Adding Splashes Of Color To The Garden And Containers With Impatiens

Everyone has a favorite summer annual they rely upon every year to add color to bare garden spots or containers. It may be the classic geranium, the bright yellow marigold, or the heat-loving petunia. But, for me, impatiens are my summer stalwart.

A Love For Impatiens

Orange impatiens with green leaves.

They grow and spread quickly, offering instant gratification. Their flowers range in shades from crimson red to calming mauve. Once established, impatiens will last through to the first frost.

Impatiens are hardy to climate zones 10 and 11 and are perennial in sub-tropical and tropical climates. However, in colder regions, they can’t withstand temperatures below freezing and die back annually.

They get their name from how quickly and impatiently the seed pods form and open after flowering. But they also go by several aliases, including busy Lizzie, patient Lucy, or touch-me-not plant.

Part of the Balsaminaceae or balsam family of plants, the most popular garden varieties are Wallariana or super elfin impatiens, SunPatiens, and New Guinea impatiens.

Wallariana or Super Elfin Impatiens

Pink wallariana impatiens with dark green leaves.

These are the most popular but were the hardest to find in recent years. Nine years ago, they endured their own form of pandemic.

 Downy mildew, a fungal disease, wiped out these summer flowers across Europe and North America. It took several years, but breeders worked hard to re-establish strains and colors. Now, downy mildew disease resistance Wallariana and Super Elfin impatiens are in garden centers everywhere.

There are only a few simple things to keep in mind when planting. First, despite not liking to bake in the hot sun, they also don’t like it too cold, so wait until nighttime temperatures are a steady 10°C.

Enjoying a sun/part shade location and well-draining soil, water them regularly until established. These plants with tiny 2.5 cm flowers will surprise you as the growing season goes on and will spread and grow to about 25cm tall and wide. So make sure to give lots of space between each plant – about 10cm apart.

New Guinea Impatiens

New Guinea impatiens are tropical plants from, of course, New Guinea. Arriving in North America in the 1970s, they are much bigger than their Wallariana cousins. They have large 2.5 to 3cm five-petalled flowers and tapered dark green or variegated leaves, which make a bold statement in the garden.

Growing into rounded mounds up to 38cm tall and wide, they are excellent in hanging baskets or containers. They’ll be happiest if left planted in dappled shade and will droop if not watered consistently, so keep the ground or pot they’re in moist. If given monthly feedings of a low-nitrogen fertilizer or compost, they will continue to the first heavy frost.


Bright orange SunPatiens with green leaves.

SunPatiens are a New Guinea hybrid developed in Japan and introduced to North America in the early 2000s. These impatiens have recently become popular because they adapt to almost any condition.

Easily confused with New Guinea impatiens (although nothing alike), they’ll thrive in the hot sun and poor sandy soil. They bloom more prolifically than New Guinea impatiens; their leaves are slightly darker and thicker.

You can plant all three varieties in cold climates until the middle to end of June. So easy to grow, beautiful to look at, and lasting through to frost – what more can you ask of any plant?

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Invited by the Canadian Garden Council to be an ambassador for the Year of the Garden 2022, Jennifer is a garden enthusiast, writer, and alumni of Simon Fraser University. Her bylines have appeared in the opinion section of the Toronto Star, and her portfolio includes articles for Chatelaine online, Reader’s Digest, Canada’s History Magazine, and Modern Farmer magazine, among other newspapers, magazines, and websites across Canada. When not writing, you can find her visiting local garden centers or puttering, planting, and nourishing her urban garden oasis in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.