How to grow primroses

By Val Bourne, Thursday 15 March 2012

Read our tips for growing primroses in your garden, including how and when to divide and how best to plant potted primroses.
'You and Me' yellow hose in hose'You and Me' yellow hose in hose

Primroses are part of the primula tribe and they are plants for woodland edges and shady banks.

They flower in spring and are not to be confused with alpines and moisture-loving bog primulas, which are much more demanding. 

The most common form, Primula vulgaris, is the pallid-yellow flower found growing on shady banks and under hedgerows tucked away from hot summer sun.

This evergreen British native spreads by seeds that are often dispersed by ants, and it can still be found across Britain. However Oliver Rackham observes that recent hot, dry East Anglian summers have seen it decline sharply in that area.

Best position and soil conditions for primroses

Primroses and polyanthus like cooler positions with some shade to emulate their woodland edge position in nature.

They need moist, well-drained, friable soil – most losses are due to drought. Add organic matter and leaf litter when planting and mulch yearly.

How to divide primroses

Divide every two to three years, or plants develop fleshy stems that open up at the base, making them brittle and vulnerable to vine weevil.

Divide clumps, pulling apart good-sized pieces by hand – they will already have roots. Early autumn is an ideal time, but you can also do it after flowering as long as you water until autumn.

Planting potted primroses

Nursery-produced plants are often grown under cover in peaty compost so they do not transfer to the garden well. Keep them watered during their first growing season if you plant them out.

Alternatively, keep them in the pot until they finish flowering and then knock them out, looking for vine weevil as you go. Split them up and re-pot small sections into gritty compost.

Plant them out in September somewhere cool and semi-shaded. Hedge bottoms and areas under deciduous trees are excellent. Avoid areas that dry out in summer sun.

A plant for the bees

The primrose is an excellent bee plant and it uses a clever device. Some flowers are pin-eyed (with a prominent style) and others are thrum-eyed - showing a head of long stamens. The differences ensure that pollen is picked up from the stamens and distributed on the style as the bee travels from one to another. This arrangement ensures lots of genetic diversity because the short-stamened flowers tend to be self-fertile whilst the long-stamened flowers normally need an insect in order to set seeds. Named primroses in unusual colours and flower forms have been grown in gardens for hundreds of years.

Go to page two for the history of the primrose.

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  • Doreen Brotherton

    Posted: Thursday 19 March 2015

    Clumps of primroses have been appearing on our patio for about two months now. First one appeared now there are more appearing.We have never planted any at all so I'm mystified though they look lovely! We live in Lancashire by the way.

  • kartheek

    Posted: Friday 21 November 2014

    really helped


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How to grow primroses

Read our tips for growing primroses in your garden, including how and when to divide and how best to plant potted primroses.

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