By Jimmy Turner, Director of Horticulture Research, Dallas Arboretum
If you have ever read any of my writing, you know I’m critical of what “northern” test sites, plant tags and catalogs tell us about plants. Very few gardeners outside Texas would ever understand just what we have to go through to keep plants alive, much less thriving. So, you can only guess at my disbelief when I first heard that there were new impatiens being bred that would grow in full sun. Matter of fact, I thought it was one of those “urban myths” of gardening.
These sun-loving impatiens were to be called ‘SunPatiens.’ Personally, I couldn’t believe they didn’t immediately send them to me for trials at the Dallas Arboretum, but, alas, none showed up. Then, one day, I opened a Home Depot flyer and noticed they were selling them, and right there in black and white it stated they could stand full sun in North Texas! How dare someone introduce a new plant to Texas and not let me try to kill it! You know our motto at the Dallas Arboretum Trial Program is “Trial by Flower – If we can’t kill it no one can!”
To tell you the truth, I was somewhat ruthless in my search for these plants. I prefer to call myself resourceful, but some may say I’m “pushy” when it comes to getting plants to trial. So, after a few hours on the telephone to the breeder I had plants the next day. I planted those tender little 4-inch pots in my sunniest and hottest spot in the trial garden, not a drop of light shade for these SunPatiens! Even my trial assistant Denise Robb mentioned, “Why are we even planting these? You know they’ll be dead by the end of the week.” My answer was “That’s the point of the trial.”
Well, I’m here to tell you I was wrong! SunPatiens not only survived the heat, but they looked good doing it! Last summer was brutal to many plants in our trial garden. Matter of fact, I had a hard time keeping regular impatiens alive in the shade last year, but the SunPatiens just kept on growing and blooming.
Now that I was sold on them, I had to go do a little research and see what made them special. Apparently they are a hybrid of Impatiens walleriana (regular impatiens) and Impatiens hawkeri (New Guinea impatiens). If you take a close look at the plants, you can definitely some of each of their parents in them. The flower size is somewhere between both and the leaves and flowers are somewhat thicker than normal impatiens. It’s the robust stems you notice first. These plants have thick, branching and stems.
I tested the four original colors of white, magenta, orange and red. New this year is a variegated salmon variety and a pale lavender one – I’ve already got them in the greenhouse for trialing this year. The white, orange and magenta were the most vigorous of the four colors I tested, reaching almost 2 1/2 feet by the end of summer. The red was somewhat shorter at around 2 feet.
I recommend using SunPatiens only in areas with full sun in the afternoon or all day. If you have shade I’d stick to standard impatiens – they’re cheaper and more floriferous. Just like other impatiens, they do require quite a bit of watering, but I’ll share a secret with you to make any impatiens flower more and stay shorter: Let them wilt between watering, and I mean let the tips hang down before you water. Since all impatiens are native to the equator they are used to only two seasons, hot/wet and hot/dry. If they start to dry out a little bit they kick into reproductive mode and will flower much heavier for you. Another good thing about SunPatiens is if they do get too tall or big for you, give them a trim and they’ll pop right back out.
At this time, the only place you can buy SunPatiens is Home Depot. They purchased all rights to this plant for the first few years. Originally, I was somewhat irritated by this idea, but after talking to the breeder, I realize if it wasn’t for their early investment in the breeding and promotion of SunPatiens, we would still be waiting for them to come to market. Personally, I don’t care what it takes; I just want more good plants for Texas gardeners!
Editor’s note: While not new to the marketplace SunPatiens are no longer exclusive to Home Depot and can be purchased at a variety of nurseries and garden centers.
At a glance
Latin Name: Impatiens x hybrida ‘SunPatiens’ series
Common Name: SunPatiens
Flowers: 2-3″ flowers in orange, red, magenta or white
Foliage: deep green
Mature height: 2-3 ft.
Soil: Well drained
Exposure: full sun
Water usage: high
Sources: Home Depot
If you would like to see SunPatiens in person, visit our trial garden and 66-acre display garden at the Dallas Arboretum, or visit my Web site at http://www.dallasplanttrials.org/.
Jimmy L. Turner
Director of Horticulture Research