No more primroses, please!

– Posted in: Garden Adventures, Garden Design

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Is there a plant in your garden that you once longed for and now wish you could get rid of?  Meet mine: Mexican evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa).

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You can see why I wanted them. Mexican evening primroses form diaphanously lovely, cloudlike mass of pink. I had seen them in other gardens, and wondered why no nurseries sold them. Finally, I found some at a farmer’s market. But once planted, the primroses drooped and disappeared. So, I bought some more. Same thing—I couldn’t seem to keep them going.  Imagine my surprise when, the following year, I had primroses galore. It seems their topgrowth dies back after blooming, but the roots are still alive. Great, right?

Wrong. Guess I should have paid attention to this part of the description in the Sunset Western Garden Book: “…can be aggressive and potentially invasive.”

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It seems Mexican evening primrose is so accustomed to inhospitable growing conditions—dry, rocky, nutrient-poor soil—that in a cultivated garden, it goes wild. Here you see it cavorting around a bewildered Agave americana ‘Marginata’.  Oenothera reproduces via underground roots that send forth new plants.

Five or six years ago I sifted the soil in my flowerbeds to get rid of primrose roots. I was determined to win, and I thought I had, for a while. But it seems even if you go after the plants with a vengence, if the merest root remains, Mexican evening primroses bounce right back. 

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After observing that the roots grow readily downhill but never uphill, at least, not on an unwatered, decomposed granite slope, I transplanted some to my garden’s most inhospitable area: below the fence, along the road. Here you see the result. I’m actually pleased. (Score one for Debra.) That shrub behind the sign is a mallow, btw.

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I also grow a white variety of Mexican evening primrose that doesn’t seem to be as invasive.

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Last summer I relandscaped a section of the garden. The primrose had naturalized nearby, but was safely (or so I thought) on the other side of a pathway.  I didn’t think its roots could—or would—cross the path. But  it saw a golden opportunity (rich soil, full sun, lots of room) and has popped up amid young plants that are not yet established.  It’s fairly easy to pull out of friable, well-mulched soil.  But the taproot is like rubber, and it stretches and then snaps. 

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I am loathe to use chemicals, but I may go after the plants with Round-Up.  Seems such a shame, with flowers as pretty as these. So, first, a bouquet…with mallows.

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(Hours before this was scheduled to be posted, look what I saw in the garden. OK, primroses, you have a reprieve. For now.)

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Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin

Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
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