Impatiens, also known as balsams or busy Lizzie, have been a popular garden flower for generations. These low-maintenance plants add a burst of color to the shady spots in your garden that might not support many other flowers. There are a few different varieties of impatiens on the market today, and most of them come in shades of red, pink or white.
Impatiens belong to the Balsaminaceae genus, and species of wild impatiens can be found in Africa, Asia and North America. The most commonly grown garden impatiens are African in origin. The wildflower jewelweed, commonly found in moist, shady places in North America, is related to garden impatiens.
Impatiens walleriana is the scientific name of the impatiens most often found in nurseries, sometimes labeled as a "tender impatien." It has familiar, five-petaled white-, pink- or salmon-colored flowers, although double flowers or flowers in shades of red or orange are becoming increasingly popular. I. balsamina (annual impatiens) and I. hawkeri (New Guinea impatiens) are also grown in garden settings. Impatiens come in tall forms, up to 14 inches tall, or in dwarf varieties that are as short as 8 inches. There are wild species of impatiens that can reach up to 8 feet tall.
Although impatiens are commonly grown as annuals, I. walleriana is actually a perennial, and gardeners in locations where the winter temperature doesn't dip below 55 degrees F can grow impatiens year-round. Gardeners in cold climates will want to start their impatiens in the spring for blooms throughout the summer, while gardeners in hot regions will put out impatiens in the fall for flowers in the winter.
Impatiens will quickly wilt in the hot sun, so they should be placed in a location with part shade, although some varieties of New Guinea impatiens can tolerate more sun. Tender impatiens can be grown as houseplants, and they do well with the lower light levels commonly found in most houses.
Impatiens like rich soil with good drainage. Water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist, but don't over-water--impatiens will suffer both from too much water and too little water. Apply a mulch over the soil to maintain good moisture levels. Impatiens grown as annuals may not need much in the way of fertilizer, but perennial impatiens will benefit from an application of compost or other fertilizer.