Primroses are very popular perennial plants that are famed for their beautiful, vivid color, and their ability to adapt to different environments.
There is a type of primrose for every season, providing your garden with year-round color and interest.
Some flower in the early spring, all the way through until the last days of summer. Other varieties provide much needed color into autumn and winter gardens.
This guide will help you choose from some of the most popular and unusual types of primrose, as well as how to grow them, what conditions they require, and everything you need to know about these bright and cheerful blooms.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About Primroses
All primroses belong to the primula genus, and this category falls within the Primulaceae plant family, probably unsurprisingly.
All plants within this genus are known for their cold tolerance, and for flowering in the late days of winter or heralding the start of spring.
One thing that does make them very attractive to gardeners across the world is that these flowers are capable of living for weeks at a time.
How to Recognize a Primrose
Primroses are classed as herbaceous perennial flowering plants, and depending on the type you go for, they may stay low to the ground, or they can be a taller focal point in your garden.
The foliage of a primrose can be toothed or lobed, usually in a deep, rich green, with a leathery texture. The plant may keep its leaves during the colder months, or they may drop, depending on the variety and the temperature.
In terms of flowers, most primroses grow them in clusters, typically with a yellow center in each bloom, no matter the color of the petals.
How many flowers a primrose produces depends on the type of primrose, some will produce only one flower per stem, while others can produce five or more flowers per single stem.
When it comes to color, primroses offer a whole kaleidoscope to choose from, in different shades of yellow, red, purple, and blue, among others.
There’s a type for every garden theme imaginable, as the flowers take different forms. Some form as pendant flowers, while others are trumpet-like, or resemble bells.
Newer varieties can have flowers which have semi-double or double petals, allowing for an even more dramatic display.
Why Should You Grow Primroses?
Primroses inject a wealth of color into any garden, to say the least, but that’s just on the surface.
What you may not know is that primroses have many medicinal uses, and they are often employed in aromatherapy, too.
Primula vulgaris, the common primrose, is safe to eat, although there are some texts which warn against eating it if you are pregnant, you’re on anticoagulants, or you have any sensitivity or allergic reactions to aspirin. Always consult your doctor if you’re unsure.
The common primrose flower makes any salad that much more appealing, where it can be eaten raw, or as a garnish on cooked vegetables. These gorgeous blooms can also be included in jams, desserts, or mousses.
The leaves are also edible. They make a great accompaniment or even substitute for a leafy green on your salad plate, where they have a peppery taste. They can also be cooked like spinach, if you prefer.
In terms of herbal medicine, primrose flowers have been used as a key ingredient in skin ointment in the past, to treat topical complaints such as scrapes or to soothe burns.
Is an Evening Primrose the Same as a Normal Primrose?
No. You may notice that the Evening Primrose, or Oenothera biennis, has a completely different scientific name to the common primrose, Primula vulgaris.
While they are related, it’s not a close relation, and you should treat them as completely separate, as they are two different plants.
Types of Primroses You Should Try Growing Yourself
It can be overwhelming to know where to start when it comes to choosing primroses to grow in your own garden.
Here are just a few of the different types available to get you started.
Primula vulgaris ‘Common Primrose’
The common primrose is the most popular type, grown all over the world.
Most common primroses are a pale yellow, though you can get white and pink flowers in this type, too. Depending on their environment, these primroses can reach between 10 to 30cm tall.
The flowers appear in early spring, anywhere from February through until April, depending on the weather. In the wild, they grow in meadows and along slopes.
These blooms feature a soft fragrance, and usually get to 4cm in diameter.
The leaves can vary from 5 to 25cm long, leathery in texture, in a deep, rich green.
The common primrose is tolerant of cold, and it will only drop some or all of its foliage in extreme temperatures.
Primula vialii ‘Orchid Primrose’
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t a primrose at all, as the flowers don’t look anything like the others on this list! They look a little like a red hot poker in a miniature form.
The orchid primrose, or Primula vialii, produces many flower spikes, of spires of miniscule flowers. The center of each flower is red, visible throughout the whole flower cluster, and the tiny, tubular blooms are lilac.
It’s a unique display for any garden, but it’s not a long-lived one. Luckily, this plant will set seed, and you can also divide it to ensure more blooms for the following year.
It will grow in well-draining soil, but does particularly well on rockeries, and it prefers partial shade over full sunlight.
Primula denticulata ‘Drumstick Primrose’
The Drumstick primrose, or Primula denticulata, is the primrose’s answer to the allium. Very similar, this lovely perennial produces tall flower stems with globular clusters of flowers at the very top.
You can get this variety in shades of pink, white, blue, and purple, but every single flower has the trademark yellow eye at the heart of the flower.
This particular type of primrose looks perfect in the middle of a garden bed, in pots, or as part of a large border.
Primula capitata ‘Round-Headed Himalayan Primrose’
This striking type of primrose produces true blue, tubular blooms from the later part of spring well into autumn, provided that the weather is kind.
Where the flowers haven’t yet opened, the flower head looks incomplete, as these gorgeous flowers form a globe of color. The flower stems are a great contrast against the vivid flowers, covered in a silvery powdery coating.
This type loves soil that doesn’t drain well, and it needs at least partial shade in order to thrive, making it perfect for those areas where other plants find it difficult to survive.
The round-headed Himalayan primrose forms in clumps, and can reach 30cm high, spreading about the same.
Primula japonica ‘Japanese Primrose’
The Japanese primrose, sometimes labeled the candelabra primrose, is an extremely popular type, native, as you might guess, to Japan.
This particular primrose can lack the central yellow eye depending on the cultivar, making it all the more unusual.
It can reach 30cm tall, and produces beautiful blooms in white, red, pink, or purple. Despite their more delicate-looking appearance, the Japanese primrose is just as hardy as the common primrose.
Primula elatior ‘Oxlip Primrose’
One of the first flowering plants to emerge in very early spring, the Oxlip primrose produces flowers in shades of pale yellow, in clusters atop a long flowering stem.
It is often mistaken as cowslip, which is another type of primrose with yellow flowers, but the cowslip blooms are bell-shaped instead.
Like most primroses, the oxlip primrose needs partial shade to thrive. It prefers moist, heavy soil, ideally alkaline soil or clay.
Everything You Need to Know To Grow Primroses
Primroses aren’t difficult plants to grow, and this only adds to their popularity. Here’s everything you need to know to fill your garden with spectacular color.
Primroses are fairly easy to grow from seed, but this isn’t the only option you have. You can also divide existing plants to make new plants, and you can take cuttings, too.
Make sure to sow the seeds very thinly on the top of the compost. Don’t be tempted to cover them with grit or compost, as the seeds need both light and air to germinate.
The compost you choose is also important. Use a seed compost which includes grit, as anything too rich will stop the seeds from growing.
To stop the seeds from going anywhere, pop a perforated seed tray over the top, and weigh it down with something. Leave it somewhere shady, and once the seeds have germinated, remove the cover.
Once the primroses have finished flowering, you can divide the plants without any problems. Dig it up a clump with care, and use two forks or a knife to make the clump into smaller segments.
Whatever you decide to use, make sure your tools are clean! Replant one of the divisions into its original place, and put the others elsewhere. Water them to help the roots get established.
Sunlight & Position
Most types of primrose will grow best in dappled shade, but there are some which don’t mind full sunlight. You’ll soon notice if your primrose plant doesn’t like the sun, as the leaves will burn.
If you’re growing your primroses indoors, and some are suited to being grown as a houseplant, it’s important to put them in as bright a position as possible. You’d be surprised how much sunlight doesn’t actually make it through your windows.
When it comes to soil, most primroses thrive in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. The pH can vary a little from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.
If this doesn’t sound like your garden, you can still grow primroses, but it may be better to grow them in containers rather than in the ground, as it’s easier to use a different compost rather than trying to alter the pH of the earth.
In terms of temperature, they can take a lot of frost when planted outside, especially if they are in the ground, where there is more protection than in a container.
If you’re growing them indoors, it’s a different story. The temperature needs to be at least 50°F (10°C), which should be manageable, but it shouldn’t get any hotter than 70°F (21°C), otherwise they will suffer.
When to Water and Fertilize Primroses
Primroses love a good drink, as long as the soil drains well to begin with. That doesn’t mean that you should drench them and be done with it, however.
Overwatering primroses is a surefire way to guarantee that they’ll die from root rot, and we want to avoid this, but we don’t want the primroses to fully dry out, either.
This is a skill that comes with time. You’ll soon know how much water is too much, as the plant will tell you. The leaves will turn yellow, but this is also a sign of underwatering, so you can’t rely on this.
So how can you tell? Stick a finger into the soil, until your knuckles are touching the top of the soil. This is an ideal way to gauge how damp the soil is. If the soil on your finger is muddy, sodden, or quite wet, don’t water your primroses.
Otherwise, water them. This may be as often as once a week, but it depends on a number of factors, such as how well the soil drains to begin with, the soil type, how much sunlight it gets, and how many plants there are around your primroses.
Primroses don’t really need fertilizer, especially if you’re growing them indoors. In fact, it can harm them, as the build-up of salts from the fertilizer can burn the roots of the plant, in which case you’ll need to flush the soil to get rid of the excess salt.
In terms of outdoor primroses, during the blooming season, they can benefit from a small amount of fertilizer to help them in their flower production, but the plants don’t need it.
It does help, if the soil in your garden is relatively starved of nutrients, as it will help maintain healthy growth.
Use an all-purpose flower feed, but use half the recommended dose, and only feed your primroses every three weeks or so.
If you do decide to feed your primroses, do so only during the blooming season, and stop giving them extra nutrients once the plants have finished flowering.
Should You Prune Primroses?
Yes. Take off any flower heads that are fading, and once the primroses have completely finished flowering, cut back the plant to keep a neat garden, while also encouraging new growth.
Pests and Disease
Primroses are hardly little plants, but that doesn’t mean they are completely resilient. If you grow them in the wrong conditions, they are more vulnerable to pests and disease, allowing either or both to get a real foothold in terms of the health of your plant.
If the soil doesn’t drain properly, it will cause root or crown rot, which will ultimately kill the plants, and you often won’t notice the signs until it is too late.
You could try transplanting the primroses into a new location with excellent drainage, but they may not bounce back. Cut back on watering, and always check the soil before drenching it.
Slugs and snails can be a real menace to primroses. Try growing alliums near your primroses to deter them, or use a diluted solution of garlic water every few times you water, which will help keep them away.