Primroses are ornamental plants that add a pop of color anywhere you place them. They’re one of the most popular flowers for garden use, and their diverse types and countless hybrids can attest to that.
In this guide, we’ll go through the basics of primrose flowers, including facts, different varieties, growing tips, and more.
Primroses and the Primula Genus
Primroses are from the Primula genus of the Primulaceae botanical family (1). These hardy plants produce clusters of beautiful flowers that bloom in early spring and last for weeks. They are native to Europe, Africa, and Asia (2).
The name primrose originated from the Latin words prima rosa, which means “first rose.”
Plants in the Primula genus are herbaceous perennials that may be evergreen or deciduous. Most types are low-growing and feature basal rosette leaves that can be toothed or lobed.
Typically, garden-favorite primroses form branched clusters of flowers in various colors, including blue, purple, red, and yellow. Some varieties present a single bloom per stem, while others have a rounded flower head or flower spikes.
Individual primrose flowers are five-petaled and mostly funnel-shaped, but some varieties bear bell-shaped or pendant blooms instead. Both semi-double and double flower types are also available.
Primrose flowers present themselves to various uses in gardens and landscapes, herbal medicine, aromatherapy, and more.
The leaves and flowers of common primrose (P. vulgaris), in particular, are edible. Primrose tea and wine, which are known beverages, are byproducts of these plants’ leaves and flowers. Some people also cook and eat the leaves like vegetables.
The whole primrose plant, fresh and in bloom, and the dried roots also play a role in herbal medicine. Because of their many medicinal properties, individuals often use primroses as treatments against colds, headaches, muscular cramps, and as a sedative.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) vs Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
This article focuses on primrose which belongs to the Primulaceae family. Evening Primrose or common evening-primrose is a different plant that belongs to the Onagraceae family.
The evening primrose is commonly known for its seed oil that is used to make skincare products and medicine. Some people might confuse between the two but they are two different plants.
Best Types and Varieties of Primroses to Grow in Your Garden
There are many garden flowers you can grow. When it comes to Primulaceae family, here are some popular choices:
Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
Cultivated worldwide are many different primrose types, but one of the most prevalent is the common primrose or P. vulgaris. This species is known for its lightly fragrant, pale yellow flowers that bloom beautifully in spring. It is semi-evergreen and hardy (2). Each flower measures about 1 inch across, forming a cluster on a 6-inch stem atop a basal rosette of crinkled leaves (3).
This type of primrose is small, growing about 4 to 6 inches tall, but may spread 6 to 8 inches (2). They are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8.
Japanese Primrose (P. japonica)
Japanese primrose, otherwise known as candelabra primrose, is another popular type of primrose flowers. This Japan-native species grows to 12 inches in height and features a basal rosette of broad, crinkled leaves and beautiful whorls of blooms.
These primrose flowers come in shades of white, pink, purple, or red. Like the common primrose, Japanese primroses are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8.
The ‘Miller’s Crimson’ is one of the many recognized cultivars of this primrose species. It is an early-blooming variety that flaunts a charming display of crimson flowers. The flowers have distinctive darker eyes and bloom in clusters.
Cherry Blossom Primrose (P. sieboldii)
Native to Northeast Asia, cherry blossom primrose, or Siebold primrose (P. sieboldii), presents 12-inch flower stalks that carry blooms in shades of cherry red, pink, lavender, or white (2).
The leaves are light green, oval, and feature scalloped edges. It grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8 and blooms in spring to early summer. The plant grows to 11 inches in height.
Popular cherry blossom primrose cultivars:
- ‘The Bride’
- ‘Blue Lagoon’
- ‘Sumizome Genji’
- ‘Frilly Blue’
- ‘Martin Nest Blue’
Hardy Primrose (P. kisoana)
Hardy primrose (P. kisoana) is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial that grows about 4 to 6 inches tall. Since it is a Japanese primrose type, this species also gained the name “Japanese primrose,” although it’s different from the P. japonica species.
It is as long-lived and vigorous as other primroses, but it is more tolerant of hot and dry summers. The hardy primrose plant is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 8. It features soft stems and attractive clusters of pink flowers.
Popular hardy primrose cultivars:
- ‘Barnhaven Blush’
Drumstick Primrose (P. denticulata)
Drumstick primrose or P. denticulata is a primrose species that originate from the Himalayas. It is an early-bloomer type, showcasing mauve, lavender, or reddish-purple flower clusters that emerge from 15-inch stems.
Ideal for growing in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 8, the plant needs moist and fertile soil to thrive.
Popular drumstick primrose cultivars:
- ‘Blue Selection’
Bee’s Primrose (P. beesiana)
Bee’s Primrose or Primula beesiana is a purple-flowered type of primrose. Each flower features a yellow eye, giving this particular species a unique yet charming appeal. These primrose flowers bloom in late spring and early summer on top of erect stems.
The plant also features a flat rosette of light green, wrinkled leaves and grows up to about 20 inches in height.
Other common names of this type of primrose flowers include candelabra primrose, candelabra primula, and bog primula.
Cowslip Primrose (P. veris)
One of the most common types of primroses is the cowslip primrose, otherwise known as cowslip or common cowslip. It features 1 to 2-inch fragrant blooms that come in vibrant shades of yellow. The flowers form into clusters atop 6 to 12 inches stems.
This species of primrose grows best in harsh, cold weather. It is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8.
Common cowslip flowers are also known as English cowslip, bedlam cowslip, fairy cup, herb Peter, key flower, and keywort.
One of the most popular cultivated varieties of this primrose type is the ‘Sunset Shades’ cowslip primrose. Unlike most cowslip primroses, which are vibrant yellow, this particular variety features hints of orange and copper-red on the edges of each yellow petal.
How to Grow and Care for Primrose Plants
It’s relatively easy to grow primroses as these plants are quite hardy and highly adaptable to various conditions. You can start growing one through propagation, but there are ready-to-plant primrose materials available at most garden centers and nurseries.
Here is a quick guide on how to grow and care for primroses.
Propagation and Planting
Primroses can be grown from seeds, divisions, or cuttings. When planting primroses, space the plants about 4 to 12 inches apart as these plants like to spread (2). Larger varieties require bigger plant spacing.
- Planting by seeds: Sow primrose seeds in a planting mix with equal portions of soil, peat moss, and sand. Keep the planting mix moist to allow the primrose seeds to germinate. Then, wait for the seedlings to grow their second and third leaves before transplanting them into the ground or pots.
- Planting by division: Divide healthy primrose plants after flowering. Do this by carefully digging up a selected plant, then cutting the big clump into smaller divisions. Use a clean and sharp knife as you do the process. Replant the divisions and water thoroughly after.
- Planting by cuttings: Some primrose varieties can be reproduced using leaf cuttings. After blooming, select a healthy leaf with about 1.5 inches of stem. Then, plant it into a potting mix with vermiculite, perlite, and sphagnum moss. The cutting will be ready for transplanting when new root growth has formed.
Most Primula species thrive best in partial shade, but a few do just as well in full sun. Outdoors, most primroses prefer lightly shaded areas, with dappled and indirect sunlight. Avoid too much light since it may cause leaf burn.
However, in the case of indoor primrose plants, bright light is ideal for thriving. Place potted primroses in a well-lit area indoors with a good amount of sunlight throughout the day. This is important since insufficient light may affect the plant’s flowering ability.
Primroses grow best in fertile and well-draining soil. The ideal soil pH should be slightly acidic to slightly alkaline (2). You can also amend the soil with organic matter to improve its quality and condition.
Watering primroses shouldn’t be tricky. They enjoy moist soil like most plants, especially since they can be susceptible to drought. Deep watering your primrose plants regularly, ideally once a week, will make them vigorous. However, avoid overwatering since excessive moisture in the soil often leads to root rot, which is not good for them (2). Water the plants before the top surface of the soil dry out completely.
Growing primrose flowers indoors requires a range of about 50 °F at night to 70 °F during day time (2). You can grow potted primroses indoors, provided that the night temperatures fall between 50 and 60 °F. Generally, these plants do not tolerate extreme temperatures, particularly during the growing period.
Primroses grown indoors do not necessarily need fertilization (2). Still, like other garden plants, these blooms appreciate light applications of fertilizers during their growing period.
Apply a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer at half of the recommended rate every two to four weeks. Stop feeding the plants after flowering.
Regular pruning helps primroses maintain their attractive facade and healthy state. Cut off dead leaves and spent blooms regularly.
Common Pest and Diseases of Primrose Flowers
Although primroses are not easily affected by known pests and diseases, they can still be highly susceptible to minor damages caused by several insects or poor growing conditions.
When grown in poor drainage, primroses can be prone to rot diseases like root rot and crown rot. Poor drainage, soggy soil, and excessive soil moisture are highly favorable for plant diseases and other fungal infections. Although these can be fatal to affected plants, they can easily be fixed by amending the soil with compost, ensuring proper watering practices, or transferring them to a well-drained area.
Slugs and snails are common pests that affect primroses, but they can easily be controlled using non-toxic methods like slug baits. Other insect pests of primrose plants include spider mites, vine weevils, and aphids.
What Can I Plant with Primroses?
A fun fact is that primrose is a February Birth Flower, just like violet. So it makes sense to plant both of them together. Here are our recommended flowering plants to grow along with primroses.
- Woodland phlox
- Wood poppy
- Crested iris
- Virginia bluebells
- Dutchman’s breeches
See more: Primrose Flower Meaning and Symbolism
(1) Plants Profile for Primula (primrose) (2020). Available at: https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PRIMU
(2) Pick a Primrose For a Pop of Perfection (2020). Available at: https://extension.psu.edu/pick-a-primrose-for-a-pop-of-perfection
(3) Primula vulgaris (Primrose) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (2020). Available at: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/primula-vulgaris/
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