Primrose is a large genus of popular garden plants. There are at least 425 species of hardy and tender perennials commonly called primroses or primulas.
Primroses are usually semi-evergreen. They produce rosettes of narrow to broadly rounded leaves and clusters of tubular, bell-shaped, or funnel-shaped flowers.
The name primrose is believed to come from the Latin primus (first); primroses are among the first flowers to bloom each year; they bloom in spring along with crocus and early tulips.
Primroses, depending on the species or cultivar can produces single blossoms or umbels of up to 20 flowers; flowers can appear in tiers or whorls. Flowers appear above leafy rosettes; some flower on tall stems, some are stemless. Primroses bloom in a wide array of colors—pink, red, blue, purple, and orange in many shades.
Generally, primroses grow best in shady places, humusy soil, and cool temperatures. They are used in natural and wild gardens, in rock gardens, containers, and formal bedding designs.
Get to Know Primrose
- Plant type: Perennial or annul
- Growing Zones and range: 5-8; grow as an annual or perennial depending on the climate; grow as an annual in Zones 3-7
- Hardiness: Varies from hardy to tender depending on species and cultivar; all types can survive to 35°F (1.7°C); few can survive temperatures of 90°F (32°C) or greater.
- Height and width: 3 to 12 inches (7.6-30cm) tall; 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) wide
- Flowers: Flat or ruffled flowers about 1 inch (2.5cm) wide in small stemless clusters or in found or elongated racemes on tall leafless stems depending on the variety.
- Flower color: All colors in pastels and brilliant hues
- Bloom time: Early spring until early summer in most regions; some rebloom in autumn; winter blooms in mild winter regions; bloom time is about 6 weeks
- Uses: Winter and early spring bedding
- Common name: Primrose
- Botanical name: Primula
- Family: Primulaceae
Where to Plant Primrose
- Plant primroses in full sun in Zones 3-6; plant in light shade in Zones 7-10.
- Grow primroses in humus-rich, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil.
- Primroses prefer a soil pH of 6 to 8, depending on the variety.
When to Plant Primrose
- Set primroses in the garden when the soil is workable in spring. In mild-winter regions set plants in the garden in winter.
- Plant in early spring in Zones 3-7. Plant in late autumn in Zones 8-10 for winter bloom.
- Start seed indoors; seeds germinated in 3 to 6 weeks.
- If seeds do not germinate, put seeds in the freezer (still planted) for 4 to 8 weeks, then place them in a warm outdoors.
Planting and Spacing Primrose
- Sow seed indoors by pressing the seed into a seed starting mix; do not cover the seed.
- Cover the seed starting container with glass or plastic and keep seeds at 65° to 70°F (18°-21°C) until seeds germinate. Do not give seeds direct sunlight; give them bright light.
- Sow seed outdoors in nursery beds in warm spring weather (around 70°F/21°C). Sow seed outdoors less than 1/8 inch deep and about 2 inches (5cm) apart.
- Thin seedlings to their permanent spacing when they are about 1 inch (2.5cm) wide.
- Set plants outdoors in spring after all danger of frost has passed; harden off plants in the shade several days before planting out.
- Space primroses 8 to 12 inches (20-30cm) apart.
How to Water and Feed Primrose
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet. Water primroses regularly during dry spells. Do not let primroses dry out.
- Fertilize primroses with a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer added to the soil at planting time.
- Mulch around primroses with aged compost to conserve soil moisture.
- Mulch primroses in summer with 2 inches (5cm) of peat moss or aged compost.
- Remove spent blossoms to encourage new blooms.
- Discard spent plants when hot weather arrives.
- Protect primroses in winter by mulching around crowns with 2 inches (5cm) of peat moss or aged compost. Pull back the mulch in spring after the danger or frost has passed.
Growing Primroses as a Houseplant
- Primroses like a place indoors where the temperature is cool, light is bright, and humidity is high.
- Plant in rich, soilless medium and keep it evenly moist.
- Fertilize every two weeks in spring, summer, and fall.
- Plants can be moved outdoors into a shaded garden after they bloom.
Primose Pests and Diseases
- Primroses are susceptible to attack by aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, weevils, and slugs.
- Spray plants infested with insects with insecticidal soap. Deter slugs by sprinkling diatomaceous earth around plants.
- Diseases that attack primrose include gray mold, root rot, crown rot, rust, and leaf spots.
- Avoid wetting foliage and flowers; gray mold and rust can attack plants with wet foliage and flowers.
- Primula malacoides: Seeds germinate in 7 to 10 days at 60° to 65°F (15-18°C). Plants will be large enough for transplanting in 18 to 25 days. Flowers usually appear 12 to 13 weeks after sowing.
- Primula obconica: Seeds germinate in 7 to 14 days at 72° to 74°F (22-23°C). Plants will be large enough for transplanting in 18 to 25 days. Flowers usually appear 18 to 20 weeks after sowing.
- Primula x polyantha: Seeds germinate in 7 to 15 days at 60° to 65°F (15-18°C). Plants will be large enough for transplanting in 25 to 35 days. Flowers usually appear 20 to 25 weeks after sowing.
- Primula vulgaris: Seeds germinate in 8 to 12 days at 62° to 66°F (17-19°C). Plants will be large enough for transplanting in 22 to 35 days. Flowers usually appear 17 to 20 weeks after sowing.
- Primula acaulis, English primrose, same as Primrose vulgaris, see below.
- P. auricula, Auricula. Hardy perennial with vivid flowers that may include contrasting zones; grows to 8 inches (20cm) tall; blooms in early spring. Zones 3-8.
- P. denticulata, Himalayan primrose, drumstick primrose. Perennial bears clusters of pink, lilac, or white flowers with yellow eyes to 2 inches (5cm) across on 12-inch (30cm) stems; prefers wet zones; grows best in Zones 3-8.
- P. elatior, oxlip primrose. Evergreen to semi-evergreen species blooms early to midspring dainty clusters of tubular yellow flowers. Zones 4-8.
- P. japonica, Japanese primrose. Perennial species in Zones 5-8; red, white, or pink flowers on ball-shaped umbels that open in tiers or whorls on 12 to 24 inch (30-61cm) stems; blooms in late spring; foliage disappears in late summer, fall, and winter; pre-chill seeds before planting; naturalizes well in moist, boggy soil. This is a favorite of gardeners because it is easy to grow.
- P. malacoides, Fairy primrose. Tender annual with frilly flowers; blooms in spring; blooms are pink, white, or violet; flowers appear above attractive leaf rosettes; start plants indoors in winter for blooms the following spring and summer.
- P. obconica, German primrose. Tender perennial grows 9 to 16 inches (22-40cm) tall with tiers of whorled, 1- to 2-inch (2.5-5cm) wide flowers sometimes with frilled petal edges; flowers come in shades of pink, red, lilac-blue, and white. Touching foliage can cause a skin rash.
- P. x polyantha, Polyanthus primrose. Popular polyanthus hybrid primroses, crosses between very hardy primroses; hardy in Zones 3-8; blooms in spring at the same time as daffodils, earlier indoors; prefers humus-rich soil. Plants grow 8- to 12-inches (20-30cm) wide, rosettes of evergreen to semi-evergreen, rough-textured leaves. Clusters of 1- to 2-inch (2.5-5cm) wide flowers in a wide range of colors including yellow, red, orange, violet-blue, white, and pink, sometimes with yellow eyes.
- P. sieboldii, Siebold primrose. Clusters of delicate, lacy-looking 1-inch-wide flowers on 12-inch (30cm) stems; flower colors are pale pink, rose, white, pale purple, and purple-red. Zone 3-8.
- P. veris, English cowslip. Bright yellow in wild with hybrids in many other colors; grows to 8 inches (20cm) tall; hardy in cool, shady gardens in Zones 3-8. ‘Grandiflora’ is used in the names of large-flowered cultivars.
- P. sinensis, Chinese primrose. Grows to 12 inches tall; hearts-shaped, lobed, hairy leaves; flowers are all colors; ‘Filicifolia’ has crisped leaves; ‘Fimbriata’ has fringed flwoers; ‘Stellata’ has star-shaped double flowers.
- P. vulgaris (synonm P. acaulis), English primrose. Very popular primrose bloom in early spring; hardy if grown in cool, moist shade in Zones 3-8; flowers available in bright colors; foliage remains partly evergreen in winter; produces 6- to 8-inch (15-20cm) wide rosettes of evergreen to semi-evergreen 9- to 10-inch (23-25cm) long leaves and clusters of 1-inch (2.5cm) wide, pale yellow flowers in clusters. Cultivars are available with single or double flowers in white, orange, magenta, purple-pink, and yellow.
Primrose Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What primroses can I grow indoors in winter?
A: Chinese primrose, Primula sinensis, can be grown indoors. Fairy primrose, P. malacoides, has small, violet blossoms throughout winter grown indoors. Giant fringed primrose, P. grandiflora fimbriata can be grown indoors as can P. obconica. Keep these primroses in a cool window with a dish of water nearby or provide humidity.
Q: What can I do to make my primrose bloom indoors?
A: Indoor primroses like a cool temperature, bright light, and high humidity. Fertilize plants every two weeks in spring, summer, and fall. Nip off spent blooms. Plants are usually discarded after the flowers have faded, but they can be moved into a shaded outdoor garden and they may bloom again.
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