Impatiens Flowers: Growing and Care

Impatiens Basics

Impatiens are an annual flower that comes in a large variety of colors, including pink, blue, yellow, red, white and purple. Old-fashioned types are fairly tall, up to two feet, but the more common modern impatiens available are as short as six inches from the ground and more compact, spanning 10 or 12 inches around. They are liked by many gardeners for their shade tolerance. For the best coloring of impatiens flowers, they need filtered light or partial shade, as direct or full sun will fade the blooms. They prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil, with a pH around 6.0 to 6.5.

Planting Impatiens

Impatiens grow well from seed, but are slow to germinate. Plant seeds in a sterile, soilless potting mix or in seed flats. Start impatiens seeds well in advance of spring; you can plant seeds indoors 6 to 10 weeks before setting the seedlings outside. They can be hardened off and set outside after the last chance of frost damage. If you start with impatiens seedlings forma nursery or garden store instead, plant after frost danger is past, and choose a partially shaded location with good soil. If you have the tall varieties, space them 18 to 24 inches apart, while the smaller, compact impatiens can be planted from 8 to 10 inches apart.

Caring for Impatiens

Take note of the location of your impatiens when determining care guidelines. They are favored for under trees and large shrubs, as they need shade, but in such a location, they will need more water and fertilizer, as they will be competing for nutrients with the tree roots. Impatiens needs rich, moist soil, and it’s often a good idea to mulch them really lightly in a layer around the bases, to keep water near the roots longer. Impatiens will let you know when they need water, as the soft stems wilt very quickly when they are without water for too long. Using a liquid fertilizer once a month will help keep impatiens blooming and growing lushly all summer. Impatiens is an annual, and must be replanted each year, but usually does not need pinching or pruning through the growing season, so most of your work for impatiens will come at planting time. If you find your impatiens begins to get too tall and spindly, cutting it back will renew the plant’s efforts toward blooming, and reduce the top-heavy growth. Whether or not to prune is up to you, however, as it’s not needed for the health of the plant.

Pests & Diseases

Most pests and diseases that affect impatiens can be avoided with proper cultivation and care. Moisture stress is a common problem for impatiens across climates; without enough watering, they will not only wilt, but if the wilt is allowed to continue, they will drop leaves and flowers and be much more prone to pests and diseases. In the germination phase, impatiens is prone to damping off, so plant plenty of extra seeds in case this happens. Some plant viruses affect impatiens, but these are difficult to prevent or fight, beyond ensuring you buy seeds, seedlings and plants from reputable nurseries, and keeping your garden tools and containers scrupulously clean. Fungi, rots, and blights also can affect impatiens. Keep soil moist, but not soggy or squishy, to avoid these, and if you see any spots, rot or blight symptoms, remove and discard the dead, dying or diseased parts of the plant to keep it form spreading. Insects to watch for include spider mites, aphids, mealy bugs, and thrips; wash eggs and larvae off plant stems if you find them, and keep mulch clean, dry and light.

Want to learn more about growing impatiens?

Check out these Web sites chosen by us for more information on the subject:

Clemson University in South Carolina has a guide to impatiens.

Impatiens are explored as a bedding plant by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Some of impatiens’ history and preferences are explained in this University of Vermont Extension article.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Chua April 15, 2010 at 5:40 am

Thanks for the tips.

Indeed, one thing to add on – Impatiens could make great container plants as well. You need to water them less often if you add a water-storing polymer (such as Broadleaf P-4) to the potting mix.

The truth is too much of a sunlight will not be ideal for Impatiens. My experience tells me 1-2 hrs of sunlight per day should be appropriate, and yes they love shade.

I’ve both Impatiens & Tulips at my backyard, and they matched out well. I am particularly fond of the various color they added to my yard 🙂

Jay Chua
Publisher, PorchSwingSets.com

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marilyn mac October 11, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I have a lovely group of red impatiens that have been blooming all summer under my tree — my question is how long will they bloom and when do they die? I plan to put in daffodil bulbs when the impatiens are finished. I am north of Pittsburgh, Pa. — we haven’t had a frost yet. Thank you.

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