Infinity® Pink. Photo by Proven Winners.

For years, impatiens were my go-to annual for the shade garden because they bloom like mad and come in a variety of colors. And then one summer not so long ago, the blooming stopped—they had become victims of downy mildew.

Many nurseries were forced to stop carrying Impatiens walleriana to prevent the spread of the disease, and moved to the more resilient New Guinea impatiens. The good news is, these indispensable shade annuals are back, thanks to new hybrids bred to fend off downy mildew. You’ll also find them in more flower and foliage colors than ever before.

On this page: Basics | Types | Growing Tips | Care | Impatiens Pictures | Garden Uses | What about Impatiens Downy Mildew?

BASICS

Botanical name:

Impatiens spp. (describing the “impatient" nature of the seed pods, which burst open when ripe to effectively disperse their contents).

Common names:

Impatiens, Touch-me-not plant, busy Lizzie, patient Lucy, sultana

Plant type:

A tender herbaceous perennial in hardiness zones 10-11; grown as an annual in most regions of the country.

Bloom period:

Late spring until the first frost.

Mature height:

Anywhere from 8 to 12 inches tall for dwarf forms, to as tall as 3 feet for larger cultivars.

TYPES

  • Impatiens walleriana are the superstars of the shade garden and have been hybridized into a dizzying array of choices, including variegated forms, as well as single- and double-flowered varieties.
  • New Guinea impatiens (I. hawkeri) are admired for their large, flamboyant flowers and often dark reddish or variegated foliage. They stand up well to wind and rain and are adaptable to most light conditions.

GROWING TIPS

Container combination featuring (top to bottom): Toucan® Scarlet canna lily, ColorBlaze® Wicked Hot™ coleus, Luscious® Goldengate™ lantana (left), and SunPatiens® Compact Orange impatiens (right). Photo by Proven Winners.

When to plant:

Set out transplants in early spring or sow seed indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. They are very sensitive to cold temperatures, so be sure the threat of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up before putting them in the ground.

Where to plant:

In fertile, well-draining soil enriched with organic matter. Plant I. walleriana in light to medium shade, keeping them out of direct sunlight. New Guinea impatiens will tolerate more sun if you keep their roots moist.

Plant spacing:

Closer spacing will encourage taller growth, while more distance between plants encourages them to spread out and fill in the gaps. Plant further apart if used as a ground cover.

Planting in containers:

Use a general-purpose, well-draining potting soil; one with a slow-release fertilizer will keep your plants well get them off to a good start. If combining impatiens with other annuals or perennials, choose varieties with the same exposure and watering requirements.

IMPATIENS CARE

Watering:

Impatiens are not drought tolerant, so they need to be watered regularly during dry spells to keep the soil consistently moist and prevent the plants from wilting. To help retain moisture, amend the soil with organic matter and apply a layer of mulch. If planted in pots, they may need to be watered daily during hot, dry weather.

Fertilizing:

Apply compost or a slow-release granular fertilizer at planting time. Container-grown plants may need more frequent feedings with a liquid fertilizer.

Pruning:

Although pruning is unnecessary, you can pinch plants back if they become tall and leggy to encourage bushier growth. Your plants will quickly respond with a new flush of blooms. Flowers are self-cleaning, sparing you the chore of deadheading.

Pest and diseases:

Few serious insect or pest problems bother impatiens, but your plants can still succumb to downy mildew if you are not growing a disease-resistant variety. See below for more information on downy mildew.

IMPATIENS PICTURES

Although the threat of downy mildew has abated over the last couple of years, it’s still best to seek out newer varieties that are mildew-resistant, like those featured here:

Swipe to view slides

Photo: Proven Winners

SunPatiens® Compact Tropical Rose
Impatiens x hybridaBuy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

10-11, otherwise grown as an annual

Height:

16 to 30 inches

Spread:

14 to 20 inches

Exposure:

Partial shade to full sun

Here’s a variety that loves sun, heat, and humidity, but also doesn’t mind a bit of shade, allowing you to grow it almost anywhere you want to show off the colorful flowers and foliage. Blooms are nearly 3 inches across, but the variegated lemon-yellow and green foliage is just as eye-catching.

See more from the SunPatiens® series of impatiens.

Photo: Proven Winners

SunPatiens® Compact White
Impatiens x hybridaBuy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

10-11, otherwise grown as an annual

Height:

16 to 30 inches

Spread:

14 to 20 inches

Exposure:

Partial shade to full sun

Another robust SunPatiens variety perfect for sunny spots or those with a bit of shade as well. Numerous white flowers bloom from spring until the first frost, atop dark green foliage.

Photo: Proven Winners

Infinity® Pink Frost New Guinea Impatiens
I. hawkeri 'Visinfpifr' — Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

10-11, otherwise grown as an annual

Height:

10 to 14 inches

Spread:

6 to 12 inches

Exposure:

Adaptable to sun or shade

This show-stopper features large pink flowers with fuchsia accents, all set against dark purple foliage. The mounded habit makes it a stunning container plant, either alone or as a filler. Grows best in shady locations, but doesn’t mind full sun as long as you keep it well watered.

Many other colors available in the Infinity® series.

Photo: Proven Winners

Infinity® Salmon New Guinea Impatiens
I. hawkeri 'Visinfsalimp' — Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

10-11, otherwise grown as an annual

Height:

10 to 14 inches

Spread:

6 to 12 inches

Exposure:

Shade to partial sun

Casting a warm glow like a tropical sunset, salmon-colored impatiens are hard to beat for brightening shady locations. This selection features large flowers with bright pink eyes, set off by dark green leaves. Add vibrant color all summer to hanging baskets, window boxes, containers, and borders.

Photo by Ball Horticultural.

Beacon™ Violet Shades
Impatiens walleriana

Zones:

10-11, otherwise grown as an annual

Height:

10 to 12 inches

Spread:

12 to 15 inches

Exposure:

Adaptable to sun or shade

Highly resistant to downy mildew, this new series brings nonstop color to the shade garden with minimal risk. The plants are more vigorous and sun tolerant than traditional I. walleriana. Available in six flower colors and two mixes, including this blend of bright violet blooms with lush green foliage.

Photo courtesy Syngenta Flowers.

Imara™ XDR Orange Star
I. walleriana

Zones:

10-11, otherwise grown as an annual

Height/Spread:

10 to 12 inches

Exposure:

Shade to partial sun

Imara™ XDR (extra disease resistant) is a new line of impatiens that is highly resistant to downy mildew. It’s available in seven color options, including this exquisite bicolored selection with petals that form a perfect white star framed by dark orange borders.

Photo courtesy Syngenta Flowers.

Bounce™ Pink Flame
Impatiens 'Balboufink'

Zones:

10-11, otherwise grown as an annual

Height/Spread:

14 to 20 inches

Exposure:

Shade to partial sun

Plants in the hybrid Bounce™ series not only resist downy mildew, they also have the ability to "bounce" back if they wilt in hot weather. With a spreading growth habit, they are ideal for use in hanging baskets, borders, and as a colorful groundcover. Additional color choices in the series include white, cherry, bright coral, violet, and lilac.

GARDEN USES

With their quick growth habit and abundant bloom production, impatiens are great choices for your garden. Here are a few ways to use them:

  • Use as garden bed and container fillers, or wherever you want continuous color with minimal effort.
  • Plant in window boxes or hanging baskets, at the front of a border, or as a groundcover under trees and shrubs.
  • Varieties with flowers in softer pastel tones are wonderful accent plants in English or cottage gardens.
  • Use sun-tolerant varieties with flowers in vibrant shades of salmon, coral, or orange to add a bright pop of color to a tropical garden.
  • Double-flowered forms (such as the Proven Winners Rockapulco® series) are showy additions to container plantings or even for use as flowering houseplants.
  • Check out this fun jellyfish hanging basket project that uses impatiens as well.

WHAT ABOUT DOWNY MILDEW?

Impatiens downy mildew. Photo Courtesy of Kelly Ivors / University of Wisconsin.

What to look for:

The tell-tale signs of infection include yellowing leaves, wilting, and white spores on the undersides of the leaves.

How to prevent downy mildew:

The best preventive measures include keeping the leaves dry when watering and providing enough air circulation between plants. If you do find impatiens downy mildew, it’s almost impossible to get rid of, and it is best to remove and dispose of the affected plants.

To prevent reinfection, don’t plant new impatiens in the same garden bed. While the new plants may not have the disease (even types bred to be resistant are not completely immune), they could still fall victim if planted where spores still linger in the soil.

If you haven’t grown them for a few years or you plan to put them in containers, there is less to worry about. Or, plant New Guinea impatiens instead, which are naturally mildew-resistant. Read more about impatiens downy mildew and other alternatives to plant.

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Made in the Shade—20 Great Shade Plants
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