Do Impatiens Prefer Full Sun or Partial Shade?
Are you thinking of planting impatiens in your garden this year but aren’t sure if they prefer full sun or partial shade? Is growing them in full shade an option? While it is 100% variety specific, the general answer to these questions is yes! In this article, gardening expert and suburban homesteader, Merideth Cohrs, walks you through whether impatiens need full sun, partial shade, or even full shade to thrive.
Are you considering adding impatiens to your garden this year but are unsure of where to plant them? Do you have a chronically shady area that always remains bare? Or maybe, you’re looking to fill in a sunny area with bright, colorful flowers that bloom all summer?
The good news is that no matter what kind of area you would like to populate with flowers, impatiens are a great and easy choice to make. Certain varieties of impatiens love partial to full shade, while others thrive in sunny conditions. So, you can truly enjoy these ornamental and prolific bloomers virtually anywhere!
In this article, we’ll take a look at several different types of impatiens along with their optimal growing conditions, and whether that involves full sun, or partial shade. Let’s take a deeper look so you know what to expect!
Full Sun or Partial Shade: Short Answer
Most varieties of impatiens do best in partial shade. There are some varieties that can thrive in full sun, depending on your climate. Generally, though, partial shade is your friend. This is especially true if you live in a hot, arid climate.
What are Impatiens?
The genus Impatiens includes more than 1,000 flowering plant species, which are widely grown across the tropics and North America. Common names of these plants include impatiens, touch-me-not, snapweed, busy Lizzie, and balsam.
Despite this immense variety, your local nursery or garden center is most likely to carry plants within the Standard (Impatiens walleriana) and New Guinea (Impatiens hawkeri)) varieties.
Gardeners have long loved impatiens for their ability to provide colorful flowers in shady places. I, for one, firmly believe that every garden will benefit from the inclusion of impatiens. The breadth of flower colors – white, red, pink, violet, coral, purple, blue and yellow – leaf colors, height, and sun tolerance all allow a gardener to design their perfect space. Only have room for a single hanging pot or balcony flower box? impatiens will delight you with blooms until your first frost.
Odds are good, actually, that if you’ve ever planted flowers outside, impatiens have been part of the mix. It’s hard to go to a nursery or garden center and pass over the prolific, colorful blooms.
You’ll often find hanging baskets featuring flowers of multiple colors. Or, if you prefer to plant your own containers, hanging baskets, or gardening beds, there are seed flats that allow you to mix and match your favorite colors. Now, with the availability of multiple varieties of impatiens, you can feature these beautiful plants in virtually any part of your garden – from full shade to partial sun.
Full Sun or Partial Shade: Long Answer
Most gardeners immediately identify impatiens with shade. This is understandable since Standard impatiens are one of the few flowering plants that thrive in shady locations. But, while the Standard variety is best known as a shade-loving plant, its New Guinea cousin can tolerate anything from a partly sunny location to one with full sun.
But what does it mean for a plant to need shade, partial shade, partial sun, or full sun? Plants that need partial shade or partial sun (yes, these mean the same thing), are looking for 3-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Anything less than 3 hours is considered full shade, while anything more is considered full sun.
It can be a good idea to actively measure this in your own garden. I live in a townhouse with a western-facing deck and backyard. With other homes and trees to account for, different parts of my yard and deck get very different amounts of sunlight. It can actually be fairly entertaining to see how I arrange vegetables and flowers to optimize the light needs of my plants!
To understand how much sun your own space receives, check a specific spot every hour or two from sunrise to sunset. Take note of when the sun hits the area and when it leaves. This will allow you to be very confident of what type of plant to place in any given location.
Impatiens in the Shade
When it comes to difficult shady areas, you can’t beat impatiens for performance. Though they act as an annual (unless you live in a tropical area) and must be replanted each year. Their colorful and prolific blooms throughout the summer make them worth the effort.
Most varieties of impatiens flourish in a mere 2-5 hours of sun each day. These petunia lookalikes prefer milder, morning light to the harsh afternoon rays. Shade-loving impatiens will do well in areas with filtered sunlight or dappled shade (like you would find under shady trees). They will also grow well in a part of your garden that receives direct morning sun but full afternoon shade.
I have personally had great success planting impatiens under our fruit trees and in ornamental pots on my front porch. In this location, they typically only see 2-3 hours of direct sun in the morning.
The most important thing to remember is that these flowering plants will not thrive in an area with direct afternoon sun – even if it is the same 2-5 hour window. Save those locations for the many sun-loving flowers out there!
Most Standard impatiens plants thrive in either full or partial shade. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular varieties.
Impatiens walleriana ‘Imara XDR’
Standard impatiens were decimated in the early 2000s by plagues of downy mildew. This incurable disease was so pervasive, most nurseries had to stop growing the plant. This caused the once prolific impatiens to virtually disappear from the market. In the last several years, new standard hybrids have been developed. We are now once again able to enjoy these beautiful plants.
Beautiful and bountiful blooms are found in the Imara XDR impatiens. This high-density, easy-to-grow plant is ideal as a shade bedding plant or in containers and hanging baskets. Imara XDR is a vibrant variety mix that can include orange star, red, salmon, purple, pink, or white. It is the first Impatiens walleriana to be developed with high resistance to downy mildew.
Impatiens walleriana ‘Beacon’
Beacon impatiens is another disease-resistant variety. They showcase beautiful blooms of snowy white, violet, coral, orange, salmon, rose, and bright red. Beacons are shown to best effect when planted close together in shady beds and borders. They are also perfect for containers and hanging baskets. Like all Impatiens walleriana, Beacon will quickly brighten the shadiest areas of your garden.
Impatiens hawkeri ‘Bounce’
Bounce impatiens are part of the New Guinea variety. They were named for their ability to ‘bounce’ back after wilting in hot weather. They are ideal for containers, hanging baskets, and border edges. Bounce impatiens are also known for their superior disease resistance, long bloom time, and novel colors.
Like all New Guinea varieties, Bounce is more dramatic-looking than its Standard cousin and showcases vibrant dark green foliage and 1-2 inch blooms. Get ready to be delighted because the large flowers will attract butterflies to your garden. You can find vibrant pinks, violet, white, cherry, and bright coral. While still considered a shade variety, Bounce can tolerate partial morning sun as well.
Impatiens hawkeri ‘Divine’
This variety of New Guinea impatiens produces gorgeous 2-inch pink, purple, coral, red, and white flowers. Like all impatiens, the Divine series is a low-maintenance plant and does not require deadheading to stay in bloom throughout the season.
Unlike most New Guinea varieties that can only be propagated from cuttings, Divine grows well from seed. This makes it an economical choice when filling in a large space. Keep in mind that if you are going to grow these from seed, you must start roughly three months before the last chance of frost.
Impatiens in the Sun
When you think of sun-loving flowering plants, impatiens are not likely the first thing that comes to mind. But, with the recent development of the Sunpatiens series, gardeners can now enjoy this beautiful flowering plant in light conditions ranging from partial to full sun!
Although sun tolerant, these plants will thrive and bloom more vigorously if positioned for the morning sun. They may not meet their full potential in the strong afternoon sun.
New Guinea impatiens are the only variety that can tolerate partial to full sun conditions, and the SunPatiens series is the most popular and widely available.
Impatiens hawkeri ‘SunPatiens’
The SunPatiens series represented a breakthrough in breeding impatiens and became the first variety to thrive in a full sun environment. These gorgeous plants are robust, sun-loving, heat-loving, and thrive in full sun to partial shade conditions.
The SunPatiens family consists of two unique series, each offering distinct growth patterns: compact and vigorous. Choose the compact variety for baskets, window boxes, or ornamental pots, and the vigorous variety for bedding.
Whichever variety you choose, you’ll enjoy shades of pink, red, coral, salmon, purple, and white from spring, through summer, and up to the first frost. These vibrant flowers may reach up to 3 inches in size and will attract pollinators, butterflies, and hummingbirds!
Caring for Your Impatiens – Beyond the Light
Now that you know what types of impatiens thrive in various light conditions, let’s talk briefly about how to care for them.
Impatiens are not drought tolerant, so they will need to be watered regularly during dry periods to keep the soil consistently moist. Once planted, impatiens need roughly 2 inches of water a week. When temperatures average consistently above 80 degrees, you will likely want to double that to 4 inches per week.
A tell-tale sign that your plant needs more water is that the leaves will wilt somewhat alarmingly. Don’t let this scare you! Impatiens are one of the most forgiving plants I have worked with and will bounce back quickly once you water them again.
Grow impatiens in fertile, well-draining soil. Since we know that the plant needs a lot of water, it’s important that your soil provides sufficient drainage. Good drainage in your soil will prevent root rot, which can happen if excess water has nowhere to go.
Impatiens will flower frequently if they are regularly fertilized. To set your plant up for success, be sure to apply compost or a slow-release granular fertilizer when transplanting into the ground, a container, or a hanging basket. Once your plant is established, you can use a liquid fertilizer every two weeks throughout spring and summer. Alternatively, you can add a second round of slow-release fertilizer halfway through summer.
Whether liquid or granular, ensure your choice of fertilizer is formulated for flowering plants. This type will naturally be lower in nitrogen, which will encourage blooms rather than increased foliage growth.