University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article



Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont


Impatiens is just one of 500 species in the plant family Balsaminaecae, which includes the old-fashioned garden balsam and the newer hybrid New Guinea impatiens, introduced in 1989. Also known as Busy Lizzy and Touch-me-not, the impatiens is "impatient", as the slightest touch will cause ripe seedpods to open and scatter seeds to the wind.

Originally thought to be indigenous to Zanzibar (an African island now part of Tanzania), impatiens also was found to grow in the eastern regions of equatorial Africa. It was introduced to the western world in 1896 by Dr. John Kirk, a renowned British physician and naturalist who accompanied Dr. Livingstone on many of his African expeditions.

Today, the impatiens is by far the top selling bedding plant in this country (petunias are second). It is available in 15 different solid colors, five colors with white star patterns, and three bicolor designs (light color on the bloom interior, darker color on the petals).

Plants can grow from six inches to two feet, depending on the spacing, moisture, available nutrients, and amount of sunlight. Flower form can be single, semidouble, or fully double blooms.

Impatiens is an easy annual to grow, provided it's planted in a location that receives filtered or partial shade. Although today's impatiens varieties are more sun-tolerant than older varieties, too much sun will cause impatiens to have small leaves, few blooms, and little height.

Impatiens can be planted under trees although special care is needed, as the tree roots will compete with the flowers for space, water, and nutrients. Impatiens planted here will require frequent watering and additional fertilizer.

One easy solution is to construct a slightly raised garden six to eight feet from the tree. Or you can dig out roots, if they are some distance from the tree, and fill the holes with a soil mix for planting.

Bedding plants are available at most nurseries and garden centers. Select plants that have a bushy appearance and healthy foliage. New Guinea impatiens also may be started from seed six to ten weeks prior to planting outdoors. This hybrid tolerates more direct sunlight and grows taller than traditional varieties.

Harden off seedlings before transplanting outdoors. Be sure to wait until the danger of frost is past before planting in the garden.

When spacing plants, remember that the more tightly they are spaced, the taller they will grow. Before digging holes for the transplants, think about how tall you want them to grow. For example, if plants are used for a border, space them eight to 12 inches apart so they will spread but remain low growing.

Mix in compost or a slow-release fertilizer before transplanting your impatiens. Water thoroughly and continue to water throughout the growing season. Keep soil moist, but avoid overwatering as this could encourage fungal diseases. So may overhead watering late in the day as the foliage will not have sufficient time to dry before nightfall.

If you want to grow impatiens in window boxes or other containers, use a sterile or soil-less growing mixture rather than garden soil to allow for better drainage. Space according to the height you wish the plants to attain. Remember, container plants will need more frequent watering than plants grown in gardens.

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