Your grandmother loved them. And she knew just where to plant them; in the shade. But now that there are two more useful categories of Impatiens, gardening with them is like real estate! “Location, location, location,” we have more choices, but we need to know where to plant them.
Why Are Impatiens So Popular
Impatiens, in all three categories, have features that are hard to compete with, and this makes us plant them so often that they risk being a garden cliche. (But we plant them anyway.)
- Impatiens bloom all of your growing seasons: Spring to fall in temperate climates, which are perennial in some climates. They never stop blooming.
- Impatiens bloom in endless colors. You can find an inexpensive and easy source of color to coordinate with whatever you are growing. This is our opportunity to be selective, as the range of bloom colors available can be mesmerizing. You can also find color and pattern in foliage in some cases.
- Impatiens are low maintenance. They do not need deadheading. When you see them in large quantities in public gardens, you will understand this value.
- Impatiens bloom in many locations. Use them in beds, borders, containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets. If it holds dirt, you can use it.
If these features appeal to you, then learn the three main categories of impatiens and use them appropriately.
There Are Three Categories Today, And You Can Use Them All
Today there are places for each of them. And here is how you can use the most popular annual flower in the USA in your garden, sunny or shady!
Three Categories of Impatiens and Their Places
- Impatiens-(Impatiens walleriana) Mom and Grandma called them “busy Lizzies” or “patient Lucys,” and lots of grandmas used these names because they are the most popular color annual plant in the USA. It is a bushy, succulent stemmed perennial. It originated in Africa, so it is really a warm climate perennial. So, your grandma probably used it as an annual. After her pretty spring-flowering bulbs were finished blooming, she could just pop these into any shady spot, and she had color!
Eventually, these popular plants developed a serious disease, “Downy Mildew, ” recently, new cultivars were developed that are resistant to the disease. A list of good choices for your garden follows in this article.
New Guinea Impatiens
- New Guinea Impatiens- (Impatiens hawkieri) This plant is a hybrid, developed using plants found in the wilds of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands during the 1970s. They have profuse flowers on top of the foliage like the original impatiens. The big difference is that they offer us a new location to plant them in. We can put them in a garden place which has sun for about half of the day.
Your hardiness zone does make a difference. I now live in zone 10b in Southwestern Florida; I can plant Impatiens walleriana in the winter in part sun. When late spring comes, they shrivel up. In Central Florida, in zone 9b, in the partial shade, they lasted 2-3 years and became enormous. My mom, on her farm in zone 6a, in Eastern Massachusetts, could use them in sunny spots in the summer. Location counts!
In cool New England, we loved the New Guinea impatiens for their new look. The shiny dark, elongated, and serrated leaves seemed a little exotic. The flowers were bigger, and new colors were available. The better sun resistance was nice but not a major feature. In our Philadelphia garden, sun tolerance was a big improvement. However, in our Atlanta garden, the sun resistance was a game-changer!
Here is how to find your plant hardiness zone. Just put in your zip code.
- Sunpatiens- (Impatiens hawkeri hybrid). Plant scientists are always creating. This was a transformation in the 1990s similar to the discovery of the New Guinea Impatiens in the ’70s.
Sunpatiens were a remarkable transformation. They changed the rules completely. They have thicker petals, sturdier foliage, and stronger stems. More new colors appeared. They were hybridized from the New Guinea Impatiens and bear a strong resemblance to them.
How Impatiens Got To US
Impatiens are a genus of about 1000 species and are native to tropical Asia and Africa. In Africa, they range from Kenya to Mozambique. The specific epithet of the name walleriana honors a British missionary named Horace Waller. Waller (1833-1896) was a British anti-slavery advocate, an associate of David Livingston, and a writer on Africa.
So do good works, and perhaps someone will name a flower for you.
Impatiens is the Latin for inpatient and refers to the fact that the seed pods seem impatient to open. As the seed pod matures, it becomes translucent, and the slightest touch sends the seeds flying.
The first plants were introduced to Europe in 1896, and we think that they came to North America shortly after.
How Can We Use All Three Categories Of Impatiens?
Bedding annuals, originally smallish and bright- fill a lot of needs in our gardens. Some newer varieties are larger (to 4′ tall).
- They give us beautiful garden colors early and throughout the season
- As part of a planting bed
- In the front part of your borders
- To fill in openings in a perennial planting
- To help carry your eye from one part of a design to another, this will add rhythm to your garden.
- Use them to control your workload. Sometimes we just don’t have time to design a big area; we can fill in space while we think about more permanent future plans.
- Enhance the outdoor spaces where you live. Brighten the outdoor dining and sitting areas.
- They make a pretty houseplant.
Impatiens Disease and The New Varieties That Are Resistant To It
The primary disease is called Downy Mildew, and it has been seen in the US since the 1800s. It was not, however, a bother in the commercial greenhouses until 2004.
Then, in 2011, it appeared first in Palm Beach County, Florida, and it earned the name IDM, Impatience Downy Mildew, and true to its threat; it destroyed the industry for impatiens and all our fun!
The developments in New Guinea Impatiens and Sunpatiens did give us alternatives to plant and opened up more sunny planting areas to fans of Impatiens.
Downy Mildew-How It Happens And What It Looks Like
Downy mildew is a devastating fungal disease. The spores of Downy Mildew are always with us; even in cold climates, they overwinter and appear in the spring. The spores travel on the wind, via insects, and even water.
How To Avoid Downy Mildew
These are the tried and true steps that help the most:
- Stake, prune, and weed to provide good air circulation.
- Plant only disease-resistant varieties.
- Keep spent plant materials and weeds picked up. Destroy and do not compost diseased plant materials.
- Use a copper spray at times when a severe rainy period is expected.
Downy Mildew-What Does It Look Like
- Angular Gray Fungal Spots
- Fungus is limited by leaf veins
- Leaves can turn yellow before the fungus is visible.
What Are Examples Of Disease Resistant Plant
It is the Impatience walleriana, the original plant, which suffered the pestilence. New cultivars have been developed which are the safest to plant.
This list summarizes some varieties designed to have specific features including, but not limited to, disease resistance.
- Accent series-dwarf plants in a mounding shape. The flowers are multi-colored, and the plant prefers partial shade.
- Beacon Impatience- This variety is the original Impatiens walleriana and has been developed to be highly resistant to mildew. These are available in at least six colors and two mixes.
- Blitz series-large flowers, the plant is heat and drought-tolerant.
- Bounce Impatience-have the true Impatience walleriana features with disease resistance. The view is that they ‘bounce back’ after wilting in extreme heat.
- Celebration series of New Guinea impatiens will reach about 16″ high, and you will see a wide range of colors.
- Dazzler series-look for very vivid colors, designed to be good in containers.
- Divine Mix-This is a variety of New Guinea Impatience and is highly resistant to Downy Mildew and has many colors.
- Florific Impatience-disease resistant, very dense New Guinea Impatience.
- Glimmer series-these are impatiens walleriana, and these are double-flowered plants that create the appearance of small roses. You will find them in seven colors.
- Sunpatiens-These will grow tall, reaching 3-4′, with very large flowers and unusual colors.
- Sunpatiens Compact-smaller, compact, Sunpatiens in a variety of colors.
Check with your best local garden centers and growers for the most successful varieties in your area.
What To Look For When Buying Plants
Floriculture is a big business in the US. The value of wholesale sales of floriculture in 2018 was 4.77 billion. (Source) This means that while you can always expect, problems in horticulture-you can also expect to see solutions.
Look for these features when you shop for new bedding plants:
- Strong white roots throughout the root ball, without odor
- Strong Stems
- A good amount of branching from the main stem
- A good amount of buds and only sufficient flowers to indicate the color
- No yellowing or spots on the leaves
- No signs of insects; look under the leaves
Companion Plants For Impatiens
In shady spots in beds or containers, try these options. You should be able to find appealing color combinations. Try Coleus or Caladiums, which often have multiple colors within one leaf. This will permit some original combinations.
- Asparigras Fern
- Elephant Ears
Regional temperatures create some much-loved combinations. Being a Yank who lived a number of years in the American South, I learned to look forward to Azaleas combined with Impatiens.
In Part Sun
- Bleeding Heart
- Japanese Painted Fern
- Lily OF The Valley
How To Plant Impatiens and Other Annuals For Best Results
First, in today’s landscape market, there are many choices. Gardening in America is at an all-time high, with 77% of households involved. Gardening, also once known as the hobby of the older and wealthier, is getting younger. Older gardeners are holding strong at 35% of gardeners. The digging population is getting younger; people 18-34 years old now occupy 29% of the gardening households (Source)
This means, for all of us, good supplies of everything, information, special-purpose tools, and of course, plants. Here is how to get the most from your new annual bedding plants like impatiens.
The Plants We Are Talking About
We are discussing the two categories we consider “annuals.” True annuals-those that go seed to flower and back to seed in one year. The second category, like the Impatiens, can live for more than one year but, in most cases, do not because they cannot survive a frost. Now you know.
You have loads of choices in the annual category. Tall-short, sun-shade foliage features such as scent, You can find the features you want. This article lists plants that work in our various gardens.
Planting Your Flowers
Soil For Impatiens
Soil: most annuals grow best in humus-rich, well-drained soil with a pH range between 6.3-6.7. Work compost into the soil. The added organic matter will help the roots to spread quickly. Here is a piece on Soil.
Planting Your Impatiens
Putting the new plants in the soil:
Plant your small plants outdoors after the last average spring frost date has passed. Here is how to find your first and last frost dates of the year. Enter your zip code.
Follow the instructions on the plant label; it should tell you sunlight requirements, plant spacing, and planting time for your hardiness zone. If your young plants are in any way root-bound, gently separate the little roots. Make the hole twice the width of the plant and as deep. Put a small amount of time-release fertilizer in the hole plant gently and water well. The water prevents air holes and allows the roots to make good contact with the soil they need to live.
Care And Maintenance of Impatiens-Pruning
Care and Maintenance: Annuals are plants that live only to flower, make seeds and die. Deadhead the plants, removing spent blooms; this keeps the plant at the blooming stage and not moving on to seed making. Some plants perform better when their branches are pinched. This produces a bushier plant.
Impatiens are low maintenance, tend to be self-cleaning, and require little deadheading. However, proactive pruning, especially about mid-summer, will preserve the mounded, bushy appearance we desire and prevent the tired, leggy look. You can take off the top third of the plant, and this will stimulate branching as well as the growth of new buds.
Water For Impatiens
Remember what Mark Twain said about water: “Water taken in moderation cannot hurt anybody.” A little careful observation will go a long way with impatiens. They prefer moist soil but are susceptible to root rot. Keep them moist but do not permit standing water. Amend the soil so that it drains. If you use impatiens as house plants, do not permit water to stand in the trays.
Fertilize your annual plants as you plant them. This will encourage growth and create vigorous and healthy plants. There is such a problem as over-fertilizing, and it produces plenty of leaves and few flowers. Our personal preference is to use a liquid fertilizer every 7-10 days. It is convenient and seems to work.
Summary, Little Flower, Big Connections
Remember that part about “location, location, location.” it’s important to plant the right variety for sun or shade. But it is interesting to know that this little flower has had global travel and been part of historical events. This is how it was discovered and got to us.
“And if my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slavery should lead to the suppression of the east coast slave trade I shall regard this as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together.”-Dr David Livingstone
Livingstone went to Africa believing that if he found the source of the Nile River, he would be famous enough to stop the slave trade.
What Does This Have To Do With Impatiens?
Lots, Livingstone took some interesting people with him to Africa. Horace Waller, Evangelical Churchman, anti-slavery advocate, and naturalist, went along. Impatiens walleriana is named after him. Livingstone also brought Dr. John Kirk, British Physician, and Botanist.
It was on an expedition to Zanzibar that Dr. Kirk discovered the Impatiens, which he delivered to Kew Garden. It became instantly popular as a bedding plant useful for Carpet planting, a popular practice of the time. In this, you laid out flowers in a pattern looking like a Persian Carpet. It was fun to look down on them from a high window in the house. Another favorite for this purpose was the Coleus, a plant that actually looks like a Persian Carpet.
I like to experience and write about Gardens and Travel, so I find it entertaining to think that plants I put in the ground are often better traveled than I am!