My father used to grow primula in his greenhouse so we could all enjoy their colorful blooms in late winter. These, it turns out, were the very same kind of primroses that are being sold now by nurseries and florists, supermarkets and big box stores. In fact, Primulax polyanthus or polyanthus primrose are now a seasonal staple, though not associated with a holiday. And, yes, they can be planted outdoors in Alaska, where they will act as the perennials they are.
For those not familiar with these plants -- or can't place the name with a memory -- they have deep green, textured leaves arranged in a rosette, laying low to the soil. In the center are stalks with quarter to half-dollar size flowers, usually with a yellow center and surrounded by a darker color and sometimes fringed in white. The darker colors can be deep and sultry or close to psychedelic. Pinks, blues, yellows, orange. To me, they have a very pleasant smell, but many can't sense any odor at all.
What terrific plants these make for both the Alaskan home as well as yard. Outdoors they thrive in cool weather, so our 40 to 50 degree nights do them no harm. And, they love moist soil, have to have it in fact, so they easily handle our damp weather. Better yet, they don't mind being in the shade, so they can fill baskets, boxes and boarders that would ordinarily have to go without much color.
Indoors they obviously show the same characteristics and the conditions under which they thrive are easy to provide. Do so and you will get double your money's worth -- a blooming houseplant and a subsequent perennial in your garden.
Since we are gaining roughly six minutes of light each day and things are to the point where a plant already in bud will bloom, you don't even need to use artificial light to keep and enjoy them. It wouldn't hurt them, however, if they did get some extra light.
Note that I said these plants need a moist soil. This doesn't mean, however, that they should be kept in water. The soil they grow in needs to be well draining soil and the container they inhabit must have adequate drainage. If there is any silly foil or a plastic, decorative wrapper when you get yours, remove it.
The one pest that can be a problem for primroses indoors is the spider mite. (Outdoors it's the slug.) Fortunately, most folks in Alaska know they have spider mites early as populations bloom when the heat starts on every fall. If you have them, keep your primroses clear. AzaMax should work to rid you of your problem, by the way.
Primroses flower early. This makes sense as the name "prim" part of the name comes from an ancient word meaning "first." And primroses often are first in the perennial garden. There are many different kinds and if you want to start some, now is a good time. They need at least three weeks of refrigerator treatment and take from three to six weeks to germinate. Fortunately, there are always a great selection sold by our terrific nurseries, so you don't have to go through all the bother.
Finally, primroses spread. Sometimes by the time you can take your plants outdoors, you have some that are large enough that they can be divided so you have more plants. Just make sure that when your transplant the crowns are at soil level.
Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com.