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 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
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.
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 Tibetab 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.
Primroses and primulas to grow
- Primula auricula – alpine auriculas make distinctive cabbage-like clumps of foliage which, in spring, are topped by upright stems with circular flowers in bold colours. They’re ideal for growing in containers – they are traditionally displayed in single terracotta pots grouped in auricula ‘theatres’. But they can be grown in more natural looking groups among rocks or in lightly shaded woodland-style borders that are rich in humus.
- Primula bulleyana – a semi-evergreen candelabra species with orange-yellow flowers atop stems up to 60cm tall. It’s easy to grow and self-seeds readily. For best results, grow bulley’s primrose at the front of a mixed herbaceous border, among other spring-flowering plants including daffodils and crocus.
- Primula beesiana – a Candelabra primula with upright spikes bearing clusters of small pink flowers in early summer. Found growing wild in the mountain meadows of China, Primula beesiana looks spectacular when grown en masse. It’s a good choice for a damp, woodland garden.
- Primula chungensis – Native to the marshlands of China, this species bears whorls of orange, tubular-shaped flowers above scalloped rosettes of mid-green foliage. It’s perfect for shady borders and damp soil near ponds. For best results grow in partial shade in moist but well-drained soil or compost, and incorporate plenty of organic matter. Primula chungensis can be grown in pots if watered regularly.
- Primula vialii – with upright poker-shaped, red-tipped lilac-pink flowers in early and midsummer. For best results grow in moist soil in partial shade. It’s perfect for growing in a woodland border alongside ferns and hostas. It can also be planted en masse in bog gardens or at the pond edge – as long as the soil does not dry out. Divide large clumps after flowering.
- Primula denticulata var. alba – the drumstick primula has large, round heads of tightly packed, bell-shaped florets, in pink, lilac, white or red, which it carries on tall stems. It looks best when planted in large drifts, and works well under shrubs or at the front of borders. It’s also suitable for growing in bog gardens and at the pond edge. Grow alongside snowflakes, wood anemone and candelabra primulas.