastern exposure or dappled shade under a deciduous tree is great, too. Avoid hot afternoon sun or areas where heat can be reflected off a surface like a wall or walkway. South exposures with no dappled shade will be too much for a primrose.
They will have crispy and sunburned leaves if they are in too much sun. Additionally, their flowers will shrivel and fall off quickly.
On the other hand, too much shade will lead to leggy-looking primroses that will not bloom. They will not tolerate deep shade.
The optimal soil for primroses should be well-draining and crumbly.
Primroses prefer moist, well-draining soil filled with organic matter. They will not tolerate being in standing water. A lot of your part shade perennials prefer these conditions. If you have an established garden bed filled with flowering perennials, you likely already have the soil that primroses like.
I like to do a simple squeeze test to see if the soil is light enough for primroses. I grab a handful of soil and squeeze it in my hand. If it crumbles away, it’s good, well-drained soil. Soil that stays in a ball-like putty has a high clay content and will not drain water freely.
If this is your soil type, add peat or coconut coir and lots of organic matter to help loosen the soil and add nutrients. Do not add sand, as it does not retain moisture or add organic matter.
Correctly watering primroses involves keeping the soil consistently moist and avoiding excessive watering.
Primroses like to be evenly moist but never soggy. Making sure your soil is well draining but can also hold onto moisture like a sponge is key. Consider mulching your garden to help retain water.
Avoid overwatering. Signs of overwatering include yellowing leaves or, in extreme cases, they can develop root and crown rot.
Avoiding overhead watering is also a good idea. This will help avoid certain fungal diseases. I like using a drip hose that waters directly at the soil line. Alternatively, water in the morning so the day’s heat can quickly dry the leaves. Evening overhead watering will leave the foliage wet overnight and can be a breeding ground for fungus.
Climate and Temperature Requirements
The flowers thrive in cool climates and grow in zones 3-8, favoring lush gardens.
Primroses prefer cool weather. They bloom during winter and spring, although the timing varies depending on the variety and your area’s climate. Depending on the species, they grow in zones 3-8. They thrive in lush gardens with trees and other perennials.
Primroses are sensitive to over-fertilization, which can harm their growth and health.
There is a general misconception about fertilizer. More fertilizer means bigger and better plants, right? Not necessarily, especially when it comes to primroses. They are sensitive to fertilizer and do not like being over-fertilized. It can result in your primrose growing a lot of foliage but hardly any flowers.
Over-fertilization can also cause the leaves to burn. Watch for brown-tipped leaves. Too much fertilizer can weaken the plant’s health over time and make it more susceptible to diseases and pests.
If you want to fertilize, use a slow-release fertilizer before it starts to bloom. A balanced all-purpose fertilizer is fine.
But what I find better than fertilizers is to focus on the overall health of your soul. You can add organic matter to your soil. In the fall, I like to top-dress my beds with manure, compost, worm castings, or sea soil. There is no need to dig it in. The nutrients will trickle down into the soil throughout the winter. You can also add worm-casting tea or compost tea. These are full of beneficial microbes that will help your plants thrive.
Deadheading primroses after blooming helps maintain a tidy garden with minimal effort.
Primroses require very little maintenance. I deadhead them once they are finished blooming. Clip the flower down the stem to the foliage. This isn’t necessary, but it keeps your garden looking tidy.
Compact primrose ‘Wanda’ features large magenta flowers and provides a versatile ground cover.
‘Wanda‘ is a compact variety of primrose. It has large magenta flowers with sunny yellow centers. It is a semi-evergreen plant that will act as a creeping ground cover. This is a perfect promise for borders, rock gardens, and containers.
A series of double-flowering primroses, ‘Belarina Nectarine’ features yellow blooms with red margins.
‘Belarina‘ is a series of double-flowering primroses. The flowers are beautiful rosettes of blooms that come in several colors. ‘Belarina Nectarine’ is one of my favorite varieties. It features yellow double flowers with red margins.
This drumstick variety has long stems and flowers in shades of yellow, orange, and red.
‘Sunset Shades‘ is a drumstick (Primula veris) variety. It features long stems with flowers in various shades of yellow, orange, and red.
Plant primroses in small groups for vibrant, early spring color in garden beds.
Primroses will make your late winter or spring garden vibrant with delicate flowers. These small perennials look great in the front of garden beds. I like adding them as pops of color throughout the front borders of garden beds.
I don’t mass plant them because, after bloom, they fade to simple foliage. Instead, I plant small groups of them in and amongst the garden. A little grouping of three or five (odd numbers work best). Plant them next to or in front of later blooming flowers such as astilbe, hosta, or bugbane. Then, once they are finished blooming, they can fade into a leafy green plant while other perennials flower and shine.
Some varieties also look great in containers. I make spring arrangements with pussy willow branches, pansies, tulips, and primroses. Once I am ready to plant summer containers, I take the primroses out and plant them into my garden.
Pests and Diseases
Slugs and Snails
To deter slugs and snails in your garden, hand-pick them during cloudy mornings or evenings.
Slugs and snails share one thing with primroses: they both like shady, damp conditions. I have seen primroses full of holes with trails of slime. It’s a sure sign of slugs and/or snails.
There are a few ways to deal with these garden pests. You can hand-pick them. I do this often. On a cloudy day, early in the morning or evening, go out and check your plants. Pick off the slugs and snails.
You can always try slug and snail traps. Use beer to lure them and then toss them out. Alternatively, try snail bait. This stuff works great. Sprinkle it on, and they all disappear. But beware; it is toxic to pets, so do not use it if you have animals in your garden.
Primrose pests like vine weevils and their destructive larvae threaten plant health.
Vine weevils are another pest to watch out for on your primroses. Vine weevils are small black beetles that you can spot on your primroses. You will want to remove them and put them in a bucket of soapy water.
But what is worse than the vine weevils is their larvae. Vine weevil larvae will feed on the roots of your primroses. This will weaken your plants significantly and eventually destroy them.
Certain nematodes (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, also called Hb nematodes) can be applied to your soil to help manage vine weevils. Hand-picking them will also help control them. You can also use stick traps at the base of the plant to prevent the vine weevils from crawling up your plants.
Root and Crown Rot
Primroses are prone to crown and root rot in unfavorable conditions.
Crown and root rot can affect your primroses. You will most likely get crown and root rot if your primroses are not in ideal conditions. Too much water will lead to rot. Your plant will rot at the crown and dissolve.
Make sure your soil is well draining. Amend your soil with plenty of organic matter. You may also need to add peat or coconut coir to improve drainage.
Prevent botrytis in primroses by keeping foliage dry by watering just the soil.
Botrytis is a fungus that will cause necrosis to the foliage of your primroses. The best way to deal with botrytis is by prevention. Avoid getting the foliage wet. Use ground-level watering or water in the morning instead of the evening so the foliage can dry.
If you notice grayish mold and dead mushy patches of leaves, remove them immediately. Spray your plant with a fungicide.
Frequently Asked Questions
A: This depends on the type of primrose. Common primrose flowers can last for a few weeks up to a month. Whereas other types, like polyanthus primroses, will not last as long. But generally, you can expect your primrose blooms to last a few weeks every season.
A: Yes! While they are not a native perennial, they are still a valuable source of food for bees and other pollinators in the late winter and early spring when food sources can be scarce.
A: Yes, primulas can be grown indoors. They prefer cool temperatures and indirect light. You can plant them in pots with well-draining soil. Be sure to water them regularly but avoid overwatering, as they don’t like soggy soil. They are often kept as short-term houseplants that can be discarded after the bloom fades. Or better yet, plant them outside in your garden.
A: Yes, primroses contain toxic compounds to pets. Keep them away from your furry friends.
Primroses are small perennials that can easily be added to your garden. But don’t let their small size fool you. They provide a punch of color for your late winter and/or spring garden.