Evening primrose relates to several plants in the Oenothera genus. There are many varieties worldwide but the most common in the UK is Oenothera biennis, a biennial plant native to North America, which has naturalised here in the UK. It bears large, light yellow bowl-shaped flowers, which open in the evening and attract night-flying pollinators such as moths. Historically Oenothera biennis was used as a cure for baldness and also for relieving pain, and in modern day medicine it's used to make evening primrose oil, which is said to regulate hormone levels and can help with premenstrual stress and menopause. Evening primrose is edible to both humans and other animals.
In the garden, evening primrose releases a pleasant evening fragrance, and is a good wildlife plant. Several varieties have been developed that flower during the day and have blooms in a range of colours, including orange and apricot.
How to grow evening primrose
Grow evening primrose in a bright spot out of direct sunlight, in moist but well-drained soil.
Where to grow evening primrose
Evening primrose can grow to an average height of around 1m, so plant it towards the middle or back of your border, in full sun to partial shade, and in moist but well-drained soil.
How to plant evening primrose
The best way to grow evening primrose is from seed. Sow evening primrose seed in late autumn or early spring, in pots or direct where you want them to grow. If growing in pots, make sure you plant the young plants out in their first year, as they are biennial (flower in the second year) and have a long taproot, which can be damaged when planting out in the second year.
In their first year, your evening primrose plants will form a leafy rosette of long, lance-shaped green leaves, often with a reddish tint. In their second year they will form a flower stem, from which large, bowl-shaped yellow flowers will grow.
How to care for evening primrose plant
Evening primrose plants require very little care. Water the soil in dry periods during the growing season, and remove faded flowers and leaves as and when you need to. Towards the end of their flowering period, leave some flowers on the plant to set seed, and either collect seed to resow or let them self-seed naturally around the garden.
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Growing evening primrose: pests and diseases
Evening primrose is not troubled by many pests although young plants may suffer slug and snail damage. Also be mindful of root rot, which can occur in moist soils – free-draining soil is essential for this species.
Varieties of evening primrose to grow
Oenothera 'Apricot Delight'
Flowers age from pale yellow to apricot and then coral pink. Height x Spread: 1m x 40cm
Oenothera 'Lemon Sunset'
Soft yellow flowers with a beautiful evening fragrance. H x S: 1m x 60cm
Advice on buying evening primrose
- Most evening primrose is available to buy from seed but you may be able to buy plugs or young plants
- If buying plugs, plant them out straight away as their rootball may be damaged
- Always check plants for signs of pests or diseases