May – Fairy primula for winter colour

No winter garden is complete without the delicate blooms of the Primula malacoides, aka Fairy Primrose. Primula comes from the Latin word “primus” meaning first. In their wild habitat they are among the first of the spring plants to flower.

Primulamalacoides56114resizePrimula malacoides are part of the Primulaceae family. The Genus Primula has some 400 species. As well as P. malacoides the other popular Primulas that can be found in our South African garden centres are Primula acaulis (aka Primrose), Primula polyanthus and to a lesser degree Primula obconica. P. obconica is less popular due to the high allergic reaction to skin when handled. Breeding is underway to produce plants free from this allergen, Primin.

Most Primulas are native to the northern hemisphere countries of Europe and southern Asia. Now, through extensive breeding, you will find them flourishing worldwide in differing climatic regions. Generally a cool climate crop, you will find them flowering in winter and early spring gardens.

Primula malacoides are herbaceous, maturing at approximately 30cm in height and 20cm in width. The foliage consists of rosettes of leaves that are furry, slightly frilly in appearance and pale to dark green in colour. The flower stem protrudes from this dense foliage producing tiers of saucer shaped flowers, bearing five heart shaped petals. Double flowered varieties are available, but are not common. Available colours are white, pink, rose, crimson, lavender and purple. On the whole, the appearance of the Fairy Primrose is a dainty one. However, do not allow this delicate appearance deceive you, they are sturdy plants and once established require no attention beyond the occasional dead heading.

P.malacoides make for a wonderful display when planted en masse, you can create a meadow in your own garden. Due to their height, they are a good filler for the middle to back section of your flower beds. In containers and hanging baskets they can be used to create a vertical accent.

Fairy Primroses are perfect for shady areas although they can tolerate dappled morning sun. It is a plant that thrives in the cool, short days of winter and early spring. They prefer soil that is rich in organic matter so it is important that you add compost to the soil before planting. Keep the soil moist, but not sodden and pay particular attention to watering if in pots or baskets. Primula malacoides do not like to get thirsty!

It is always tempting to purchase seedlings displaying the most colour, it is after all what attracted you in the first place. However, this really is one seedling that should be planted green. Now is the perfect time to plant, do not leave it much later than mid-May to plant these seedlings.

This plant has moderate feeding requirements. If in beds, a soluble multifeed, used every six weeks is adequate. Monthly feeding is preferable if in containers or hanging baskets. This feeding will ensure prolific blooming and healthy, strong plants. Primula malacoides are wonderful for attracting butterflies but unfortunately they are also susceptible to red spider mite. If you find this critter on your plants, contact your local garden centre for advice on how to eradicate them.

Primula malacoides are prolific self seeders. You will find them popping up all over your garden each autumn season. It is important you keep them in check and remove the plants from unwanted areas before they flower.

Primulas provide relief from a somewhat barren winter landscape. Their sea of dreamy colours is a ‘must have’ when planting your winter garden. Fairy Primroses never disappoint.

Happy gardening!

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