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Monday - July 14, 2008

From: Fallston, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Transplants, Watering, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Shriveling and dying of non-native impatiens
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Several years now many of my impatiens after a month or so seem to shrivel up and eventually die. They are planted in a row and not all are affected. I am not noticing any slug evidence which I would normally suspect. HELP!! Explanation? What can be done? Thanks!!


We think the first question we would ask is why do you keep planting the same plant in the same spot if it isn't working out well? The impatiens flowers commonly sold at nurseries in North America are hybrids and treated as annual plants. They are native to tropical Africa and easily damaged by frosts. Our expertise at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is with plants native to North America and recommend planting plants native to your area, for better adaptation to sun, moisture, and soil type. We will first see if we can find some information on why your plants are suffering. Since we don't know how much sun they are getting nor what soil they are trying to grow in, we can only give you general references, and see if you recognize your problem.

Too much sun wilts this plant quickly. It needs a shady spot that gets half a day or less of full sun-preferably morning sun. If you let impatiens dry out too much they will wither quickly and die. One negligent day will do it. Make sure these plants have a moist soil at all times. But not too moist. If you have clay soil, the water you are putting on your plants is probably standing and not draining normally. This will cause root rot and quickly destroy the impatiens. Mulch is a must. We noticed that many of the websites discussed the impatiens as a plant for pots or hanging baskets. This would infer fresh new potting soil each year. If you wish to continue growing impatiens or, in fact, other flowering plants, we would recommend completely refreshing your bed before you plant anything else. Dig in some compost to loosen up that soil and improve drainage. Use a shredded hardwood mulch, which will keep the roots cool and, as it decomposes, provide fresh organic texture to the soil.

Finally, consider using plants native to Maryland. We have selected a few from our Native Plant Database that might be sturdier and more resilient than the impatiens. These are all perennials. They will die down to the base in Winter, but come back in the Spring.

Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine) - sun to shade, up to 2' tall, blooms February to July

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) - up to2' tall, sun to part shade, blooms May to September

Conoclinium coelestinum (blue mistflower) - up to 3' tall, sun to part shade, blooms July to November

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed) - up to 2' tall, sun to shade, blooms April to June

Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia) - 1-3' tall, sun to shade, blooms July to October

Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm) - 3' tall, sun to shade, blooms July and August

Oenothera fruticosa (narrowleaf evening-primrose) - 2' tall, sun, blooms April and May

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox) - 18" tall, part shade to shade, blooms March to May

Aquilegia canadensis

Asclepias tuberosa

Conoclinium coelestinum

Coreopsis lanceolata

Lobelia siphilitica

Monarda didyma

Oenothera fruticosa

Phlox divaricata





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