By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
When you hear someone mention impatiens, you probably picture the old standby of shade-loving bedding plants with short succulent stems, delicate flowers and seed pods that burst from the slightest touch. You may also picture the intense variegated foliage of the increasingly popular, sun-tolerant New Guinea impatiens. Well, toss those pictures of common impatiens out the window because the new, rare varieties of Impatiens arguta are like no impatiens you’ve ever seen before. Read on for more Impatiens arguta information.
Impatiens arguta is a semi-shrubby, upright type of impatiens that grows 3-4 feet (91-122 cm.) tall and wide. Upright impatiens is native to regions of the Himalayas and grows as a perennial in U.S. hardiness zones 7-11. In zones 9-11, it may grow as an evergreen and bloom all year.
When temperatures in these zones dip too low, or there is an unseasonal frost, the plant may die back to the ground, but then regrow from their thick tubers when the weather warms back up. Elsewhere, it can be grown as an annual, where it can trail and climb in containers and baskets.
The real “wow factor” of Impatiens arguta, however, is its lavender-blue funnel or tubular shaped flowers. These blooms hang below the deep green, serrated foliage from tiny delicate, inconspicuous stems. They have been described as graceful little floating sea creatures which look as if they are gently floating on waves as the plant sways in the breeze.
The flowers have also been described as orchid-like. Depending on variety, the flowers have yellow-orange throats with red-orange markings. The other end of the flower curls in a hooked spur, which may also have yellow-red coloring. These flowers bloom from spring to frost and even longer in frost free areas.
Suggested varieties of Impatiens arguta are ‘Blue I,’ ‘Blue Angel,’ and ‘Blue Dreams.’ There is also a white variety known as ‘Alba.’
Impatiens arguta is an extremely easy plant to grow, provided it has consistently moist soil and protection from the afternoon sun. While the plant has some sun tolerance, it still grows best in part shade to shade, like common impatiens.
Upright impatiens plants will also tolerate heat extremely well when planted in rich, fertile, moist soil.
The plants are so easy to grow that they can also be grown as houseplants. New plants can be propagated from seeds, cuttings or divisions. When grown outdoors, they are also seldom bothered by deer. These rare plants may not be available in local greenhouses and garden centers, but many online retailers have recently started selling them world-wide.
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Impatiens are moderately difficult to grow from seed, but a little TLC will give satisfying results.
Impatiens require a warm soil and light to germinate. A soil temperature (not room temperature) of 75 degrees F is perfect. If a constant soil temperature is not maintained during the germination period the seed may rot.
Impatiens seed is fairly large compared to petunia or begonia seed. Under ideal conditions it will show a white sprout in about 5-7 days. Some seed may take a little longer. The white root sprout is the first to slowly poke out the green bud (the leaf part of the seedling) slowly follows.
1. Sow seed in a peat-light mix or sterilized, well-aerated soil mix.
2. Fill the flats or pots (depending on which you prefer to use) full level and firm around the edges and corners.
3. Water thoroughly with hot water (100 degrees F or more). Wait 30-60 minutes or more and repeat this procedure.
4. Let the starting mix cool to a touchable temperature.
5. Sow the impatiens seed thinly (about 4-6 seeds per inch), by pressing the seed into the starting mixture -- do not cover the seed with starting mixture.
6. Cover the flat, tray or pots (whichever you have chosen to use) loosely with plastic wrap to hold in humidity.
7. Place flat, tray or pots on bottom heat. Bottom heat will maintain the proper temperature. Strive for a soil temperature of 75-78 degrees F (but never go over 85 degrees F). If you cover the flats, trays or pots with glass to keep humidity high, you will run the risk of cooking the seeds. It is best to cover loosely to let in some air.
9. A mist system may help in the germination of impatiens seed. Be careful not to overdo and drown the seed. Misting may be suspended on cloudy days. Bright, hot days may require additional misting. Use caution, it is easy to overdo misting. Impatiens seed germinates very successfully without the use of a mist system, if covered loosely.
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Hybrid impatiens plants might be the best annuals out there for covering shady ground fast. Hey, they aren't called impatient for nothing! And few flowers bloom as neatly and profusely as they do in shade. But all that consistency can be a bit boring. I must admit to a sneaking preference for the species types, which tend to be more leggy, awkward, and obstinate.
Although some of them flower furiously as well--and fling seed about in a downright profligate way--others refuse to bloom at all except at certain times of year. Both I. grandis and I. hians, for example, will only flower when the days are short. That can make them tricky for those of us who live where winter is actually winter, with below freezing temperatures.
Those impatiens have flowered for me--under grow-lights set for 12-hour days--and I have the photos to prove it! But even then they can be grudging. And older plants don't seem to bud as well as young ones.
On the upside, because the two impatiens have waxier leaves than hybrids, the low humidity indoors during winter doesn't seem to bother them much. So the plants are easy to keep alive, just not as easy to force into bloom. Impatiens sodenii too has thicker foliage and, since it is called poor man's rhododendron, must bloom well in milder climates. But its bulky build isn't well suited to pots, so it only blooms in fits and starts for me, both indoors and out. I probably should set it in the ground instead and see if it will self-sow.
I. arguta, which has more tender foliage, did survive under the grow-lights too--but barely! It perked up quickly, however, once moved out of the house this spring. As it is obviously one of those plants which prefers the outdoors, I would advise those of you in the zones from 7 up to leave it there.
Impatiens balfourii and I. glandulifera will both flower well outdoors in Zone 5, and obligingly seed themselves down afterwards too. They will do that during normal years, I mean. This year, when winter was too mild and temperatures heated up too early, the emerging seedlings must have gotten hit by the inevitable late freeze. They are noticeably absent this summer, and I miss them, even though I suspect some of you in warmer climates might find them invasive.
Speaking of invasive, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis or I. pallida) will survive anything--probably because it produces so much seed. It grows wild here in Pennsylvania and, if rubbed on the affected skin soon enough, is considered the sovereign remedy for poison ivy. Children like the way water rolls around like mercury on its leaves, and how explosively its seed pods pop. But I wouldn't advise planting it on purpose!
I still adore my more unusual impatiens, despite their eccentricities! After all, the fewer flowers I get from a plant, the more I tend to treasure those few. And I'm still hoping to find some other exotic types, such as I. tinctoria and the true blue I. namchabarwensis. (Hint, hint.) I. tinctoria probably wouldn't be practical for me either, due to its massive foliage, but it does have gorgeous blooms. And when have we gardeners ever been known to be practical?