Saturday, March 1, 2008

My sad experience with tiny alpine primulas

Nari's pots plunged into scree in semi-shadeEditor's note: This is from ACNARGS member Nari Mistry.

In November 2004 I decided to try starting some alpines from seed. Among others, I had seeds of Primula auricula and P. marginata. I wanted to grow some tiny primulas like I had seen growing at high altitudes in Nepal in 1995. I knew nothing about the careful culture needed by these alpine primulas.

I did not want to fuss with indoor lights, etc. So I started them in little 4-inch pots filled with a mixture of equal parts leafmold, sand, PRO seedstarter, and Profile (similar to Turface). I plunged all these pots into a semi-shady scree, covered the whole area with wire mesh to protect from animals and wished them well for the winter!

P. auricula is expected to take two years to start seed, so I did not expect miracles.

P. marginata showed a few very tiny leaves in May 2005 which I carefully nurtured through the spring and summer, eventually transferring each tiny seedling into its own pot of similar soil. These were left in the scree over winter. The scree is always covered over with wire mesh for protection every winter.

I added a little osmocote in each pot in the spring. P. marginata continued to develop very very slowly through 2006, growing barely to one inch in diameter by Fall 2006. Two of the plants each developed a single miniscule flower! I did not take a picture, hoping for better bloom the next year.

In October I transplanted three plants directly into the same scree, tucked next to rocks. These did grow a little bigger in 2007 but the leaves soon began to look pale and finally the wet weather finished them off in 2007. The ones left in pots vanished even earlier. P.  auricula never germinated, although for 2006 I took the pots indoors and kept hoping.

In 2007 I also tried two tiny seedlings (P. allionii and P.  clusiana) brought by Harvey Wrightman on his March visit. One was planted in a semi-shady trough and one in a flat "alpine bed" next to the scree. Alas, neither of them survived the year. They both looked soggy and finally disappeared by late fall.

Sad story! I guess these little beauties are more suited in our area to an alpine house, or at least need to be in a cold frame or indoors in the winter. Perhaps I will try again after reading Rock garden primulas.

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