Sorting Out SunPatiens

FN 1.12 SunPatiens
A municipal bed thick with SunPatiens in mixed sun and shade

We believe the SunPatiens series of Impatiens has turned into an important tool in the landscaper’s toolkit. It functionally replaces the lamented wallerina-type Impatiens, adds its own unique set of strengths, shores up some previous weaknesses, and delivers a very durable package at a very reasonable cost. What began as a fringe series in the Impatiens genre has become a genuine workhorse in the post-Impatiens world we live in today.

FN 1.13 SunPatiens
A good example of the color range within SunPatiens and their unusual leaf


SunPatiens covers the ground with color. Not with greenery and a few flowers, but with a generous amount of color clearly visible above the foliage. SunPatiens gives very little trouble in the ground, or Garden Centers would not re-order it season after season. These plants look good in all kinds of weather, all kinds of heat, and in the most common light situations—if they didn’t, landscapers would drop them like a stone. SunPatiens has a reasonable selection of colors with a few unique twists—if it didn’t, designers wouldn’t spec it. Finally, SunPatiens comes in at a good price—or those orders would not appear in heavy volume.

FN 1.21 SunPatiens
SunPatiens have stronger structures so they hold better in containers


By hole we mean that Impatiens-shaped void left in the market when the Wallerina Impatiens got their legs kicked out from underneath them. Impatiens is a very high-demand look, and that demand did not go away when the traditional solution left for the morgue. The problem is that Impatiens hit that magic sweet spot of wide color choices, very predictable easy care, rock solid blooming cycles, and a really good price per square foot.

Other contenders have one, two or three of these qualities; however, to be a success in the commercial channel a plant has to succeed in most or nearly all of these areas. That is a high bar to cross but the dollars involved are so large, the breeders of every “maybe-kinda-hope so” candidate to replace the old king had to put their backs into upgrading their genetics. One of those breeders happened to be Sakata, the Japanese firm that developed the SunPatiens line.

FN 1.23 SunPatiens
SunPatiens captures that high-demand Impatiens look


SunPatiens is a blend of New Guinea and Wallerina type Impatiens, originally developed to handle fringe applications of the Impatiens look. Traditional Impatiens are stream-side plants that want the shade; therefore, the more sun and the less water they got, the less they performed. SunPatiens blended in tougher New Guinea characteristics to give them a wider thriving zone.

SunPatiens do cost more, so landscapers wanted them only when the cheaper Impatiens did not work. This trend reversed itself when Impatiens collapsed, and all the expensive material rushed in to fill the void. Suddenly, a little bit more cost was cheap insurance with an Impatiens that actually delivered the Impatiens look without the fear of downy mildew.

Unlike any other plant, SunPatiens can check off those desired Impatiens features, or come pretty close:

  • The flower looks like an Impatiens (but a bit bigger)
  • It blooms heavily (but shows a bit more green)
  • It lifts its blooms high (but the foliage doesn’t hide)
  • It starts blooming early in the season and, with regular watering, keeps blooming (until frost)
  • Spent blooms are covered with new blooms and growth (self-cleaning)
  • Very natural form (looks good all season without pruning, trimming, or cutting)

It also brings a few new features to the table:

  • Thicker petals and tougher leaves (handles more sun and irregular watering better)
  • Stronger stems (stands up to container buddies, deals with wind and rain stresses better)

Its weak spot is color and form. Sakata has plugged in the basic colors, plus a few more, and they now have a few semi-doubles, but there is no way it matches the huge range of variations that wallerinas provide. If color is your thing, you stick with traditional cultivars and take your risks. But the SunPatiens are so darn reliable…and the colors are good…ah, you wave your hands and forgive their weaknesses at this point.

FN 1.06 SunPatiens
A mix of Compact (front) and Vigorous (back) types made this hedge


Sakata has doubled down on the line, and they now have more colors, more looks, and even a unique variegated foliage that wallerinas never accomplished. They are grouped differently than traditional Impatiens, so it helps to take a quick run-through of the lineup.

FN 1.25 SunPatiens
The Compact series has a pretty standard size


These are actually standard-sized plants that fill out a standard garden bed in the standard timeframe—these plants run right down the middle. The bulk of our SunPatiens line is built around these cultivars. They grow roughly square, as wide as they are tall.

Water controls their size. Keep them on the dry side, and you’ll get a plant about 16 inches tall. Give them lots of water and they can double to about 32 inches. Again, water is the big lever you pull to control the size of SunPatiens; a smaller lever would be the introduction of slow-release fertilizer (half the strength compared to other plants) to give them steady food until the end of the season.

FN 1.04 SunPatiens
This tall hedge is comprised of Vigorous SunPatiens fronted with a row of Compacts


These are the Big Ones. If you work with overlarge spaces, or truly big containers, you want this sub-series. Vigorous types grow very upright, in a big vase shape that lifts the center of the floral presentation up in the air, with extra growth that spills out the other side. This means that with water you can grow these Vigorous SunPatiens high—a great solution for parks & recreation plantings, public displays, or anywhere you need to set up a big vista that is impressive from a long distance.

FN 1.08 SunPatiens
The varigated leaves of ‘Compact Tropical Salmon’ (also available in ‘Rose’)


Then there are ‘Compact Tropical Rose’ and ‘Compact Tropical Salmon’, the ones with that strong streak of cream running down the center of the leaf. Wow—you buy it for the leaf, and you get bright flowers, too.

FN 1.15 SunPatiens
Like all Impatiens, the SunPatiens do well with water—they need a regular supply


Although SunPatiens has better sun tolerance than regular Impatiens, this does not make it a sun-loving plant. Hot, dry, and all-day sun is a job best left up to an expert like Lantana. If you see scorching and bleaching in the leaves, you’ve pushed the plant too far into the sun. In our experience, SunPatiens can tolerate up to six hours of sun here in Cincinatti.

Also, SunPatiens are not drought plants like Portulaca. If their water is interrupted, the dry spell shocks the flowers off the stems. Once that happens, the plant has to gear up again and you lose a few weeks of color.

FN 1.14 SunPatiens
A residential home with cascading hedges of SunPatiens


In today’s modern society a huge number of landscape projects fall right into the SunPatiens sweet spot, where the soil is pretty good and the water is regular. That Impatiens look is money in the bank for the folks who can deliver it, and SunPatiens does that job reliably and predictably. For the young guys, it is a great place to start because you need that financial foundation to build a future. The three sub-series allow designs to show off form and function as well. For the seasoned pro, it is another popular look that you can deploy to make the customer happy without regretting the decision.

FN 1.09 SunPatiens
Sunpatiens Compact White reclining in a wall hanging

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