Bouquet Perfect™ 'Blue Ripples' primrose. Photo by: Proven Winners

One of the first perennials to bloom in spring—sometimes as early as March—primroses (Primula) bring a welcome dose of cheer to the garden after the bleak days of winter. It’s always a joy to see their charming clusters of dainty flowers emerge above perfect rosettes of crinkled foliage, like a bouquet displayed in a pretty vase. And the array of colors is amazing! With choices ranging from soft shades of pink and purple to vibrant yellows and bright crimson reds, you’re sure to find a primrose that will light up your garden.

Despite their delicate appearance, primroses love cool temperatures and many varieties are cold hardy, even in areas with harsh winters. In southern gardens, where primroses wither in the summer heat, you can treat them as annuals and plant them each fall for late winter or early spring bloom.

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care | Varieties | Frequently Asked Questions


Botanical name:

Primula spp. and hybrids. Derived from the Latin word “primus”, primula means “little earliest one” and refers to the plant’s early spring emergence.

Common name:


Plant type:

Herbaceous perennial


Typically 3-8, but can vary by species


Part shade to full sun

Mature size:

Up to 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide, depending on the variety

Bloom time:

Early spring until early summer in most regions. In mild climates, plants may bloom in late winter. Some types will also rebloom in the fall, although not as profusely.


Medium to dark green leaves, arranged in ground-hugging rosettes, range in shape from oblong to broadly rounded, with some having toothed edges. The surface may be smooth, hairy, or deeply wrinkled.


Blooms in shades of yellow, red, purple, pink, blue, white, and various bicolors. Some species bear one flower per stem while others have dome-shaped or rounded clusters of flowers. Many newer cultivars have semi-double or double blooms.

Special attributes:

  • Provides an early source of nectar for pollinators
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Shade tolerant
  • Good for cut flowers

Landscape uses:

Borders, mass plantings, container gardens, cottage gardens, woodland gardens, rock gardens.


Bouquet Perfect™ 'Mandarin' Primrose. Photo by: Proven Winners.

When to plant:

Set primroses out in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed. In areas with mild winters, plant primroses in the fall or early winter for late winter and spring blooms.

Where to plant:

Primroses thrive in full sun in areas with cool summers, but usually need partial shade elsewhere. They are ideal for planting under deciduous trees that allow sun to pass through in the spring before the leaves emerge and provide dappled shade during the summer. In hot climates, plant primroses in a location that receives shade during the heat of the day.

How to plant:

Plant so the crown is just above the soil surface, spacing plants 6 to 12 inches apart. To help retain moisture and keep the roots cool, apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch around plants, avoiding the crown.


Prefers consistently moist, fertile soil rich in organic matter, with good drainage.

Growing indoors:

In spring, you can find primroses sold as potted houseplants that have been forced for early blooming. Generally, potted primroses will flower for several weeks indoors, after which it is best to plant them directly in the garden or summer them outdoors in their pots.

As houseplants, primroses tend to be short-lived and getting them to bloom again can be challenging, since they require cool growing conditions and a period of winter dormancy. If you decide to keep your primroses indoors, give them plenty of bright, indirect light and place them in a location with nighttime temperatures between 50° to 60°F and daytime temperatures below 80°F.



The most important aspect of caring for primulas is making sure they receive consistent moisture. If the soil is too dry, your plants will wilt and shrivel, and if it’s overly soggy, they will be susceptible to crown and root rot. During dry spells, water primroses regularly, providing about an inch of water per week.

Water container-grown plants whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. In hot, dry summer weather, plants may go dormant unless they are kept well-watered.

Amendments and fertilizer:

Because Primula grow best in fertile, well-draining soil, amend it at planting time with compost to improve drainage and add nutrients. Also apply a layer of mulch around the root zone of your plants to help keep the soil moist and insulate the roots from temperature extremes.

In early spring, an application of a bloom-boasting fertilizer for flowering plants will help jumpstart growth. To keep your potted primroses in bloom, feed them monthly using a water-soluble plant food diluted to half strength.

Pruning and deadheading:

To promote new blooms and keep your primroses looking tidy, remove the spent flowers by clipping them off at the base of the stem. Also prune plants as needed throughout the season to remove dead or diseased foliage and to maintain their shape.


The easiest way to propagate primroses is by division, either in spring right after booming or in early fall. Non-sterile varieties may also be propagated by seed, but the resulting plants may not remain true to type. (*See note below on propagating or dividing patented plants. Check your plant tags for the ® or ™ symbol by the plant name.)

Winter care:

Although most primroses are hardy in northern climates, they should be covered with a thick layer of mulch or evergreen boughs in areas lacking consistent snow cover, which will help insulate them from hard freezes and fluctuating winter temperatures. Remove the mulch before the foliage emerges in spring, but protect tender new growth if frost is expected.

Pests and diseases:

Primroses are generally free of pests, but be on the lookout for slugs, aphids, and spider mites. Plants may also be susceptible to leaf spot, a fungal disease characterized by brown spots and yellowing leaves. Remove the infected foliage, and provide adequate spacing between plants to ensure good air circulation.


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Photo by: Pavel_Klimenko / Shutterstock

English Primrose
Primula vulgaris

Zones: 4-8
Height and spread: 6 to 12 inches tall, 8 to 9 inches wide

This wild primrose, native to parts of Europe, has been used as a parent plant for many hybrids. In late winter to early spring, it’s covered by masses of buttery yellow flowers with deep yellow centers, arising from semi-evergreen rosettes of bright green, lance-shaped leaves. Like most primroses, it thrives in partial shade and moist soil, making it a wonderful addition to a woodland garden.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Bouquet Perfect™ 'Blue Ripples' Buy now from Proven Winners
Primula vulgaris

Height and spread: 5 to 8 inches tall, 10 to 12 inches wide

Frilly violet blue, semi-double flowers with white margins bloom profusely throughout the spring. Because the flowers are sterile, you can enjoy them over an exceptionally long bloom period. A great choice for planting in containers or along a pathway, thanks to its compact size and mounded habit.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Bouquet Perfect™ 'Mandarin' Buy now from Proven Winners
Primula vulgaris

Height and spread: 5 to 8 inches tall, 10 to 12 inches wide

These extra-large golden yellow blossoms rise above a well-rounded mound of dark green foliage, adding a vibrant pop of color to garden beds and spring container plantings. To prevent the shallow roots from drying out, grow in a boggy or consistently moist soil and provide some protection over the winter.

Photo by: Dajra / Shutterstock

Primula veris

Height and spread: 8 to 10 inches tall, 10 to 12 inches wide

Cowslips are some of the earliest primroses to bloom, opening their buds of fragrant bell-shaped blossoms while nights are still frosty. Native to Europe and Asia, cowslip has naturalized over much of eastern North America, where it thrives in meadows and open woodland settings. In the garden, it can tolerate drier conditions than most primroses as long you shield it from afternoon sun.

Photo by: Flower_Garden / Shutterstock

Drumstick Primula
Primula denticulata

Height and spread: 8 to 12 inches tall and wide

Also called Lollipop primula, this showy Himalayan native produces ball-shaped clusters of lavender, purple, pink, or white flowers, all adorned with yellow eyes. Perched atop thick, upright stems, the lightly fragrant flowers are excellent for cutting.

Photo by: Edita Medeina

'Miller's Crimson'
Primula japonica

Height and spread: 12 to 18 inches tall and wide

This lovely cultivar of the Japanese primrose (P. japonica) flaunts charming clusters of crimson-red flowers held in whorls above mounds of crinkled foliage. It grows best in a moist, humus-rich soil in dappled shade.

Photo by: Amelia Martin / Shutterstock

'Oakleaf Yellow Picotee'
Primula vulgaris

Height and spread: 12 to 18 inches tall and wide

Notable for its unusual oak-leaf-shaped foliage, this long-blooming Primula is topped by cheerful yellow flowers with red edges that emerge as early as mid-February and continue through April. Like other primroses, it prefers cool weather and may go dormant in areas with hot, dry summers.

Photo by: Edita Medeina / Shutterstock

Crescendo Bright Red
Primula x polyantha

Height and spread: 6 to 8 inches tall, 6 to 10 inches wide

Belonging to the Polyanthus group of primroses (a naturally occurring hybrid of P. vulgaris and P. veris), this vibrantly colored cultivar features umbels of bright red flowers accented by large yellow eyes, perched above tidy rosettes of dark green leaves. Deadhead after flowering to prolong the bloom period.

Photo by: Nancy J Ondra / Shutterstock

Hardy Primrose
Primula kisoana

Height and spread: 6 to 8 inches tall and wide

Also known as Mt. Kiso primrose, this Japanese native features pink to rose-mauve flowers with deeply notched petals, borne on pink stems covered by downy white hairs. Ideal for use as a groundcover, it slowly spreads in the garden by stoloniferous rhizomes and self-seeding to form colonies.


Is primrose a perennial?

Primula tends to be a short-lived perennial. When grown under optimal conditions and in climates with cool summers, plants can live up to 5 years. In areas with hot, dry summers, they are best treated as spring-blooming annuals.

How do you get primroses to bloom indoors?

To prolong the blooming of primroses indoors, keep plants in a cool environment and give them bright, indirect sunlight. Another way to prolong blooming is to feed plants regularly with a half-strength fertilizer solution. Although indoor plants are usually discarded after the flowers have faded, they can be moved outdoors into the garden, where they may bloom again the following spring.

How long do primrose blooms last?

Primrose blooms can last for as long as six weeks, depending on weather conditions and other factors. When the flowers fade, consider deadheading them to encourage repeat blooming.

Is primrose toxic?

According to the ASPCA Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants List, primrose can be toxic to dogs and cats if ingested, causing mild stomach upset. Keep plants away from children and pets.

Do primroses spread?

Although primrose isn't considered to be invasive, some types will self-sow and spread unless the blooms are deadheaded before they go to seed. If you don’t want your plants to spread, consider growing a sterile variety that won’t go to seed.

Can you grow primroses from seed?

Most primroses are relatively easy to germinate from seed if the seeds are fresh or have been stored with care to keep them cool and dry. Cold stratify the seeds in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks, then sow them indoors in a sterile seed starting mix 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date, barely covering them since light is required for germination. Transplant the seedlings outdoors after the last spring frost.

Get more tips for growing primulas from seed from The American Primrose Society.

What are good companion plants for primroses?

For a colorful spring display, plant your primroses among early-blooming bulbs, such as crocuses, daffodils, and dwarf irises. Other plants that pair well with primroses and like the same moist, partly shaded conditions include astilbe, Japanese painted fern, foamflower, bleeding heart, and lungwort.

*REGARDING PROPAGATION: When it comes to propagating patented plants, there are strict rules in place prohibiting reproduction or propagation of these plants in any way. This means you can't reproduce them (even for use in your own garden), sell them, or bring them into the country without permission. The law does not make exceptions for what some might consider minor infringements. Any unauthorized use of patented plants is considered an infringement.


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