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Reader's Questions - Impatiens
Please also see the page on Impatiens within this website.

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Question:  How do you propagate impatiens? 
Answer:  Impatiens are one of the most easily propagated annuals.  Simply cut a piece of stem just under a leaf junction with a knife or sharp scissors. The cutting does not have to be very large, but should be large enough to handle, with at least 3 or more sets of leaves - 2-3 inches or so.  Pull the lowest leaves off, and stick the stem in moist potting soil or sterile mix, making sure to cover the junction on the stem where you pulled the leaves off (this is called a node).  This is where new roots will form. Gently tamp down to make sure there is good contact between soil and stem.   Set the cutting in a warm, shaded area and check daily.  If you set the cutting in too much sun, it will wilt.  If it is too cold, it will not take root.  There may be some wilt in the first day or two even in perfect conditions, but this is normal.  Check daily and keep the soil moist, and within a week or so, you will note that the cutting has perked up and is sending out new growth.  Give it another week or so to get established, at which point it is ready to be moved to a bigger pot or into the garden if the garden is fairly weed-free and is checked daily to be sure it doesn't dry out. Within a week or two thereafter, you will have a vigorous Impatiens plant that can be treated as you would a mature store-bought plant. Note that many annuals and perennials can be propagated in this manner, so once familiar with this process, do experiment with other garden favorites using this same technique (be aware, however, that some plants take a bit longer to take root and send out new growth).  

Question:  I have a beautiful double Impatiens.   I keep it watered and have fertilized once in the month I have had it.  It seems to have started to appear sickly. Leaves have a brown edge on them. Continues to bud but they seem to fall off before opening fully.  Not sure if i am over watering or what. Please advise.  
Answer:  One thing for sure, your plant is undergoing stress of some sort.  When seriously overwatered, impatiens become fairly limp, with stems bending over from their own weight. If slightly overwatered, they might display the symptoms you describe, especially the bud drop (although all impatiens will drop buds to some degree if disturbed).  If the soil becomes too dry, Impatiens will wilt noticeably, but will recover fairly quickly with water.  This also might cause some leaf edges to turn brown.  This is my top suspect.  Have you forgotten to water the plant at some point in the recent past and then resumed regular watering?  I suppose it could be some kind of insect such as spider mites, but I get the feeling that you are watching the plant closely enough that you would be aware of something like that.  My best advice is no more fertilizer for three months, and water only when the top inch or so of the soil is fairly dry.  Don't withhold water to the point of wilt, but don't water the plant to death either.  If I were you, I would also take a cutting off that plant right now just in case (see instructions above), and nurse it along in a small pot until it takes root.  The cutting should be kept very moist and in shade outside or in a sunny window inside until it shows new growth - use a drip tray and keep it filled with water.  Double impatiens take longer than singles, so be patient. 

Question:  I planted impatiens this year, as I do every year.  For some reason the leaves began to turn yellow and brown spots appeared on them.  I put a layer of black mulch in my landscape this year for the first time, do you think that has anything to do with it?
Answer:  You don't say where you are but I will take a stab at it.  If you have had impatiens there every year and this is the first year you have had problems, off the top of my head I would say that the mulch is certainly a primary suspect - although it should also be mentioned that you have been flirting with danger by planting the same thing in the same place every year.  Black mulch retains heat and as such is not used much south of the Mason-Dixon line because it tends to fry plants, but it's fine if you are in a colder climate, which I suspect you are.  If you are one of millions who has had too much rain this season, it is likely that the roots are staying too wet under the mulch.  Given the symptoms you describe and the fact that you are using mulch, I'm afraid the dreaded "F" word may come into play here - Fungus.  Fungal diseases will cause yellow and brown spots on the leaves, along with stunted growth.  Sound familiar?  I hate it, but not having any more details, that's my best guess.  If this does indeed turn out to be the case, your only real option is to destroy the plants and the soil they are directly growing in.  There's no cure for fungus once it infects plants.  You will need to get that mulch to dry out, either by raking it around to improve air circulation or by taking it out completely for now.  Amending the soil with compost or whatever you use in your area would be a good idea too if you do decide to take the mulch out.  Basically before you plant again, you will have to insure that you are not creating another fungus factory by improving the soil condition and aeration in that area.  Once that is accomplished, rotate the plants you put in that spot every year.  I, too am beginning to see fungal disease on my own impatiens this year because of all the wet weather and I have added a picture of one of mine that wilted completely literally overnight.  Good luck and I hope I'm wrong on this one! 

Question:  I live in the Kansas City area and have been growing Impatiens for the past several years.  I have a north facing porched area where I plant them in various hanging baskets and pots.  They started out so beautifully this year...just gorgeous!  But, slowly but surely, the leaves are turning yellow and two of them especially are looking just plain sick!  What do I do?  Am I watering too much?  Not enough?  Too much sun?  They are shaded in the middle part of the day getting their sun in the morning and evening...please help!
Answer:  Without seeing a picture, my first guess would be too much water.  In fact, I have a pot of impatiens that doesn't have a drainage hole because I am afraid I will break the pot if I try to drill holes in it.  We have had a lot of rain here and the pot has had standing water in it more than once.  As  you can see, the impatiens are not appreciating this much, and are turning yellow at this point too.  I have attached a picture.  If this is what yours look like, then you will need to do something about watering/drainage. Another possibility is too much sun, although I think this is less likely in view of the fact that your plants are on a north-facing porch.  You have had a lot of rain in Kansas City this season too, and though you don't say what the really sick plants look like, it appears we have an epidemic of fungal infections in impatiens this year by the number of questions I have gotten related to impatiens problems.  If your sickest plants look anything like the one pictured in the post above this one, get rid of them immediately before they infect everything out there.  Fortunately, Impatiens are inexpensive and available everywhere, so you can replace them easily, or replace them with a plant that has a sturdier constitution, such as begonia or petunia, both of which I have had stellar luck with this year. 

Question:  I have heard that propagating impatiens is very easy. I took some cuttings, put them in miracle grow, perlite and peat moss, and set them on my front deck (it is still warm and humid). They keep blooming and I keep cutting off the blooms.  I am a new gardener so am not sure what to do next.  Since impatiens are an annual, what do I do with them when it starts getting cool outside?  Do I cover them in plastic bags (sandwich bags, ok?), or do I bring them in the house till fall, then transplant them in my garden?  They are doing better than I expected. I also  did some cuttings on petunias and ice plant. anything different to do with these?  Being new, I need details.  Thank you so much for this site.  I would have never thought you could propagate annuals.  This is exciting for me, as I'm sure for a lot of your gardeners.  I am in zone 6. 
Answer:   I have been gardening for years, and I still get excited about manufacturing my own free plants by propagation.  It's a whole new ballgame when you don't have to spend tons of money!  Impatiens are about the easiest plant there is to propagate from stem cuttings, as you have just discovered.  I just stick my cuttings in potting soil and I don't think I have ever lost a single one, so don't be too fussy about the soil, although I applaud you for doing it by the book.  You don't really have to keep cutting off the blooms either, because impatiens cuttings root within about a week and are basically adult plants doing their thing by the time you see them flowering again.  I am in zone 7, and I have only had a handful of impatiens survive the winter no matter how well protected and mulched, so in zone 6, you don't really stand a chance if they are outside.  They will take cooler weather but the first frost will turn them into mush.  Therefore, if you want to keep them, you will have to pot them up and keep them inside in a window with bright light.  If they get enough light, they make beautiful houseplants, but if they don't, they become leggy and fairly unattractive.  They do very well under grow lights, so that might be an option too.  In my situation, I like a lot of color in the garden and I don't have enough room to overwinter every color of impatiens, so when winter hits, I sadly say goodbye.  Once the soil is warm again in the spring, I buy one flat with every color I want and propagate from that for the rest of the season.  It's cheap, easy, and very effective.  The same exact thing applies for petunias and ice plant, except that even in a good window with lots of light, they probably won't do well in the house unless you grow them under grow lights, because they are full-sun plants.  Having said all that, you should still have time to take some cuttings off biennials and perennials that can be overwintered outside if you hurry.  A few off the top of my head are Sweet William, Hydrangea, Wallflower, Salvia, Lantana, Candytuft, Chrysanthemum, Verbena, and Yarrow.  Don't forget the herbs either - all the mints can be propagated by cuttings, as can rosemary, sage, lemon balm, thyme, and basil, to name just a few.  The list of plants that can be propagated by cuttings is endless, so never be afraid to snip a little piece off of your favorites and see what happens!  Good luck to you and I'm so glad I was able to help inspire you!



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