Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68, LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068   Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Impatiens - A Popular but Over-used Annual

Impatiens are the most popular and possibly overused annual bedding plant in south Florida. Its popularity is undoubtedly due to its preference for shady conditions, ease of production and continual cool season floral display in a variety of colors.  Impatiens are available in fifteen different solid colors, five colors with white star patterns, and three picotee bicolor designs. Nationwide, impatiens has become the most popular bedding plant by millions over the second most popular bedding plant, the petunia.

Impatiens is one of over 500 species in the family Balsamineaceae.  It was originally named Impatiens sultana, for the Sultan of Zanzibar, and was later renamed Impatiens wallerana, after Horace Waller, a British missionary.  The common names of impatiens, Busy Lizzy, and Touch-me-not were given because the slightest touch will cause the ripe, full seed pods to burst open and impatiently scatter their seeds into the wind.
Impatiens were discovered growing in the eastern regions of Africa, from Mozambique to Tanganyika. They are thought to be native to Zanzibar, an island off the coast and part of present day Tanzania.  Impatiens were first brought to England in 1896 by a British physician and naturalist, Dr. John Kirk. In the 1950s, they were available only as open pollinated plants and as a mixture of flower colors.  Ball Seed began modern breeding efforts with impatiens in 1956 to improve plant qualities, such as flower size and habit, through hybridization. This effort lead to a flurry of work by a number of major seed producers, which resulted in the kaleidoscope of colors and varieties of impatiens available today.

Impatiens are classified using five basic characteristics - plant height and flower size, flower form, flower color, foliage color, and New Guinea types. In general, plant height and flower size are related -- large plants produce large flowers.  Basically, there are three mature plant heights for impatiens -- dwarf (eight to 10 inches tall), medium (ten to 12 inches tall), and tall (one to 2 feet). Flower size may range from one to 2 inches. Flowers can be single, semi double, or fully double blooms that look similar to miniature roses. The wide range of flower colors available includes red, orange, salmon, rose, pink, white, violet, and lavender blue. There are also two types of bicolor patterns: the star pattern and the picotee pattern. The star pattern is a solid color, like red or rose, with a white star formed in the center by the five petals. The picotee design is a light color on the bloom interior and a darker color on the edge of the petals.

New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens sp.) are taller than Impatiens wallerana (about 14 inches), have larger blooms (two to 3 inches or more), and can tolerate more sunlight and warmer temperatures. New varieties of New Guinea impatiens have been introduced including new flower colors and some with variegated foliage.

Impatiens are easy to grow if provided with proper soil conditions, water, and protection from full sun. Impatiens favor cool temperatures and quickly melt out in our tropical Florida summers. In our area, optimum planting time ranges from October through March. They thrive in filtered or partial shade and will only tolerate sunny conditions if given adequate water and a humid climate.  Impatiens are great to brighten spots that you thought were too shady for flowers.

Impatiens can be started from seed six to ten weeks prior to planting.  With the wide availability and selection of colors and types present in most garden centers, the quickest and easiest way to get impatiens is to purchase transplants from a local nursery or garden center.

Prepare beds by adding compost or slow release fertilizer into the soil to provide nutrients to the plants for the growing season. Excess fertilizer, especially nitrogen and water will result in leafy, tall plants with fewer blooms.  The mature plant height is greatly affected by plant spacing. The closer they are planted, the taller the plants grow. Check the label provided with the plant for the variety, height, and color.  Be aware that cranberry impatiens produce weak plants and never grow as large as the other colors. Avoid mixing cranberry with other colors because the other plants will oversize the cranberry impatiens.

After transplanting, water the plants thoroughly and continue to water as needed.   Keeping the soil moist soil and not letting it dry out is the secret to success.  Impatiens have succulent stems and quickly wilt when in need of water.  Remember that older plants and those in the sunny locations will require more water.  Those grown in the soil under trees will need extra water and fertilizer due to competing with the tree roots.  Repeated moisture stress will result in a significant decline in overall plant quality and flowering performance.

Impatiens may also be grown in containers and placed where there is less space. Use a sterile, soil less, growing media (rather than garden soil) for good drainage. Impatiens grown in containers need more frequent watering and fertilizing than those grown in the garden.

Impatiens are virtually trouble free but can contract a variety of soil borne fungi.  Damping off can kill impatiens in one to three days.  Over watering is generally the cause.  Early symptoms are exactly as if they needed watering - limp and wilting. Test for too much or too little water by poking your finger into the soil about one inch. If the soil is wet,  your impatiens are probably being attacked by fungus and may die. Stop watering immediately. Test daily with your finger and you may save your flowers by backing off the water.

The cheerful colors added by this delightful bedding plant may just be the ticket to brighten up your winter garden.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

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