Replacing Impatiens In Containers For Shade: Hits And Misses

I wasn’t going to be discouraged by the prospect of doing without impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) due to the devastating blight that has swept the country. Impatiens are a staple for shade containers and beds for myself and many other gardeners. However, I was eager to try out some new plants I had just learned about in a class on annuals. Now that we are in high summer, I can confidently say that the performance of the replacements has been: mixed.

Caladium and Bacopa
Caladium and Bacopa (trailing). I put these containers in an area where Virginia Bluebells bloom in Spring, then fade away. Judy picture.

Amethyst Flower (Browalia speciosa). At first I loved this plant, especially the blue flowers. However, within a month all but one had succumbed to a mysterious wilt and had to be replaced.

The only remaining Amethyst Flower.  All the others shrivelled away mysteriously.
The only remaining Amethyst Flower. All the others shrivelled away mysteriously. This is one of my cell phone pictures.

Fan Flower (Scaveola aemula). I was excited about this annual that has a trailing habit and blooms in blue or white. The flowers have a unique fan shape (hence the common name), and can take shade or sun. They looked great in my wheelbarrow planter, others settled into the window box that hangs on the rail of the back porch landing.

Fan Flower
Fan Flower on the back porch rail. Safe so far. Jason cell phone picture.

I’m very aggravated that I never got a picture of the wheelbarrow with Fan Flowers draped over the side and filling in nicely. In fact, I was headed into the backyard to take just such a picture with my phone when I saw the aftermath of the Great Fan Flower Massacre.

Fan Flower
The Fan Flower Massacre. Jason cell phone picture.

Not sure who did this, Chipmunk? Rabbit? Don’t think it was squirrels. Whoever it was left shredded Fan Flower all over the ground.

Fan Flower
Jason cell phone picture

Fortunately, the Evildoer was unwilling or unable to jump up onto the rail on the back porch landing, so the Fan Flowers there are still doing just fine. However, emergency reinforcements had to be purchased for the wheelbarrow.

New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri). Can’t say I’m excited about these, but they’ve done fine. Larger but fewer flowers than the more common Impatiens, and less of a spreading habit. I’ve used plants with white and lilac flowers, but these have all the colors of the I. walleriana.

New Guinea Impatiens with Caladium and Bacopa (post massacre). Jason cell phone picture, not a very good one.
New Guinea Impatiens with Caladium, Bacopa, and Million Bells (post massacre). Jason cell phone picture, not a very good one.

In terms of other plants for my shade containers, I have pretty much stuck with my usual favorites: Caladium and Bacopa (Sutera cordata). These have done well, as they always do in our garden. I’m also experimenting with Million Bells (Calibrachoa cultivars) to see how they do in the light shade of our back garden.

I haven’t used Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) much or Begonias (Begonia semperflorens) at all. These both have the virtue of being available for purchase in relatively affordable flats. This is not the case for any of the plants discussed above. However, Coleus tend to come in colors much warmer than I want in the back garden. And Judy just doesn’t like Begonias.

39 Comments on “Replacing Impatiens In Containers For Shade: Hits And Misses

  1. Wretched little fur-faces!
    I have always liked calibrachoas when I see them used. I hope they’ll tolerate your shade, as they seems a very attractive and varied group.

  2. I stayed away from my favorite Impatiens as well and decided to use more perennials in my planters. They have worked very well and have stood up to this fluctuating weather pattern. In October, I’ll put them back in the ground instead of on the compost pile.

    • I just didn’t want to invest the time and money into impatiens just to see them succumb to blight, even though there was a chance that wouldn’t happen.

  3. OH! So sorry about your Fan Flower. I’m using it also, but in a hanging basket. The other day I took it down to let it it get a good drink of water by soaking it in a big bin, then I forgot about it and left home for an overnight trip. I remembered it while lying awake in the hotel at 2AM and succumbed to mild panic! I was very relieved to arrive home and find it intact, and now that I’ve read your post, I am even more relieved!

    On a different note, I also don’t particularly like begonias, but I use them in specific places because they do well there, they spread to fill the area, and no one (so far) eats them! I’m also very fond of coleus (I love all the color, myself, but you can get it in more subdued shades), but it has to stay on the porches for safety. I don’t know whether anyone eats Caladium; for safety’s sake again, I do just keep it on the porch (though if you read on, you will see that I now question the sanctity of my porches!). Of course, I prefer the varieties with plenty of pink in them!

    I did plant two baskets of impatiens and haven’t seen any problems yet. My nursery man said his supplier “guaranteed” the plants, for whatever that’s worth.

    Finally, I woke up this morning to discover that some of the cucumbers I was growing in pots on an elevated level of my back deck (4 steps up) have been decimated. Never before have the evil woodchucks climbed the steps to get up there! So I share your pain and outrage and frustration!

    • Glad your fan flower survived. I’m fine with begonias, but my partner isn’t, so I don’t plant it. Very glad we don’t have woodchucks around here, condolences on your cucumbers.

  4. I love coleus in my shade garden. This year I have one called chocolate covered cherry and a lime green one that I bought at a nursery that doesn’t believe in tags so I don’t know the correct name. They are so, so easy to take cuttings in the fall and overwinter until the next year. I do this every year so I basically have free plants for the next year.

    • I know, I know. I don’t really like the lime green. If only coleus came in the same colors as caladiums I would buy a ton of them.

  5. Little attention has been drawn to the fact Sunpatiens perform just as well in the shade and don’t succumb to the blight. And as a cross between I walleriana and I. hawker, there’s the closest thing to replace wallerinia.

  6. Oh, the evil ones who also call our gardens home! I came home yesterday to find some battle royale had been fought to the side of my Satisfaction lily (which because of the walk I had grown through one of those hoop contraption, just in case). The fur-faced evil doers broke 4 stems, loaded with buds!

    I, too, experimented with some annuals I don’t typically use. I think you should try that variegated Swedish ivy introduced in 2011, and of which we discussed earlier this spring. It has lots of white. Also, unless I miss my guess, there will be a sport of it marketed possibly in 2015. The sport has no white, though.

    Good post on your “garden trials” on annuals!

    • I’ll look for the Swedish Ivy, don’t think I’ve noticed it in the garden centers. That’s terrible about your lilies, a much more tragic crime than the destruction of the fan flowers.

  7. I enjoyed reading about the new plants you’ve tried. I’m trying to grow browallia at the moment. I’m curious if you could share how easy or not you found it to grow, if you grew from seed. Thanks very much!

      • Sorry to hear most of them died! I’m starting some from seed. I guess I’ll cross my fingers and see what happens.

  8. Thanks for the update on your impatiens substitutes. Interesting to see what worked and what didn’t. I’m a little shocked at the carnage in your wheelbarrow, wonder what the fan flowers did to deserve that?

  9. Its a shame about impatiens, apparently we had problems here but there are some resistant varieties that I’ve been growing just fine. I think Nicotiana could be a nice/similar alternative? What do you think?

    • The Sunpatiens are resistant to the blight. I’ve planted some Nicotiana, they haven’t worked that well in my back garden.

  10. I love that wheelbarrow!!! I am glad that you weren’t discouraged by the little rascal and replanted because the combinations of textures, forms, and colors are stunning!!! I like that fan flower as well and its trailing habit…need to give that one a try!

  11. Well I’ve been moaning about my lettuce seedlings getting nipped but the loss was nothing compared to the munching on your fan flower –or Rachelle’s lilies. Maybe Bigfoot is real and has moved into domestic areas, like racoons and possums…

  12. I’ve not used impatiens this year because of the blight and because some nearby perennials have filled in the places where I usually plant the impatiens. Too lazy to thin them out.

    Sorry about your fan flower massacre! Since coyotes have decided to take up residence in our neighborhood, I’ve noticed fewer pesky plant eaters around. Funny thing that.

    • I would pay a coyote maintenance fee to have a coyote hanging out around here. Not sure the neighbors with pets feel that way.

  13. What a shame you lost your fan flowers Jason – I hope the responsible critter doesn’t venture back for more!
    I generally don’t do annuals but as I was reading I did wonder why you don’t use Begonias – I have to admit to being ‘with’ Judy on that front!

    • What is it about begonias? I don’t have the positive dislike that Judy has, but I do feel there is something missing. Perhaps it’s the undersized flowers …

  14. I like the combo in the wheelbarrow. I have not used impatiens for four years now. I am not taking chances, even on the newer varieties until I see them make a few summers.

  15. Sorry about your fan flower/. I tried them in the ground one year along the street…. They looked amazon until the rabbits found them and mowed them down. Not to point fingers, but that’s what ended my fan-in-the-ground experiment.
    I love the white look in the wheelbarrow. Caladiums always do great for me if I keep them watered, but they just bore me a little bit. I do t know why… And this is coming from an impatient and coleus lover, and I even like some begonias… But caladiums…. Ehh.

  16. This problem with Impatiens is in so many places. It was probably the most popular annual pot plant in the UK, now it is folly to use it.

  17. Don’t you just hate it when something gets in your plants? I had a Flicker in my yard that was constantly pulling up seedlings. Last year something pulled plants out of a hanging pot hanging from a Crape Myrtle limb. I think it was a squirrel looking for seeds.

      • Exactly! In Mississippi, I used to watch an Armadillo digging through the Magnolia leaves at night. He made so much noise he couldn’t tell I was watching him. With his face under the leaves he would just go around the raised beds so he never did any damage.

  18. Hi Jason, it’s been a few years since I last did Impatiens too. I’ve been trying to stay away from annuals, preferring herbaceous perennials instead as its less work. Very useful information on possible replacements though and sorry about the fan flower, I bet it did look stunning spilling over the end of the barrow.

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