When to plant primroses?

How to Grow and Care for Primroses and Primulas

  • Japanese Primrose (Primula japonica) (zone 5-9) produces red, white or purple flowers on stalks which grow up to 40 inches tall. This variety needs considerable moisture to survive.
  • Cowslip Primrose (Primula veris) (hardy) produces 1-2 inch fragrant yellow flowers in clusters atop 6-12 inch stems. They are well suited for harsh, cold weather. Cowslips multiply rapidly through self seeding, and should be divided every other year after they have finished blooming.
  • English Primrose (Primula vulgaris) (zone 5-9) are heavy bloomers, producing 2-3 single flowers on each stalk. They are available in a wide assortment of colors.
  • Polyanthus Primrose (Primula polyanthus) (zone 3-9) are often erroneously called English Primroses. They are generally all hybrids of different varieties producing large clusters of flowers atop one foot stems. They are available in a large variety of colors, and are well suited to growing in planters. An excellent accent for your bulb garden or for mass plantings of color. Polyanthus Primroses will often bloom again in the fall if the plants are cut back to half their size right after the spring bloom.
  • Chinese Primroses (Primula sinensis) (zone 10) are somewhat tender perennials, and as such are best suited as a potted plant indoors. The star shaped, white, pink, lavender or coral flowers are clustered on 8 inch stalks.
  • Julianna Primrose (Primula juliae) (zone 5-9) is a group of hybrids producing some of the earliest bloom. They are low growing and may produce either singles or clustered flowers.
  • Moonlight Primrose (Primula alpicola) (zone 5-9) waits until summer to show it’s fragrant flowers. The blooms are bell shaped on 18 inch stems, and are usually yellow, however they are sometimes found with white or purple flowers.
  • Fairy Primrose (Primula malacoides) (zones 8-10) produces small leaves on long stalks and numerous foot tall stalks of flowers.
  • German Primrose (primula obconica) (zones 8-10) is a large, 12 inch tall plant with 10 inch round leaves. The 1 inch flowers are mostly shades of red.

Annual Primrose

Primroses are favored in mild winter areas. They’re also spectacular additions to other gardens for early spring color during cool weather. The two most popular varieties for gardens are P. x polyantha, which is bred from a number of species with long stems topped by multiple flowers, and P. malacoides, the fairy primrose, which is often grown as a pot plant in the spring.

Annual Flower Image Gallery

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Description of annual primrose: Primrose flowers grow from a rosette of long, narrow leaves. The color range is immense — from a sky color to midnight blue, pinks, reds of all hues, yellow, orange, and lavender. Many of them are centered with a contrasting yellow eye; still others have narrow bands of color in the petals. Polyanthus primroses will grow up to 1 foot high.

Growing annual primrose: Where climate is favorable, including the maritime West Coast, primroses can be grown as perennials. Blooms will start in mid-winter through spring with a reprise of color in the fall when weather cools. Elsewhere, they must be grown for spring bloom. Transplant well-hardened plants into the garden as soon as the ground can be worked. They should be spaced 6 to 10 inches apart. Grow them in soil rich in organic matter and keep them moist. In most places, they’re happiest with a canopy of high shade. P. malacoides is hardy in California and other mild areas.

Propagating annual primrose: By seed or by division. To break seed dormancy, store in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks before sowing. Sow seeds 8 to 10 weeks before planting in the garden. Seeds germinate in 10 to 20 days at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Uses for annual primrose: Primroses can be a highlight of the spring garden in moist, woodland settings and along woodland paths and walkways. Plant them in pockets by streams or ponds. Interplant them with spring bulbs that bloom at the same time. They’re also nice with pansies, forget-me-nots, and other spring flowers. In containers, they can be beautifully combined with all of the above and others. An extra bonus is the delightful fragrance many of them have.

Annual primrose related species: There are between 400 and 500 species and much interest in growing them, including a Primrose Society for aficionados. P. auricula is often grown for its variety of flowers, both in the garden and for exhibition at flower shows. P. japonica is one of the candelabra species with several whorls of flowers growing on tall stems. It is hardy and is a perennial.

Annual primrose related varieties: The favorite polyanthus types are the Pacific Giant series.

Scientific name of annual primrose: Primula species and hybrids

A guide to primroses

They are easy to grow as they thrive in clay, chalk, loam and sand, making them ideal for any garden.

Aside from that they prefer well-drained soil and grow perfectly in semi shade – under hedges, trees or adjacent to walls. Even perhaps as part of a wildflower meadow or with a spread of bluebells.

From seed, primroses can be sown anytime from autumn onwards, whilst they will remain dormant throughout the cooler months, they will begin growing more vigorously as soon as the warmer weather arrives.


Primula Vulgaris Picture: Alamy

Similarly, if primroses are bought from nurseries as established plants, again they are best off planted during September. When established, primroses should be divided into clumps and then replanted – ensuring that borders are covered in the pretty lemon flowers.

Primroses are synonymous with spring, and so depending on the climate of your particular garden, can bloom from early February and then throughout March and April.

They can become subject to attacks from leaf spot as well as aphids and slugs. With their floriferous growth however, these issues rarely cause much of a problem.

In terms of fertiliser, primroses will thrive on leaf mould – hence their extensive growth in woodland areas.

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2. For vibrant colour – Polyanthus

Similarly to primroses, polyanthus are often found in many gardens. These are garden plants, bred for colourful spring flowers.

A hybrid between primroses and cowslips, they are extremely vibrant in colour – with some being found in bright blues, pinks, yellows and reds.

In terms of care, they are pretty much the same as primroses. Plant them in a well drained area and be sure to pick off any yellow leaves that show up

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3. Choice primroses – Primula sieboldii

Primula sieboldii is a member of the primula family, however it is originally from north east Asia – predominantly Japan. It’s been in Britain for a long time, however, and is fully hardy.

Whilst they are quite happy to grow in woodland, they also thrive in scrubland and moist soil. If you’re wanting to grow Primula sieboldii in the garden however, give them conditions identical to primroses – they like lots of leaf mould and a cool shady area.


Primula sieboldii or Japanese Primrose Picture: Alamy

4. Giant cowslip – Primula florindae

Giant cowslips are slightly more fussy in terms of soil type – they prefer moist but well drained loam soil. They are, however, less fussy with regards to position, as they like partial shade and full sun.

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5. Collectors primroses – Primula auricula

Auriculas, also members of the Primula family, are similar in appearance to cowslips but come in a huge array of colours thanks to intensive breeding by collectors over the years.


Primula auricula ‘Rodborough’ Picture: ©Copyright Jonathan Buckley

They are fairly easy to grow and are compatible with most soil types and are happy in full sun or partial shade. They are traditionally grown in small terracotta pots – but be on your guard against vine weevil as the larvae can eat the roots.

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Primroses: Home

Primula pulverulenta at NYBG

There are over 400 species of primulas, or primroses, found in habitats ranging from marshlands to alpine slopes. Primrose foliage forms rosettes – clusters of leaves in a circle – that grow close to the ground. The flowers grow either clustered together among the leaves or on stalks in umbels, whorls or spikes. Primroses are ideal for a waterside garden, shade garden, or rock garden and some varieties can be used as bedding plants.

Basic Care for Primulas

  • Primroses tend to prefer climates with cool summers — plant in partial shade to avoid the intense summer heat. Many primroses will take full sun, but usually require constant or at least good moisture levels.
  • As a rule, primroses do not like to dry out. This does not mean that they like to be water-logged. Many will survive in wet sites, but they need good drainage. To ensure good drainage, add coarse gravel (grit) or sharp sand to the soil.
  • Primroses do not like windy sites where they will dry out.
  • Primroses tend to like nice, loamy soil. Mulching your plants with shredded leaves will ensure that there is a rich supply of humus – rich, broken down organic matter.
  • Amending your soil with well-decomposed compost will improve your soil’s moisture retention and will create a nutrient-rich environment
  • Fertilize your primroses in the early spring with either a balanced fertilizer or a bloom booster (10-10-10 or 5-10-5). Double-flowering primroses are heavy feeders.
  • After double primroses have flowered, fertilize them with liquid fertilizer to ensure healthy leaf growth. These plants exhaust themselves when flowering and do well with an additional mulch of composted manure after flowering.
  • Many primroses multiply freely. Divide the plants in the fall or early spring by digging up the rosettes and pulling them apart. Make sure that the transplants are well watered for several weeks.
  • The roots of primroses develop from the crown of the plant (the base of the rosette). Plant them at the level of the crown and mulch around them with shredded leaves, well-decayed compost or manure, making sure not to pile the mulch on the crown.
  • The primroses that you buy from your florist around Mother’s Day (polyanthus primroses) are generally used as annuals. They will flower for up to 8 to 10 weeks in April and May if you deadhead them. Like many other primroses, they like good moisture and rich soil. If you would like to grow them as perennials, plant them in partial shade to shade.

Some Easy Varieties for your Garden

Primula veris

Primula veris (cowslip) – An evergreen to semi-evergreen perennial, it has nodding, fragrant, yellow flowers that appear April into mid-May. Cowslips like very sunny locations. In the wild, they grow in fields and by the woodland edge. They like moist, well-drained, humus-rich soil and can tolerate very damp soil if they are in full sun. Primula veris ssp. macrocalyx has large, sulfur, yellow flowers and Primula veris ‘Katy McSparron’ has lovely, double, upright flowers.

Primula japonica

photo by Ivo Vermeulen

Primula japonica (candelabra primrose) – This is a deciduous perennial from Japan. Its long stems bear anywhere from 1 to 6 whorls of red-purple to white flowers from mid-May into June. It prefers to grow in moist, shady places. In the NYBG Rock Garden, it is growing right on the stream’s edge. There are a number of species called candelabra primulas. Primula bulleyana is another candelabra primrose with orange flowers.

Primula vulgaris

Primula vulgaris; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/Rowena

Primula vulgaris (wild primrose) – An evergreen to semi-evergreen perennial, it has clusters of 3 to 25 pale, yellow flowers in early spring. They prefer partial shade but are fine in sun if the soil is kept moist. Wonderful for a wood’s edge, the clumps can be divided in September or in early spring before they flower. Good cultivars include Primula ‘Quaker’s Bonnet’ (double, lavender), Primula ‘Cottage White’ (double white) and Primula ‘Marie Crousse’ (double violet).

Primula denticulata

Primula denticulata; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/Leonora Ellie Enking

Primula denticulata (drumstick primrose) – This is a deciduous perennial. It is an early bloomer, with flowers ranging from white to purple appearing on thick stalks in April. The flowers are clustered tightly in umbels that look like little drumsticks. This primrose is easy to grow, is very floriferous and increases well. It likes moist, rich soil in partial shade to full sun. Good garden soil will be fine, as long as it does not get too dry.

Primula sieboldii

Primula sieboldii; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Katja Schulz

Primula sieboldii (Asian woodland primrose) – These flowers range from white to crimson with all shades of pinks and purples in between. Not only do they come in nice colors, they come in nice shapes – bells, stars and snowflakes. They flower from April into May. In the wild they grow in moist meadows and in woodlands. They often go dormant in the summer and prefer to grow in a cool, shady spot.

Growing Primrose – Primrose Plants In Your Garden

Primrose flowers (Primula polyantha) bloom in early spring, offering a variety of form, size, and color. They are suitable for use in garden beds and borders as well as in containers or for naturalizing areas of the lawn. In fact, when given the proper growing conditions, these vigorous plants will multiply each year, adding stunning colors to the landscape.

Blooming often lasts throughout summer and in some areas, they will continue to delight the fall season with their outstanding colors. Most primrose flowers seen in gardens are Polyanthus hybrids, which range in color from white, cream and yellow to orange, red and pink. There are also purple and blue primrose flowers. These perennial plants prefer damp, woodland-like conditions.

Growing Primrose Plants

Growing primrose is easy, as these plants are quite hardy and adaptable. You can find primrose perennials at most garden centers and nurseries. Look for primroses that are healthy in appearance, preferably with unopened buds.

Primroses can also be grown from seeds with an equal mixture of soil, sand and peat moss. This can be done indoors or out depending on the time of year and the climate in your area. Generally, seeds are sown indoors (outdoors in cold frame) during winter. Once seedlings have obtained their second or third leaves, they can be transplanted into the garden.

Cuttings can also be taken from some varieties during summer.

Primrose Care

Primrose perennials should be planted in lightly shaded areas with well-drained soil, preferably amended with organic matter. Set primrose plants about 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm.) apart and 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.) deep. Water thoroughly after planting. Add a layer of mulch around the plants to help retain moisture. Continue to give your primroses thorough watering throughout the summer months, about once a week or more during periods of drought, but let off once fall approaches.

The primrose flower also appreciates light applications of organic fertilizer throughout the growing season. Keep primrose plants looking their best with regular pruning of dead leaves and spent blooms. If you want to collect the seeds of your primroses, wait until late summer or early fall before taking them. Store them in a cool, dry place until the following planting season or sow them in a cold frame.

Problems with Primrose Perennials

Slugs and snails are common pests affecting primrose plants. These can be controlled with non-toxic slug bait placed around the garden. Spider mites and aphids may also attack primroses but can be sprayed with soapy water.

If primrose plants are not getting enough drainage, they may also be prone to crown rot and root rot. This can be easily fixed by amending the soil with compost or relocating the plants to a well-drained site.

Too much moisture can also make the primrose flower susceptible to fungal infections. This can often be prevented by using good watering habits and adequate spacing between plants.

Growing primroses is easy when given the proper growing conditions and following primrose care guidelines.

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