Impatiens are one of the rare annual plants that will provide colorful blooms in shady gardens—so they’re also perfect for hanging baskets or containers on porches. Learn how to plant, grow, and care for impatiens.
Impatiens are very popular as both a bedding and hanging plant. Also called “Busy Lizzies,” these beauties are low-maintenance and don’t even need pinching! The genus name, Impatiens, is a Latin word describing how its seeds shoot out of its pods when ripe (the slightest touch can make a ripe impatiens seed pod burst open and scatter its contents).
Ornamental impatiens are primarily from two groups, Impatiens walleriana and New Guinea impatiens, Impatiens hawkeri. The two look different, but growing them is pretty much the same. I. wallerina cultivars are less tolerant of sunshine than the New Guinea hybrids, and the latter has larger foliage.
Of short to medium height, most impatiens varieties grow 8 to 15 inches tall, although some types reach 30 inches. They are perennials in frost-free areas but are grown as annuals or houseplants everywhere else.
Use impatiens for a splash of all-season color in any area that receives partial shade. Because of their shallow root system and low height, impatiens are ideally suited to containers like hanging baskets, window boxes, or deck railing planters. They also work well in the “filler” role in larger containers.
Impatiens are usually purchased from a nursery or as liners (small starter plants) from an online vendor. Most impatiens thrive in filtered or partial shade. Protection from the hot afternoon sun will help to maintain their colors. Some newer varieties grow well in sunny areas.
Impatiens prefer humus-rich, moist, and well-drained soil.
Choose a location with some shelter from the wind.
Soil pH should be slightly acidic, in the 6.0-6.5 range, but they are not picky. Unless your soil is far from that zone, you won’t need to amend it to change the pH.
The closer impatiens plants are, the taller they will grow, so space accordingly (impatiens plants can grow anywhere between 6 and 30 inches tall). For flower beds, space plants 8 to 12 inches apart to keep them bushy and low to the ground.
Mix in compost or a slow-release fertilizer before transplanting.
When to Plant Impatiens
Transplant impatiens well after the last spring frost, when night temperatures have stabilized above 40F. Impatiens started from seed will need to be sown indoors about 12 weeks before your last frost date, so plan ahead.
How to Plant Impatiens
To transplant impatiens:
Harden off impatiens purchased from a greenhouse or nursery.
Work compost or well-rotted manure into the soil.
Make a hole slightly larger than the pot or container.
Remove the young impatiens, loosening any container-bound or girdling roots.
Tuck in your impatiens, firming the soil around it to prevent air pockets.
Water in well, and mulch.
To start impatiens from seed:
Prepare a tray or several pots with pre-moistened seed starting mix and compost.
Apply a light layer of vermiculite over the top of the soil mix.
Sow seeds directly on the surface of the vermiculite and tap or press lightly to ensure contact. Do not cover with soil.
Mist seeds with water.
Cover the tray or pots with a humidity dome or clear plastic to keep moisture in.
Place in a brightly lit area.
Seeds should germinate in 14 to 20 days. Remove the plastic when the second set of leaves appears. When seedlings are one inch tall, transplant them into individual pots or cells and grow out. Remember to harden them off before planting outdoors.
Impatiens are not fussy and, if planted in the correct location, will thrive with little effort–one of the reasons they are popular.
The most important thing to remember about impatiens is to water them regularly. Keep the soil moist but not too wet. If the plants dry out, they will lose their leaves. If you over-water the plants, it encourages fungal diseases.
Container-grown impatiens will benefit from fertilizer applied every two weeks when watering.
Deadheading, while not strictly necessary, will improve their appearance and encourage more blooms.
Impatiens are hardy in zones 10-12, but even a light frost will kill them. If you have a favorite color you’d like to overwinter, either take cuttings or dig up the plant and bring it inside. Depending on your available sunlight and day length, a grow light may be necessary.
Impatiens can be easily propagated from stem cuttings–a great way to get more of a favorite color or gift it to a friend. At the end of the growing season, taking cuttings and growing them over the winter may be easier than digging up entire plants and trying to keep them alive in the house.
Inspect your plant to make sure it is pest free.
Sanitize your shears with alcohol.
Choose several strong stems and snip them 4-6 inches below the bloom.
Remove the flower and all but the upper one or two pairs of leaves.
Place the cuttings in a clear glass container filled with clean water. If your water is treated by your municipality, let the water sit on the counter for 24 hours first to allow most of the chemicals to dissipate.
In a week or two, when fine white roots appear, transition the cuttings to the soil in one of two ways:
Plant them in individual pots filled with moist potting mix.
Add a bit of potting mix to your glass container daily until it is completely filled with soil after a week. After filling the jar with soil, remove the plants and repot.
Lollipop series (I. walleriana) ‘Fruit Punch Rose’ is a compact, well-branched variety with superbly vivid colors.
Tom Thumb Series (I. balsamina) is a dwarf variety with large, double, brightly colored flowers.
Beacon® impatiens are highly resistant to downy mildew and will keep blooming reliably until frost.
Swirl Series (I. walleriana) has pretty pink and orange flowers with petals in red.
Wit and Wisdom
Deer often find impatiens to be quite tasty. Consider the prevalence of four-legged garden pests when deciding where to plant these flowers.
Rose balsam (Impatiens balsamina) makes football-shaped pods that burst when touched, which is why their common name is touch-me-not.