This old-fashioned cottage-garden staple goes by many names: garden balsam, rose balsam, and even “touch-me-not,” thanks to explosive seed discharges from ripe pods. With “impatiens” as part of the botanical name, you may expect to see something similar to its cousin, the flat-flower garden impatiens (Impatiens walleriana). In fact, balsam bears colorful flowers that range from cup-shape single blossoms to double blossoms that resemble camellia. Whichever version you gravitate toward, this annual will add a tropical flair to the garden throughout the growing season.
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Balsam's thick stems and large green serrated leaves make a verdant backdrop for other plants within the garden. But it is perfectly capable of putting on a show of its own. Some balsam varieties offer single flowers with speckled centers. The more popular camellia-flowered varieties boast double blooms: ruffled, pom-pom-type blossoms in pink, purple, red, and even salmon.
Related: 5 Tips for Container Gardening
Balsam Care Must-Knows
Easy-to-grow balsam prefers rich, organic, well-drained soil kept evenly moist at all times. It quickly bounces back from wilting, but will succumb to leaf burn if it wilts too often. For the best results when growing balsam in a container, plant it in a moisture-retentive general-purpose potting mix. Keep the soil evenly moist but not saturated (the saucer should never hold standing water), or roots may rot.
Much like other types of impatiens, balsam can handle a variety of sun exposures. It tolerates full sun as long as it gets plenty of water. Part shade allows enough sun to promote both good flowering and a dense habit. In full shade, this plant still performs, but it develops sparse stems with fewer flowers.
This annual is extremely easy to start from seed, which is helpful because you won't often find it at a garden center. Get a head start for the growing season by sowing seeds on top of moist soil indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost. The seeds germinate quickly, often in as few as 4 days. Seeds also can be sown directly in the garden. Pinch off plant tips when they are 4 to 6 inches tall to encourage branching. Set out your seedlings or purchased plants in pots after the last frost date. No further care (other than supplemental watering when needed) is necessary. This plant may self-seed, sometimes aggressively in tropical climates.
Related: Seed Germination for Beginners
More Varieties of Balsam
'Camellia Flowered' Balsam
Loved by pollinators, thanks to clusters of double-flowered blooms that resemble roses or camellia blossoms on this Impatiens balsamina.
Balsam Companion Plants
Shade-loving coleus with blended leaf color provides vivid color and wild markings even in the darkest corners of your yard. The mottled colors often change in intensity depending on the amount of sunlight and heat. These varieties are easy to grow—just plant them in a shady but warm spot; give them enough water to keep the soil moist, but not wet; and add a little fertilizer. When frost threatens, pot them up and enjoy them as houseplants in a sunny window until spring. Then plant them outdoors once again!
What would we do without impatiens? It's the old reliable for shade gardens when you want eye-popping color all season long. The plants bloom in just about every color except true blue and are well suited to growing in containers or in the ground. If you have a bright spot indoors, you may be able to grow impatiens all year as an indoor plant.
Sweet Potato Vine
Among the most popular container-garden plants, sweet potato vine is a vigorous grower that you can count on to make a big impact. Its colorful foliage, in shades of chartreuse or purple, accents just about any other plant. Grow a few together in a large pot, and they make a big impact all on their own. Sweet potato vines do best during the warm days of summer and prefer moist, well-drained soil. They thrive in sun or shade.