The Primrose Path

    • Cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and other cool season vegetables can be started now from seed. There are many wonderful varieties available on seed racks.
    • Clematis that bloomed last summer can be pruned now. Wait on spring-blooming varieties until after they bloom.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper spray for the best results.
    • Onion plants can be set out now for early summer harvest.

The Primrose Path

What happier choice of blossoms to start a spring garden than primroses? Even the Latin name comes from primus, meaning the first. This is a large family of plants having 400 to 500 species, mostly occurring in the Northern Hemisphere. Some are hardy garden species and others are only for heated greenhouses. Only a few are well adapted to the long, hot, dry summers of most parts of California.

The most popular are the polyantha hybrids, often called “English primroses”, which do very well in this area. Planted in a good location, they will come back year after year, larger and more floriferous each time! Flowers have just about the widest range of colors possible: white, yellow, gold, orange, pink, red, maroon, blue or purple, and often have yellow centers, called eyes. Planted as a mixture they are a dazzling display for three or four months of the year: January through April.

All primroses have leaves that stay close to the ground and are arranged in a circle and in the center is a flower stems that rise up above the leaves. The new ‘SuperNova’ primroses flower atop 6-8-inch-tall stems with a cluster of bright-colored flowers. Individual flowers are an inch across and clusters contain a dozen or more. A colorful new line of primroses are called ‘Primlet’. They features clusters of smaller double flowers that are tightly held like rosebuds, leading to the common name rosebud primrose. They are a fine choice for a small container.

Primroses are best appreciated right at your feet, where you can enjoy their perfection at close range. Plant them along a path for a colorful walkway. Suitable primrose companions for a moist, partly shaded spot include astilbes, ferns, hostas, forget-me-nots, and Bethlehem sage.

Provide primroses with rich, woodsy soil enriched with compost, humus, peat moss and well-rotted manure. Choose a place in the shade, in a woodland garden, or in a spot that gets sun in the winter and shade from trees in the summer. Make sure you can water them throughout the summer. A little mulch will help keep the soil moist beneath them. Under native oaks, it is better to plant them in flower boxes or barrels so that you don’t overwater the oak trees in the summer.

Cut off old flower stems as flowers fade and trim off tattered leaves to keep your primroses looking their best. Plants will continue to produce new flowers through April. Give them a light feeding after bloom to strengthen the plants, and mulch them through the summer. When the clumps become thick and overgrown, divide them in May, every 3 or 4 years.

If you don’t want to use primroses as perennials, they also make lovely annual bedding plants. They are available during the winter and spring months and make a colorful display.

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