No more primroses, please!

– Posted in: Garden Adventures, Garden Design


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).


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.”


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. 


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.


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


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. 


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.


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

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
33 Comments… add one

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James Golden June 7, 2009, 9:41 am

I remember these beautiful primroses from my childhood in Mississippi, where they have naturalized. They didn’t seem to be such rampant growers there, perhaps because of the very humid summers and heavy clay soil. They would bloom profusely along the roadsides in spring, then disappear.

It’s the way they disappear after blooming that makes it seem they’re annuals…but they’re busy establishing roots to return the following year. Debra

donna June 7, 2009, 12:59 pm

Oh, goodness, yes. This stuff gets everywhere. At least it gives me something to destroy when I just really want to get out my anger on something…

And yes, the butterflies and bees do love them. Plus they are pretty and bloom for a very long time!

Good plant for those places where nothing else will grow, but watch it carefully…

There actually are some places where it’s ideal. Like roadway medians! Debra

brian June 7, 2009, 3:43 pm

Interesting! I had a lovely spot where it came up every year. But then i lost it during a building renovation & I’ve been looking for some to re-plant. Gonna have to re-think.

PS. Your book DwSucculents is sitting next to me on my desk. Nice to find you online.

Ah. A building renovation. I hadn’t thought of that as a way to get rid of them! Debra

Town Mouse June 7, 2009, 5:34 pm

Thanks for that post. I have poppies galore in spring, and this primrose seemed such a perfect follower for summer.

But I did some research, started to worry, and resisted. Still, every once in a while, I’m tempted again. I needed to hear this….

It wouldn’t be so bad if they flowered when nothing much else was going on. But they bloom when everything else does. You can do better! Debra

Susie June 7, 2009, 6:39 pm

I had it at my last house along with some mint in the ground! We worked for years & never really got rid of either……be careful!

I’ve had mint take over, too. Mine is growing in shade where it’s battling for turf with sword ferns—which I also wish I’d never planted. Debra

ryublade - baton rouge, la June 7, 2009, 7:07 pm

The pink primrose is considered a weed in my area but they look so beautiful growing along the roadsides. I remember picking them as a child on my way home from school.

They seem to have spawned happy memories for several people. I have happy childhood memories of dandilions and wild oats…two plants I certainly wouldn’t welcome in my garden now. Of course when we were kids, we weren’t gardeners! Debra

eliz June 7, 2009, 10:38 pm

I’m not surprised. I saw these growing along every road and in every traffic island when I was in Austin. They were the first plant besides the bluebonnet that I learned to recognize. They are pretty.

They are indeed. I think that’s why I let them get away with so much! Debra

Gail June 8, 2009, 7:27 am

They found their way into my garden by accident. Your description of rubbery tap root is apt and there seems to be no easy eradication! But they are lovely. gail

Hi, Gail — There was a time when I envied people who had them, and figured they must be amazing gardeners to grow them. But no primroses found their way into my garden by accident. Alas, it was all my doing. Debra

bev June 8, 2009, 9:06 am

I had my patch stripped down to a few plants, but they were so pretty I thought I’d try growing them in a pot by my front door. Son of a gun, the roots went thru the hole in the pot and tried to root in the ground so they could take over a new spot! That was the last time I tried that.
Now that I am getting ready to sell my house, I have let them take over again in the original spot. Let the new person deal with them, heh heh.

Hi, Bev. Hmm. Selling my house would solve my primrose problem, wouldn’t it? If your home’s new owner isn’t into gardening the primroses won’t be a problem. It’s only when they strangle your prized plants that they’re infuriating. Primroses are like well-dressed party guests who get a little too happy and then are obnoxious. Debra

Sarh June 8, 2009, 11:59 am

Oh, I so feel your pain! This was one of the first things I planted, my first spring as a gardener, from seed. It is lovely, smells sweet, makes a great cut flower, but YIKES! I am forever yanking it out. Perhaps I’ll go guerrilla plant some in some otherwise neglected spot where I can drive by and see it, but won’t have to battle it for my garden.

Do they smell sweet? I hadn’t noticed. At one time I had such clouds of primroses, I wanted to fall into them and swim around. Their scent would have reinforced the fantasy. I wonder if my primroses are not particularly fragrant, or if there’s something wrong with my nose. I think I’ll go outside and find out…Debra

Lisa at Greenbow June 8, 2009, 2:41 pm

Too bad they are so invasive they look so pretty and the butterflies seem to like them.
Bees, too. And ants. And aphids. Debra

healingmagichands June 8, 2009, 6:40 pm

I did a post all about that a while ago.

What I found is that if you will be persistent and keep pulling out the new growth when the roots sprout, eventually the primroses will die out. I started my total eradication plan last year and this year I have only had about four places where they came up.

Fortunately, they are easy to pull up.

At one time I got rid of nearly all of them, too. A few came back, but I figured I had them licked, and they were so pretty…well, this is one persuasive plant! Debra

Blackswampgirl Kim June 13, 2009, 12:37 am

I’m so glad that I read this. It reminded me why I should NOT buy the gorgeous ‘Lemon Silver’ evening primrose that I was drooling over today at the nursery. (I don’t have a slope that needs to be tamed, unfortunately!)

Well, Kim, I sure hope I haven’t steered you wrong. There are numerous species of Oenothera as well as cultivars. These may not be invasive, in fact, my own Oenothera speciosa ‘Rosea’ may not be a rampant pest in other growing conditions and regions. I’m not familiar with ‘Lemon Silver’ but it sure sounds lovely—maybe your nurseryman can advise you? And if you find out something worth passing along, would you let us know? — Debra

hazel July 1, 2009, 9:43 pm

Hi: I have Mexican Primroses, they are just lovely. However mine have bloomed for the season and do not know when to cut them back.
Hi, Hazel. If you find the spindly stems unsightly, shear them off at ground level. The business part of the plant is underground, and trust me, it’s alive and well. — Debra

claudia July 10, 2009, 10:44 pm

uh-oh… I swore I wasn’t going to put another yellow flower in my garden but I just bought a lemon sunset evening primrose. In fact I almost bought 2 because they’re so pretty. Now I don’t know whether to plant it our not.
I love this site, your comments are hysterical, but I wish I hadn’t seen it. Now if I plant and have problems I have no one to blame but myself. I was on another site and it said they don’t have any problems with bugs, beautiful plant etc etc… I should have stopped there! Maybe I’ll plant it in the wooded lot next door. Thanks for the info…. kinda

Erica August 6, 2009, 3:35 pm

I despise this one too! It was already here when we purchased our house, I can’t stand the pink, it seems to spoil the orangey-red, purple, and burgundy with blue thing I have going on. But the squirrels love the petals…

Hi, Erica — I wouldn’t mind Mexican evening primrose so much if it bloomed in summer, fall or winter, but it goes gangbusters when my spring garden is at its peak. You’re right, it does compete with oranges, reds, and blues. But, like your squirrels, I love the petals (not to eat, though, just to look at!) Debra

steph April 7, 2010, 10:04 am

I’ve had this stuff for about o say 6 years. Have been trying to get rid of it the past 3 or 4! I have pulled it all up, round up, round up, round up, and yep you guessed it MORE ROUND UP! I would love to just see the stuff die. It’s in my yard half way down my house…..WHAT WAS I THINKING???? I was told to try gasoline anyone tried this yet?

Hi, Steph — I sympathize. Re gasoline, you’re kidding, right? Fire hazard aside, I can’t imagine that would be good for your soil. — Debra

Summer April 26, 2010, 10:53 am

Wow, I’m so sad. People try to grow things as bland (and thirsty) as, say, St. Augustine, while pouring roundup on our native? They look so great tangled with that agave, too. Actually, all the pictures look great, except for the dead one. I’d have a lawn of them, if I had a lawn.

(Caveat: I’ve lived in south Texas, where it is too dry to become rampant; and Houston, where it’s frequently too wet. And I like pink. And I don’t mind dandelions, either.)

Joyce Ubl April 4, 2015, 8:43 pm


Fran Sorin April 14, 2015, 9:48 am

Joyce- So many folks would love to have your problem. But once you’re stuck with an aggressive plant, it seems that you spend half your time in the garden trying to get rid of any seedlings. Nature is always letting us know who is in charge- it helps to have a sense of humor when this happens. Fran

Janet Ranieri June 2, 2015, 2:33 pm

would it work in a pot?

Anne Roediger February 15, 2016, 11:49 pm

I have been digging up primroses like crazy for the past 2 weeks and am going to try a solution that I just read about, but haven’t seen here: covering the area with black plastic for two months. If it works, my garden will be primrose-free and ready for summer planting. Here’s hoping!

Fran Sorin February 17, 2016, 8:09 am

Anne- Although it may not have been mentioned in that article, covering an area with black plastic for a protracted period of time will kill off just about anything! I’ve used this technique several times over the years. Good luck! Fran

Carole a. brown April 29, 2016, 3:48 pm

I bought the Mexican evening primrose plant probably almost 40 years ago. I’ve decided to get rid of them, but it’s not working so well. I’m wondering if even Roundup will work. I don’t like to use that, but I’ve had someone who has spent hours and hours trying to get it out, and it keeps coming back! I live in Spring Valley, CA, and it does go dormant in the winter. I’m not sure if it’s possible to get rid of it…

Kathryn May 1, 2016, 12:45 pm

I’m so glad I found this post! I’m looking for some pretty ground-cover for a semi-large area along a fence in my backyard. I already have lots of creeping phlox and was looking for something different – fell in love with the idea of Mexican primrose when I saw pictures…so happy I read this before planting! Thank you very much for the invaluable info!

Lori May 25, 2016, 4:06 am

PLEASE, PLEASE, Please…DO NOT help Monsanto by using his poisonous/carcinogenic Roundup! It will most certainly ruin your soil. I’d sure hate to eat any vegis grown in the vicinity of this cancer causing poison! Sorry but Montsanto is a “hot topic” for me!!!

Denise Morrison Tulsa Ok. June 13, 2016, 10:51 pm

I can’t believe anyone would want to kill primrose, I teach medicinal plants and this is one of the main plants I use for arthritis and diabetic neuropathy. I eat approx 12 leaves raw in salad or smoothy 2 to 3 times a week. Within hours the pain is gone. It freeze well for use when plant is gone for the season.

Fran Sorin June 13, 2016, 11:25 pm

Denise- Thanks so much for your insights on the medicinal uses for primrose. This is great information. Best- Fran

Carolyn May 5, 2017, 4:41 pm

I was so happy to find out that these were invasive, can take a freeze, and drought resistant. therefore, I planted my whole front yard with them. We live in a rural, dry place. All my neighbors have weeds and crabgrass, and I have a ton of pink flowers. I also have California poppies and sweet peas growing with them. Next year I will add sunflowers.

Fran Sorin May 14, 2017, 9:41 pm

Carolyn- Primroses are divine. Back East, at Chanticleer Gardens, I love visiting in spring when there is a plethora of primroses in their woodland garden. Your garden sounds divine….filled with a combination of poppies, primroses, and sweet peas. Lucky you!! Fran

Stacey p. June 3, 2017, 4:36 pm

This took over garden boxes I put in front of my house. Thankfully they’re conTained there! I’d just kind of rolled with it, since it’s confined and the pink blossoms are quite pretty.

Karen August 3, 2017, 11:36 am

I have to agree with Lori about Roundup (sorry for the all lower-case – the Comment box won’t let me do caps for some reason). There are better, less toxic ways to kill plants (vinegar? boiling water? Salt water?) that won’t also kill your soil and everything that lives in it. That said, I wonder what part of the country you live in, Fran. I’m always looking for pretty, hardy, drought-resistant plants for my Northern California garden. I’ve done well with ‘santa barbara daisies’ (Erigeron karvinskianus). I planted one a few years ago, and the birds seem to be spreading it all over. When it grows where I don’t want it, I just dig it up and move it. I think I’ll try the mexican evening primrose in my street strip where I can’t get anything else to grow for long

Denis December 2, 2017, 7:54 pm

Oenothera hasn’t become a weed here yet, but Agapathus certainly has, (and it’s becoming rare in its native environment in Sth Africa). I find placing old blankets (or similar) to cut out light to the soil for a few months is effective in discouraging weeds.

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