Impatiens used to be one of the most popular plants used by gardeners - but not anymore. Why are they not used as much? In this article, we'll tell you about the different types of impatiens and why they have grown out of favor with many gardeners.
First we want to tell you about the multitude of good reasons to plant any type of impatiens.
First they are highly desired because they provide a massive amount of color from continuously blooming flowers from spring to the first frost. Even better, they perform best in full shade.
As gardeners, we all know the challenge of finding shade plants that provide color from the actual flowers. Well, impatiens are of of those plants. In addition, they require virtually no care at all. Sure, you can pinch the spent stems if you like, but even without this care they will still bloom wildly.
All of these characteristics make them great for bedding plants or conainter gardens that are in partial to full shade.
Impatiens - An Annual Or Perennial?
There are more than 1000 different varieties of impatiens today, each with different growth and blooming habits. However, there are a few that are most used, so those are the types we'll cover here.
Impatiens are techinally a perennial and have been bread as such. However, they are planted as annuals in most parts of the country and most people think of them as annuals. Indeed they will die after the first frost. Therefore, they could only be considered a perennial in the warmest climates.
Everything we mentioned above seems to suggest they would be an excellent plant to have in your gardens - and indeed, that's the case. However, there is one very important reason their popularity has fallen - a fungus that has attacked the most popular type of impatiens used. This fungus is called "downy mildew."
Fortunately, this fungus only affects certain types of impatiens - most notably "impatiens Walleriana" (the most common bedding variety). In addition, breeders are constantly looking to propogate more varieties that are resistent to downy mildew.
Today, you can find many types of impatiens at your local garden centers that are not as succeptable to downy mildew and even if you purchase ones that have known to be infected, this doesn't always happen - which makes the problem even more complicated.
However, it helps to know which varieties are safe to plant and how to tell if the plants you see in the garden center are infected. A word of caution. If you plant infected impatiens in your garden, the disease will transfer to the soil and could infect other plants or more impatiens planted later.
Read on to find out more about the different types of impatiens and which ones are safe to plant. However, first, let's discuss "downy mildew" and how to identify impatiens infected with this fungus.
Downy Mildew - What Is It And How To Identify Infected Plants
Downy mildew is a fungus that is caused by the fungus Plasmopara obducens (for all you garden geeks that need to know). This fungus is usually introduced to a garden through infected plants such as certain type of impatiens you've purchased and planted.
Therefore, the best preventative measure is to check any impatiens at the garden centers for signs of the disease.
What are the signs.
The leaves of infected impatiens will turn yellow and eventually die and fall off - accompanied by the flowers as well - leaving bare stems. If you look on the underside of leaves, you'll see a white flour-like substance. This is the fungus.
It's best to check any type of impatiens you see at the garden center for yellow leaves and this white fungus on the underside of leaves. If you see this, put them down and don't buy them.
Another problem comes from the fact that a plant can be infected and not show signs right away. It could look healthy and could end up in your gardens anway. This is how it spreads and why it's difficult to control.
What dowy mildew looks like on impatiens
The effects of downy mildew. These plants are just starting to be affected.
The images above are from http://oregonstate.edu/dept/nurspest/impatiens_downy_mildew_clup4.html if you want to learn more.
The only sure-fire way to control it is to purchase cultivars and varieties that are known to be disease resistant. What are these? Glad you asked!
The Best Types Of Impatiens For Your Gardens
Bedding Impatiens (Impatiens Walleriana)
However, we would say to check the plants for signs of the disease and if they look healthy, there's a good chance they are - especially if they've been sitting on the shelves at the garden center for several days.
This type of impatiens comes in a wide variety of flower colors - from white to pinks, purples, reds and more.
They usually grow 1-2 feet and in mounds - which will fill in the garden completely and create a carpet of beautiful color. This feature makes them hard to beat and just might be worth trying, despite the threat of the fungus taking them down.
New Guinea Impatiens
Probably the second most common type of impatiens, "new guineas" leaves are a bit different. They can be solid or varigated and usually have a glossy look. In addition, they are more pointed and larger than bedding impatiens. You can see this clearly in the image above.
In addition, look at the featured image at the top of the page. You can identify the type of impatiens here clearly as new guineas because of their leaves.
Their appearance looks more "tropical" to some, so if you're planting a themed area that you want to look tropical, these might be worth considering.
The only disadvantage to new guinea impatiens is their low tolerance for droubt. Indeed, it doesn't take long for them to start drooping if they become dry. In fact, during hot dry weather you may need to water them daily - especially if they are planted in pots.
The good news is that even after becoming dry and drooping over, giving them a drink will bring them back to life quickly. This goes for all impatiens as well. Keep them moist and they will love life!
SunPatiens are a relatively new type of impatiens with an appearance similar to new guineas. The company, Sakata, that breeds them was actually started in 2006. To read more about them and the flower's benefits go here: https://sunpatiens.com
This type of impatiens looks very similar to the "new guinea" type, with leaves that look very similar and the classic flower of any impatiens plant. However, there are three main charactetistics of the plant that make them stand out from the pack.
First, SunPatiens are resistant to downy mildew! Yeah! No more dying back of the plants.
Second, they are extremely versatile. They grow in shade or sun. Now, we have to say, not many plants thrive in both environments. Now that's versatile!
Third, they grow vigorously with absolutely no care whatsoever! In fact, cutting or trimming back the growth is not necessary and shouldn't be done as it will most likely change the growth habit and make them less attractive.
We would highly recommend looking for this variety of impatiens in your local garden center, and if you don't see them ask.
Know The Type Of Impatiens You're Buying
Many times, especially in big box stores, the varieties of plants are not identified on the tags. This not only happens with impatiens but with other plants too.
In addition, many stores hire people that know little or nothing about the plants they are selling. We won't mention names here but you can probably guess correctly.
In the past we've found it harder to find SunPatiens than the other varieties.
If that's the case and you're interested in this variety, visit a local nursery or garden center where employees are knowledgable and you can talk with them about the varieties they stock, where they get them, and which ones would be best for you.
Conclusions - The Types Of Impatiens For Your Garden
Despite the dredded "downy mildew," impatiens flowers are still one of the easiest and most attractive plants you can grow in your gardens today, and if your garden is in shade, even better.
With the newer varieties, that fungus has been controled and doesn't matter as much.
Just be sure to watch out for signs of the fungus and stay away from plants that look infected. In fact, talk with employees about the varieties they are stocking and you'll be better informed.
As a side note, several years ago we were planting impatiens for a number of clients and most of them were dying because of downy mildew. We stayed away for a while and just started planting them again with much success.
We have gone back to them with many clients and have not had any die-back at all. Most growers today are careful about breeding non-suseptable plants and try hard to make available healthy stock, so we encourage you to try them.
If you're looking for colorful flowers in a shady spot, there could be nothing better. On the other hand, if you're garden is in full sun, look for the SunPatiens variety and try them out.
For more information on other annuals you can plant in your gardens, visit this page:
You can also visit our informative plant guide for more information.
Whatever you choose, the flower color is second to none and should bring you a season of enjoyment!