impatiens- a place for each of them

August 2, 2021

Your grandmother loved them. And she knew just where to plant them; in the shade. Now that there are two more useful categories of Impatiens, gardening with them is like real estate! “Location, location, location,” we have more choice but we need to know where to plant them.

There are three major categories, and one will suit your location.

  • Impatiens-(Impatiens walleriana) Mom and Grandma called them “busy lizzies” or “patient Lucy’s” and lots of grandma’s 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- (Impatiens hawkieri) This plant is a hybrid, developed using plants found in the wilds of New Guinea during the 1970’s. 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 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 Massachusets, 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 1990’s similar to the creation 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 We Got Them

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 impatient 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 Impatiens?

Bedding annuals, smallish and bright- fill a lot of needs in our gardens.

  • They give us early color
  • As part of a planting bed
  • In the front part of 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
  • Enhance the outdoor spaces where you live. Brighten the outdoor dining and sitting areas
  • They make a pretty house plant

Impatiens Disease and The New Varieties That Are Resistant To It

The 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 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

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 It

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 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 fungus is visible

What Are Examples Of Disease Resistant Plant

It is the Impatience walleriana, the original cultivar which suffered the pestilence. New cultivare have been developed which are the safest to plant.

  • Beacon Impatience- these are available in at least 6 colors and two mixes.
  • Bounce Impatience-have the true Impatience walleriana features with disease resistance
  • Divine Mix-These are New Guinea Impatience and are highly resistant to Downy Mildew and have a good number of colors
  • Florific Impatience-disease resistant, very dense New Guinea Impatience
  • Sunpatiens Compact-smaller, compact, Sunpatiens in a variety of colors

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 Shade

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
  • Coleus
  • Caladium
  • Begonia
  • Fuchsa
  • Elephant Ears
  • Bacopa

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

Try these:

  • Hosta
  • Astilbe
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Japanese Painted Fern
  • Lily OF The VAlley
  • Heuchera
  • Lamium
  • Ajuga

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 are 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 choice in the annual category. Tall-short, sun-shade, foliage features such as scent, You can find the features you want,

Planting Your Flowers

Soil: most annuals grow best in 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.

Putting the new plants in the soil: 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: Annuals are plants that live only to flower, make seed 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. Coleus is a good example of a plant that benefits from this.


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.” its 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 historic 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!