Plant Vibrant Primulas for Early Spring Color

The arrival of early primroses in the garden centers or peeking through the last snow is a sign that spring really has arrived. Even the name primula, derived from the Latin primus meaning first, affirms that these are among the first flowers each year.


Primulas – Three Groups

Over 400 species of primroses, within the groupings of Candelabras, Auriculas, Denticulatas and Polyanthus exist. They are perennials, forming a rosette of leaves at ground level and flowers with five petals. Primroses can grow in a wide variety of climates, but particularly thrive in the temperate moist climate of the West Coast. They make a lovely grouping plant, with masses of blooms adding a cheery spot of color in the garden.

The most familiar primroses are the Polyanthus and Auriculas, with groups of blossoms rising just above the leafy rosette. Polyanthus can have red, purple, yellow and even blue blooms. This variety of primula  needs cooler temperatures and a moist soil. If you buy them, keep them in a cool spot indoors until the weather is warmer.


Auriculas are split into two categories — garden and show. They all can be recognized by their distinct circle of white at the center of the flowers, surrounded by petals in vivid yellows, reds, purples and blues. Show varieties may be striped or fancy, with hints of gray or green. Garden auriculas are hardy, but make sure they have protection from slugs.

Once you plant your primulas outdoors, cover them at night if you expect a drop in temperature. On the West Coast, these primroses can be planted in the fall, and will offer a welcome spot of color throughout a mild winter. Established primroses will begin blooming as early as late February, depending on the location. They are also a great container plant.


Denticulata primulas are easily identified because the flowers look like little drumsticks. The individual flowers form a round ball that is held upright on a stiff stem. The deciduous leaves are a rough gray-green.This variety flowers from March through April. It does best in dappled shade, with moist well-drained soil.


Candelabra primroses are the largest of the primula group. May blooming P. japonica is a Candelabra type, with blossoms purple-red through to pink and white. The blossoms are held on tall stems, and can reach 45 centimeters tall. An interesting Candelabra type is P. pulverenta, which can grow up to 90 centimeters. It has whitish waxy stems rising above the base rosette that support whorls of deep magenta flowers. It continues to add whorls from the top, growing taller with each ring of flowers. Many of the candelabra primulas are late spring to summer bloomers, thriving best in moist semi-shade.

Propagating Primulas

You can easily propagate primroses by taking a leaf from the mother plant. Tug it downward, and look for the small bud right where the leaf joined the stem. It’s this little bud that will grow into a new plant. Dip the stem in some rooting hormone and put it into a pot with moist sterile medium. Cover it loosely with plastic to keep the humidity in, and set it on a cool windowsill away from direct sun. Within two weeks, you should see the new plant developing. Primroses can also be grown from seed, or propagated by division.

If you’re looking for a splash of bright color in spring, then have a closer look at the Primula family.

ecover-ten-perennialsThis article is the first chapter of my free e-book, “Ten Perennials for Your Borders and Gardens”. If you decide to download the whole e-book, I’d love your feedback. Just click on the title, or go to the ‘Resources’ tab.

Leave a Comment: