Everyone knows about bulbs and pansies for early spring color, but the Primrose (Primula vulgaris) is often overlooked. It’s a popular English perennial, and once you plant a few you’ll want more.
Primrose means “prima rosa” – in other words, the first rose of the season. This is because the flowers, especially the double flowering varieties, look a bit like roses.
They start blooming in early spring and bloom until early May. The highly textured leaves are low on the plant, but the flowers grow up to six inches tall.
The double flowering varieties tend to bloom for a longer period. This is because they are sterile, and therefore don’t need to put their energy into producing seed.
Traditionally, the flowers were yellow, but there are now numerous hybrids and cultivars and you can find them in pink, burgundy, blue, purple, and white. There are also lots of multi-colored flowering varieties, many with dark outer petals and a yellow center.
Where to Grow Primroses
Primroses are hardy to Zone 4. Their leaves may be evergreen in areas with warm winters.
Primroses like a little shade, especially in the afternoon.
They really like moist soil, such as along a stream, on the edge of your water garden, anywhere that they’ll get lots of moisture, but it should be well-drained. They won’t like standing water.
Plant them under deciduous trees or shrubs so they get more sun in the spring when they want it, and shade in the heat of summer. They look especially wonderful on woodland paths so their little flowers are easily visible when you’re walking by.
Remember that the lighter colors, like white, yellow and pink, will tend to catch your eye more, while darker colors recede. So you should plant the dark colors where you’ll be close to them so you can see them more easily. Lighter colors can be seen from a further distance.
Primroses also look great in pots with spring pansies and some small bulbs like Scillas or Puschkinias.
How to Care for Primroses
Primroses will spread in nice neat little clumps, but not invasively.
You should divide them every few years to get better flowering.
To divide primroses, dig them up after their flowers have died down, or divide them in the fall. Pull apart all the little clumps on the outside and replant them about six to eight inches apart. The old center should be thrown away as it won’t flower well anymore.
Always add lots of compost to the planting hole before planting primroses. They’ll reward you with lots more beautiful flowers.
Don’t forget to give a few to a friend!