How to Plant and Grow Garden Balsam

This cottage-garden annual adds tropical flair to garden beds and containers.

Garden balsam (Impatiens balsamina) is an old-fashioned cottage garden staple that also goes by other names, including balsam, rose balsam, spotted snapweed, and touch-me-not (thanks to the explosive seed discharges from its ripe pods). With "impatiens" as part of the botanical name, you may expect something similar to its cousin, the flat-flower garden impatiens (Impatiens walleriana). Some garden balsam varieties offer single flowers with speckled centers. The more popular camellia-flowered varieties boast double blooms: ruffled, pompom-type blossoms in pink, purple, red, and even salmon. Whichever version you gravitate toward, this annual will add a tropical flair to the garden throughout the growing season.

Garden Balsam Overview

Genus Name Impatiens balsamina
Common Name Garden Balsam
Plant Type Annual
Light Shade, Sun
Height 1 to 3 feet
Width 6 to 12 inches
Flower Color Pink, Purple, Red, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 11, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Seed

Where to Plant Garden Balsam

Plant garden balsam in partial shade for the best blooms. It will tolerate full sun as long as it gets plenty of water or some shade in the afternoon. Plant it in rich, well-draining soil. It grows well in containers on patios or balconies or in garden beds, where it adds color and a pleasant fragrance to mixed beds and borders.

How and When to Plant Garden Balsam

Sow the seeds outdoors after the last spring frost, or get a head start on the season by sowing the seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last anticipated frost of spring. It takes about 60 days from sowing the seed to the first blooms. These are tropical plants that won't germinate in cold soil.

Sow the seeds on the soil surface but don't cover them. They need sunlight to germinate. If the weather (or indoor temperature) is warm, they'll germinate in a week. After the seedlings have their first true leaves, thin them to 12 inches apart.

Garden Balsam Care Tips


Much like other types of impatiens, balsam can handle a variety of sun exposures. It thrives in full sun as long as it has some shade in the afternoon. Part shade allows enough sun to promote good flowering and a dense habit. In full shade, this plant still performs, but it develops sparse stems with fewer flowers.

Soil and Water

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. If the soil dries out completely, the plant will die. A layer of mulch will help prevent this.

Containers dry out quicker than garden beds, so water garden balsam in containers daily.

Temperature and Humidity

Garden balsam prefers a warm and humid environment with a temperature around 75°F. It won't survive when the temperature drops into the 30s.

Average room temperature is acceptable for garden balsam planted in containers as houseplants or for those in containers brought in for the winter.


Apply a slow-release, granular fertilizer to the garden bed or container when the plants are at least 2 inches tall and have robust root bases. For houseplants, apply a liquid, balanced fertilizer made specifically for flowering plants twice a month, beginning before the plant blooms and ending after the last bloom of the year. Follow the manufacturer's directions for applying the fertilizer.


No pruning is necessary for garden balsam plants. When the plants are 4 inches tall, pinch the tips to encourage branching, and cut off any diseased or damaged stems during the growing season.

Potting and Repotting Garden Balsam

Choose a large container with several drainage holes and fill it with a moisture-retentive general-purpose potting soil. Keep the soil evenly moist but not saturated (the saucer should never hold standing water), or the roots may rot. Garden balsam is an annual that will die at the end of the year unless it is brought inside, so repotting won't be necessary in most cases.

Pests and Problems

Although they are relatively pest-free, garden balsam plants may occasionally attract the attention of aphids or leaf beetles. Both of these can be treated with neem oil.

When they are grown in soil that is overly wet, garden balsam can develop powdery mildew.

How to Propagate Garden Balsam

This annual is extremely easy to start from seed, which is helpful because you won't often find it at a garden center. If you have an existing heirloom plant, cut off a few seed pods at the end of the season before they open and scatter the seeds. Choose the light green pods rather than the darker green ones, and crush the pods between your fingers to release the seeds. Store them in a dry place until you are ready to plant.

Get a head start on the growing season by sowing seeds on top of moist potting soil indoors six to eight weeks before the last spring frost. Don't cover the seeds. Put the pots in a warm area with bright light until the seeds germinate, which they do in as few as four days. Seeds also can be sown directly in the garden after the last spring frost.

When the seedlings are 4 to 6 inches tall, pinch off the tips to encourage branching. Set out the seedlings after the last frost date. No further care (other than supplemental watering as needed) is necessary.

Types of Garden Balsam

'Camellia Flowered' Balsam

impatiens balsamina flower
Marty Baldwin

Clusters of double-flowered blooms that resemble roses or camellia blossoms on this Impatiens balsamina, make this variety loved by pollinators.

'Peppermint Sticks' Balsam

peppermint stick balsam flower
Denny Schrock

Impatiens balsamina 'Peppermint Sticks' is an heirloom variety with spotted and striped ruffled flowers that are 1-2 inches across in candy apple red and bright white.

'Topknot' Balsam

Impatiens balsamina 'Topknot' is a different-looking garden balsam. Its 2-inch, tightly-wound double blooms are held above the foliage at the top of the plant. It grows 8-14 inches high.

Balsam Companion Plants


Shocking Pink coleus
Marty Baldwin

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!


Impatiens Swirl Coral
Peter Krumhardt

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

Sweet Potato Vine Ipomoea batatas
Peter Krumhardt

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I deadhead my garden balsam plants?

    Deadheading spent blooms and removing the seed pods promotes continuous blooming during the growing period. If you plan to harvest seeds from the plant for next year's crop, stop removing the seed pods a month before the first anticipated frost date of winter to give the seeds time to mature. Leave the seed pods on the plant if you want it to reseed itself.

  • What does it mean when garden balsam is called an heirloom plant?

    An heirloom plant has been around for a while. It is open-pollinated, which means that the seeds grow exact duplicates of the parent plant, unlike modern cultivars.

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