How to Plant and Grow Primrose

The types of blooms you can expect vary among species, and some are even fragrant.

With more than 400 species, primrose comes in a rainbow of colors, shapes, and sizes. It's one of the earliest perennials to flower, and in Zones 2-8, where they're hardy (depending on the type), they may remain evergreen.

Most primroses offer dainty blossoms held in loose clusters at the tips of long stalks. Other types hold their clusters of flowers so close together that they form tight balls of color, earning the common name "drumstick primrose." Candelabra primroses produce layers of blossoms along a bloom stalk and look stunning en masse. Plant them near a path or low bench for the best chance to catch a whiff of their soft, subtle scent.

Primrose Overview

Genus Name Primula
Common Name Primrose
Plant Type Perennial
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 6 to 24 inches
Width 6 to 18 inches
Flower Color Blue, Green, Orange, Pink, Red, White, Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Spring Bloom
Special Features Attracts Birds, Fragrance, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Propagation Division, Seed
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant

Where to Plant Primrose

Sunlight and soil requirements for primroses vary depending on the species. Make sure to find out exactly what type of primrose you're planting. Alpine species typically like more sun but often perform just fine in part shade. However, many woodland types quickly wilt when in full sun and need part shade to flourish.

Primroses provide color and fragrance to a garden or patio. They are excellent additions to beds, borders, and containers. They are also useful for naturalizing parts of a lawn.

How and When to Plant Primrose

Plant primroses in the spring. Though it can be challenging to succeed by planting seeds, sow them indoors over winter, then plant the seedlings in spring. Or, to be sure you get the correct color, buy plants at a nursery.

In the garden, dig a hole about the same width and depth as the planting container. Remove the plant and loosen the roots a bit from the root ball before placing in the hole. Backfill with soil, tamp lightly, and water well. Set the plants 6 to 12 inches apart to allow for growth and air circulation.

Primrose Care Tips

Primrose is an easy-care plant when grown in the right temperature and sunlight.


Most primrose varieties prefer part shade, but some will thrive in full sun.

Soil and Water

Even though many of these species prefer consistent moisture, they won't tolerate wet soil and will likely rot quickly when they get too wet. It's important to research the ideal growing conditions for your plant. With a diverse group of plants comes the need for various growing conditions. With the alpine species of primrose, well-drained soil is a must. Woodland species don't like to dry out, so they need rich, humus-based soil that retains plenty of moisture.

Hybrid primrose varieties need lots of water. Mulch around these plants, but don't let them get too wet. Species types can tolerate soggier soil.

Temperature and Humidity

Different primrose varieties need different temperatures, but none are suited long-term for hot climates because they need cold weather to continue to flower each spring. Depending on the location, primrose may be more suitable as an annual than a perennial.

They like mild climates and dislike hot and dry summers, which quickly burn them out. Even if given all their ideal conditions, they perform like an annual in hot weather.


In early spring, use a balanced or bloom-boosting fertilizer (10-10-10 or 5-10-5) to feed your primroses. More profuse-blooming varieties, such as double-flowering, need more feeding than others. To avoid over-feeding, fertilize once a season and follow product label directions to determine the proper amounts to use.


Deadhead primroses to allow for new blossoms and to prevent reseeding. Then, remove dead leaves in the fall to clean them up for the evergreen season.

Potting and Repotting Primrose

Potted primrose plants are often forced for early blooming, and can grow for a long time. Take them outside in warmer months and inside for cold winters to help them continue to thrive.

Avoid plants becoming rootbound by dividing each year or replanting in larger pots with good drainage once they've outgrown their existing container. A standard potting mix will work for primroses that are replanted or divided.

Pests and Problems

Common garden pests like slugs and snails can damage primrose. Use a non-toxic slug bait to keep them away. If spider mites or aphids appear on your plants, spray them with soapy water to wash them off. If you notice brown spots or yellowing leaves, your plants have leaf spot. Remove the infected leaves and create room for better air circulation around the plants.

Plants may develop crown rot or root rot if they have inadequate drainage.

How to Propagate Primrose

Primroses can be propagated by divisions and seed.

Propagate a nursery-grown primrose by lifting the entire plant out of the ground after the blooming period ends, being careful to keep the roots attached. Use your hands to gently separate a small section of plant and its roots from the parent plant. Sometimes, these small sections appear as plantlets; other times the place to make the division isn't obvious. In that case, split the plant into two or more sections, each containing roots and foliage. Replant the divisions where you want them immediately and water well.

Propagating with seed starts with the preparation of a coarse compost seed bed in a tray in February through April (exposure to cold weather aids germination). Sprinkle the seeds on the compost and don't cover them. They need light to germinate. Water them with a fine spray and cover with another tray with holes poked in it to let sunlight in. Weigh the second tray down with a rock and set the tray outdoors in a sheltered area. This arrangement protects the seeds and seedlings from the elements. Check the trays regularly, never letting the compost dry out. When the seedlings germinate, remove the top tray permanently. Germination takes three to six weeks. Wait until the seedlings have at least four leaves before transplanting them to individual pots.

Types of Primrose

'Blue Zebra' Primrose

'Blue Zebra' Primrose
Justin Hancock

Primula vulgaris has white blossoms that are striped with blue for a distinctive look. Zones 4-8

Japanese Primrose

Primula Japonica
W. Garrett Scholes

Primula japonica belongs to the candelabra group of primroses because their 1- to 2-foot stems bear tiers of flowers, candelabra style. The flowers may be in any shade of pink or red, as well as white; some are accented with a dark eye. Their rosettes of 6- to 12-inch-long, spoon-shaped leaves are substantial. Zones 4-8

'Quaker's Bonnet' English Primrose

'Quaker's Bonnet' English primrose
David McDonald

Primula vulgaris 'Quaker's Bonnet' has double light orchid flowers that are borne singly, but there are plenty of them. Plants grow 6 to 9 inches tall. Zones 4-8

Vial's Primrose

purple and red Vial's primrose
Laurie Black

Primula vialii has a rosette of large puckered leaves from which rise leafless stems topped with startling spikes of small brilliant purple flowers that are light crimson in bud. They prefer moist alkaline soil. They may reach 2 feet tall. Zones 5-8

Primrose Companion Plants

Japanese Painted Fern

japanese painted ferns
Lynn Karlin

Japanese painted ferns are washed with silver and burgundy markings. Lady fern is not quite as showy. Either will add interest and texture to shady spots. Closely related to one another, Japanese painted fern and lady fern are sometimes crossed with each other to create attractive hybrids. Zones 4-9


pink foxglove flowers
Peter Krumhardt

The tall spires of a stand of foxglove add drama to the garden in early summer. Most are biennials; they need two years to bloom and then die in the fall. However, if you can get a stand going, they'll reseed so prolifically that it will seem they're perennials. Zones 3-9


white iris blooms
Dean Schoeppner

Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, iris comes in many colors and heights. All have the classic, intricate flowers constructed with three upright "standard" petals and three drooping "fall" petals, which are often different colors. The falls may be "bearded" or not. Zones 3-9

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I encourage my primroses to rebloom?

    Primroses bloom in spring for eight to 10 weeks if they are deadheaded regularly. As the blooms age, they darken. Pinch off the oldest, darkest blooms regularly to encourage reblooming and extend the blooming season. You can also encourage an extended blooming season for primroses in warm areas by mulching around the plants to keep their roots cool and growing them in shady areas. Even a little sun exposure reduces the bloom period.

  • How long do primroses live?

    With the right care and planting location, primrose plants live and bloom for up to five years. Each year, they will produce more flowers than the previous year. Toward the end of those five years, divide the plant into several sections, discarding any old or damaged roots at the center of the plant, and replant them to keep primroses blooming in your garden,

  • Is primrose an invasive plant?

    While primrose isn't considered invasive, it will re-seed and spread quickly if not pruned and deadheaded regularly. For this reason, it works well as a groundcover. If you prefer to keep its growth under control, deadhead flowers before they go to seed. To remove overgrowth, be sure to pull the roots out with the plant.

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