How to sow primulas or garden fairies

This year if you plant only one annual that flowers in late winter and spring, make it a colour cloud of lots of Primulas (primula malacoides or fairy primrose). These cool-weather beauties have a delicate appearance, with their furry and textured leaf rosettes and slender flower stalks bearing tiers of flowers with heart-shaped petals in shades of white, rose, pink, lavender, purple and burgundy, but they are surprisingly tough and quite easy to propagate from seed.

Success tip: Never allow the soil mix to dry out during germination as this will be fatal!

How to use your primulas

The primula is one of the first little flowering plants to sniff that spring might be in the air, and will start flowering even in midwinter depending on the time they were planted. They can flower from May to October. The best way to show them off is to plant them in masses in flower borders, but they also combine very well with spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils and with other annuals such as violas, pansies, phloxes and Iceland poppies. If you have a glut of fairy primula seedlings, grow some in pots to display inside the home. Simply place the pots inside a large container or basket and add some moss around it to emulate a woodland scene in a cool room with good light.

Do this to sow your Primulas:

  1. Fill a cleaned and disinfected seed tray with moist commercial seedling mix, which is normally gritty and fibrous. This supplies the primula roots with the air they need to develop.
  2. Add a thin layer of vermiculite over the seedling mix.
  3. The seeds are very fine and should be sown very thinly over the vermiculate and not covered at all.
  4. Water the seed tray from below by keeping it in another container filled with water until the growing medium has taken up enough water via capillary action to be evenly wet. You can also use a watering can with a fine rose spray or a misting bottle to water the seed but be careful not to wash it away. Place another seed tray of the same size (it must have holes to let in light) upside down over the planted seed tray and weigh it down with a stone. Don’t use glass or clear plastic as it can cause heat build-up – primulas need cool temperatures to germinate.
  5. Leave the seed tray in a shady place and check regularly that the soil remains evenly moist.
  6. Germination should take three weeks, after which the cover must be removed.
  7. Feed the seedlings with a growth stimulant like Wonder Kelp about a week before you are going to plant them out, to give them a boost.
  8. Don’t plant out the little seedlings into small pots or a seedling punnet too soon – they should have developed a good root system first, and should have at least four leaves.

Planting out directions

  • Fairy primulas prefer semi- to full shade – morning sun and afternoon shade is perfect.
  • The soil type is not critical (clay or acidic soil will be tolerated) but it should drain well and must be enriched with compost.
  • Space the plants 10-12cm apart.
  • You can expect a height of about 20 – 25cm and a spread of 25 – 30cm.
  • Start feeding garden plants with a water-soluble fertiliser as soon as the first flower stalks start developing. Flowering from seed is normally after 16 weeks.
The Gardener