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Primulas Cure Winter Doldrums
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The winter weather has not been so cold, but it certainly has been dreary. The bulbs are starting to show their first green signs letting us know spring is coming. But if we simply cannot wait, which I can't, then primulas are the easy solution to the winter doldrums.
Europeans adore primulas, or primrose, but most Mississippi gardeners overlook them as a source of late winter and early spring color.
We have growers in Mississippi who produce absolutely the most beautiful primulas around. Unfortunately, most of them are shipped out of the state. What is odd is that you may find a small town garden center in Mississippi selling them easily to their customers, but have to hunt for them in a large city.
Primula comes from the Latin word which means "firstling of spring." There are about 400 species of primulas, which are mostly alpine perennials with short rhizomes.
Last year I placed three primulas in a terra cotta bowls on my front porch in January. They bloomed profusely into May. How many other plants can we say that about? Maybe pansies.
As pretty as pansies are and as much as I like them, the bold color of primulas will beat them. They can be used indoors and on the porch or patio where they get morning sun but shade or indirect light in the afternoon.
Choose a good light, well-drained mix for your container, and then plant at the same depth as the original pot. Look for plants with healthy foliage that fills up their container.
Primulas come in a wide range of colors that are breathtakingly bold and bright and will provide an immediate impact. There are even those that have two-toned colors. In a 15-inch terra cotta bowl you can space three plants about five inches apart to create a really colorful garden. Don't be afraid to stick in a couple of daffodil bulbs, too!
I am partial to the primulas in the trade known as the Primula acaulis hybrids. These are fairly short plants with short flower stalks but have colors that are so bold they almost look artificial. The Crayon, Lira and Quantum are the most popular in this group.
The next biggest group grown is known as the Primula obconica hybrids. These are taller plants and taller flower stalks. The colors are very pretty and just not quite as bold. The Libra and Juno series are the most popular in this group.
Keep your plants moist and feed with a water soluble, 20-20-20 fertilizer that has micro-nutrients. Avoid overhead watering to lessen fungal diseases. I use a small watering can with a tiny spout. Be sure to keep old flowers removed for a tidy appearance and increased flower productivity.
Trials are being conducted in two or three locations in the South to find cultivars that will make exceptional landscape plants as well as those that are perennial. For now we should treat them as an annual that we will enjoy for several weeks. They are certainly worth it.