Garden: A stunning shady lady

Lori Murray, Cameron County Master Gardener, Texas Superstar Specialist

One of my all-time favorite plants for winter in the Valley is the impatients. In the Midwest it’s a summer-only plant and in some climates even a houseplant, but here we can plant it in the fall and have mounds and banks of glorious color until the heat ramps up in April and May. Its only drawback is that it’s an annual, but when good things come to an end, you can remember that you had sensational color all the way through the winter months.

Impatients like shade and moisture – but not too much. They do very well on the north side of my house – except when we have a spate of cold weather; then I have to cover them because, like many of our plants, they really feel the cold. (They are actually best suited to zones 10 and 11, but will do fine here in 9b with a little extra care.) They do well in both pots and beds and their profuse blooms make up for the extra care they might require.

As container plants, they excel in medium to all but the heaviest shade. They will cascade over the sides of a container and provide a lush look that has taken little effort on the gardener’s part.

Buy bedding plants in October and plant them either in pots or in rich, well-drained soil. Try to give them some shelter from the wind, and handle them carefully because their stems will break if you handle them too much. The closer you place them in the bed, the taller they will grow, so place them 8 to 12 inches apart in your flower bed to make them stay low to the ground. (They can get as tall as 30 inches if you crowd them).

I like to throw a few handfuls of time-release granular fertilizer at them to help them show their best colors. They are generally easy to grow, but have a few drawbacks. They like to be kept moist, but not too wet. If they dry out, they will lose their leaves; if you over-water, they could develop a fungus or just plain rot. Too much sun will wither them so fast it will make you cry, so plant them in a spot that gets half a day or less of full sun – preferably morning sun. This is a plant that really should be mulched.

Impatients, nicknamed “Busy Lizzie,” provide colorful flowers in shades of pink, white, red, purple, and orange. Some bicolor as well as double-flowered impatients have been developed also. The foliage is medium green. They are not invasive and are generally easy to care for. You can pinch them back if they seem too leggy.

The hardest part about having them is pulling them out when the heat gets to be too much for them, but they have provided so much color for so many months, that you will definitely have gotten your money’s worth and you can look forward to planting them again the next fall.