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Primulas offer months of cool-season color
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
We are in the dead of winter, but that does not mean gardens, patios, porches or decks have to be void of color. Primulas can provide the visual treat you crave.
For example, I planted red and white cyclamen in some containers in November by the front door for the holidays. They have performed exceedingly well except in those times I have forgotten to water. They are still doing fine today, but they will have to go once it warms up.
How long does a fuchsia bloom have to last before you'll purchase it? If a nice hanging basket bought at a garden and patio show in late February or March lasts until late May or early June, is that sufficient time to enjoy some of the most exotic blooms in the world? Tuberous begonias like Showstopper are another instance where you can enjoy indescribable beauty for weeks and then compost it when summer arrives.
The primula certainly is like this in the South. We've got growers who produce them and some show up at garden centers, but they are still mostly unknown commodities in Mississippi.
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.
When I lived in Mount Olive, I planted some in a mixed container on a covered porch in January. They bloomed profusely into May. How many other plants can we say that about? I think that represents good value.
They excel in mixed containers grown with pansies, daffodils, mustard or kale. Their flowers are so bold and bright they may look a little fake. They can be used indoors and on the porch or patio where they get morning sun but then 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 they grew in the original pot. Look for plants with healthy foliage that fills up their container.
I am partial to the Primula acaulis hybrids. These are fairly short plants with short flower stalks, but they 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 the Primula obconica hybrids. These taller plants have 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 fed with a water-soluble, 20-20-20 fertilizer that has micronutrients. 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.
Twelve to 14 weeks of outstanding performance during a dreary time of the year is a good buy in my book. Some of my favorite perennials don't bloom nearly that long. Visit your garden center and see what you may be overlooking.