Documents: Special Interest: In The Yard:

Gardening From Southern California

by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

June 25, 2006

Impatiens is one of the few annuals we grow that acts like a succulent. And like many other succulents, it needs little water planted in the shade, where it flowers brilliantly. Although it is an annual, in many Southern California gardens it acts as a perennial, and if cut back in early to mid-spring it will bloom and grow again through the summer and into late fall.

Its best attribute is that it does so well in complete to partial shade, something most of the rest of our garden flowers refuse to do. It’s ideal for shady beds that get no sunshine at all, will still do well in partial shade and some new varieties are said to tolerate much more sun. That may be true under some full sun areas, but I doubt that any impatiens will do too well in full sun in the low desert or in most hot inland gardens.

There are many varieties of impatiens from which to choose—I counted varieties listed in recent catalogs and it totals around 25, and that doesn’t include all the separate colors or the New Guinea Impatiens or the African Hybrids. You won’t find that many as started plants or on the seed rack, but you will find three or four different kinds as started plants, and usually one or two on the seed rack.

Some of the impatiens series and varieties are better than others in our climate, some last longer some have better and bigger blooms, but all will grow well here. The Accent series, available in mixture and separate colors is one of the best. They’re early to bloom, have big flowers, over two inches sometimes, and have a wide range of colors. The best colors are burgundy, lavender, red, salmon, purple and white. The mixture has more colors than that including different shades and tints of the above colors.

Park Seed Company’s Shady Lady series is also very good, and the Swirl Hybrids offer a different bloom, a two tone flower with pastels of coral and pink in the center with the petals lined with a darker color. The Tempo series is somewhat newer and it has very bright colors in red, pink, fuchsia, white and purple. Burpee lists a number of exclusive varieties which are interesting, in both single flowered types and double flowered kinds.

There’s still time to plant impatiens from seed, but you’ll have quicker color from started plants from the nursery. If you start from seed, don’t cover the seed, since it needs light to germinate. If you use started plants, be careful not to break the root ball since this can set the plant back. Water well to start, and then, in full shade, water only when the soil is dry, if in partial shade water a little more often.

If you’re in a mild winter area, you can usually winter over the plants. They will get leggy, but wait until mid spring to cut them back, feed them with a high nitrogen fertilizer, and they’ll usually do their thing well for another summer. I have some that have wintered over for three or more seasons until I got tired of them and pulled them out.

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