Primroses are easy to grow and come in a variety of forms, but there’s a whole world of related plants in the Primula genus that are just as beautiful. These include our native yellow cowslips to stylish drumstick primulas and ornate polyanthus primulas and auriculas. They come in shades of yellow, pink, orange and more, most of them flowering in early spring but others blooming much later. Primroses and primulas are versatile, suitable for growing in borders or containers, and work in both formal and informal planting schemes. Grow them individually or mixed with other spring-flowering favourites, in containers, borders, around the edge of your pond or naturalised in your lawn.
How to grow primroses and primulas
Plant primulas in spring. Most primroses and primulas need moisture-retentive soil and partial shade – some are more tolerant of sun. Deadhead spent blooms or let seeds develop so they can self-seed around your garden. Divide congested clumps every few years to rejuvenate them.
Growing primulas: jump links
- Planting primulas
- Caring for primulas
- Propagating primulas
- Growing primulas – pests and problems
- Advice on buying primulas
- Primula varieties to grow
More on growing primroses and primulas:
Where to plant primroses and primulas
Most primroses and primulas do best in partial shade, with moisture-retentive soil. Some are more suited to growing in bog gardens and other varieties will tolerate slightly drier conditions, as long as there’s plenty of humus incorporated into the soil when planting. Most don’t grow well in harsh, direct sunlight.
How to plant primroses and primulas
Many primula varieties, including native cowslips and primroses, plus hybrid polyanthus primulas and auriculas, are readily available at garden centres in spring. Simply buy these and plant them where you would like them to grow.
Many primulas can be grown from seed. Watch our video with Monty Don, as he explains how to sow fresh green primula seeds:
How to care for primulas
Our native primroses and cowslips need very little attention, but other primulas tend to flower prolifically for extended periods, so they do need a bit of extra care. As soon as you can see the first buds forming, feed with a diluted solution of tomato fertiliser every ten days until the first flowers open.
When the last flowers die back, give the plants a final feed. If growing in pots, make sure they don’t dry out. Generally, all primulas will benefit from deadheading, unless you want them to set seed.
You may want to remove old foliage in winter, to tidy up the rosettes of leaves, which are generally evergreen or semi-evergreen. Most primula clumps need dividing every few years to rejuvenate the plant.
Here, Monty Don explains how to divide primroses to rejuvenate them:
How to propagate primulas
Many primula varieties will self-seed easily. Don’t deadhead after flowering to allow seed to develop, and be careful when weeding to avoid digging up primula seedlings.
Primulas can also be propagated by division. Simply dig them up after they’ve finished flowering, and separate the plantlets from the main plant. Plant these divided sections back in the ground where you want them to grow, and water thoroughly.
Watch Monty Don demonstrate how to lift and divide Tibetan cowslips, Primula florindae, in this clip from Gardeners’ World:
Growing primulas: problem solving
There are few pests and diseases affecting primulas. Look out for primula leaf spot – initial signs are spots in a yellow-orange area, or in grey, papery tissue. When the centre falls out, holes appear. Look beneath the leaves and there may also be white fungal growth. Promptly pick off and destroy affected leaves.
Advice on buying primulas and primroses
- Always choose a healthy specimen with no signs of damage, yellowing leaves or pest infestations
- Make sure you buy the right primula for you and your garden – pay attention to its growing requirements and colour
- Bear in mind that polyanthus primroses tend to need more care than native primulas and primroses (Primula vulgaris)
Where to buy primroses
Primroses and primulas to grow
Primula bulleyana is a robust candelabra primula native to China. From spring to early summer it produces warm orange-yellow flowers held in whorls. For best results, grow in full sun or partial in reliably moist, humus-rich soil.
Height x Spread: 60cm x 20cm
Primula beesiana, or Bee’s primrose, is a Chinese species of candelabra primula with pink-purple flowers with a bright yellow eye, arranged in tiers on tall, upright stems. Grow this vigorous species in reliably moist, humus-rich soil in full sun or partial shade. Looks lovely next to a pond.
H x S: 50cm x 50cm
Primula veris is our native yellow cowslip. It’s perfect for naturalising in lawns or growing as a spring feature in containers. It bears cheery, sweetly fragrant flowers from mid- to late spring. Grow Primula veris in moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Perfect for pollinating insects.
H x S: 25cm x 25cm
Primula ‘Gold Laced Group’
Primula ‘Gold Laced Group’ is one of the best known primulas to grow. This polyanthus primula has flowers in shades of dark red to near-black, edged with gold ‘lace’. It’s a great choice for growing in containers alongside other polyanthus and auriculas. Grow in moist, humus-rich soil in partial shade.
H x S: 25cm x 30cm
Primula auricula ‘Rowena’
Primula auricula ‘Rowena’ is an old but lovely cultivar. It’s a light-centred alpine variety with mauve/pink flowers and cream-yellow centres. Grow in moist, well-drained soil in dappled or partial shade.
H x S: 20cm x 15cm
Primula auricula ‘Lovebird’
Primula auricula ‘Lovebird’ is an older variety raised in 1908. This grey-edged show variety has beautiful serrated green-grey leaves, the colour of which is picked up in the dusty green, white, yellow and black flowers. An eye-catching variety for an auricula theatre.
H x S: 20cm x 15cm
Primula sikkimensis is a large, elegant species native to Nepal and China. In late spring and early summer it produces pale yellow flowers held in umbels at the top of flowering stems. Easy to grow, as long as it’s planted in reliably moist soil in partial to full shade.
H x S: 90cm x 60cm
Primula capitata ‘Noverna Deep Blue’
‘Noverna Deep Blue’ is a beautiful cultivar of the round-headed Himalayan primrose, Primula capitata. This cultivar has intense, deep purple flowers held in tightly packed clusters, that appear from late spring to early autumn, so it’s a great choice if you’re after flowers over a long period. Grow it in moist, humus-rich soil in partial shade.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm
Primula chungensis is an attractive candelabra primula with warm, yellow-orange flowers arranged in whorls up the stem. It flowers in late spring and early summer and is best grown in partial shade in moist, humus-rich soil. Like other candelabra primulas, it looks fantastic growing next to ponds and streams.
H x S: 30cm x 60cm
‘Inverewe’ is a stunning candelabra primula with intense orange-red flowers set against silvery stems. This variety flowers in late spring and early summer, and grows best in moist, humus-rich soil in partial shade. It looks especially good planted with pink and purple primulas. This sterile hybrid can be propagated by division in autumn.
H x S: 80cm x 40cm
Primula sieboldii ‘Manakoora’
‘Manakoora’ is a lilac-flowered cultivar of the Japanese primula, Primula sieboldii. This tough and reliable primula forms a slowly spreading clump and will flower in April and May. Grow it in moist, humus-rich soil in dappled or partial shade.
H x S: 45cm x 35cm
Primula japonica ‘Miller’s Crimson’
‘Miller’s Crimson’ is a lovely cultivar of the Japanese primrose, Primula japonica. This cultivar bears rich crimson flowers held in whorls, from May to June. It grows best in a moist, humus-rich soil in partial shade.
H x S: 45cm x 45cm
Primula vialii ‘Alison Holland’
‘Alison Holland’ is a white-flowered cultivar of Primula vialii, which is normally two-toned red and purple. Look out for the flowers from early to midsummer. Like most primulas, ‘Alison Holland’ will struggle in hot, dry conditions, so grow it in partial shade in moist, humus-rich soil.
H x S: 50cm x 30cm
A UK native, Primula vulgaris can be found dotting woodlands and hedgerows in spring. The flowers are brilliant for pollinators and it looks lovely planted with daffodils, cyclamens and snowdrops. Grow it in moist, well-drained soil in partial shade.
H x S: 20cm x 30cm
Primula alpicola var. alba
Primula alpicola var. alba is a white-flowered variety of this normally lilac-flowered species. It’s native to Bhutan and Tibet, where it can be found growing on moist riverbanks. For best results, grow it in moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
H x S: 50cm x 50cm
From eastern Tibet comes this striking black- or very dark purple-flowered species. Primula melanantha flowers in late spring and early summer, and will grow well in a partially shaded spot in moist, well-drained soil.
H x S: 30cm x 15cm
Primula denticulata is aptly named the drumstick primula and is often available in a range of flower colours, depending on the variety. It flowers from May to June and grows best in a moist, humus-rich soil in partial shade.
H x S: 45cm x 45cm
Commonly known as the Tibetan or giant cowslip, Primula florindae is a beautiful species with fragrant yellow flowers on tall stems, appearing from June to August. It thrives in moist soil in full sun or partial shade.
H x S: 1.2m x 90cm
Primula secundiflora is an elegant species bearing nodding, pink-purple flowers that contrast with ‘dusty’ stems. It looks beautiful planted en masse. For best results, grow it in reliably moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
H x S: 45cm x 30cm
The mealy primrose, Primula pulverulenta is a gorgeous species bearing wine-red flowers from late spring to midsummer. Considered one of the easiest primulas to grow, it needs reliably moist soil, for example boggy soil, in full sun or partial shade.
H x S: 60cm x 30cm