The Promise & Politics of SunPatiens®

sunpatienPeople are familiar with Impatiens. It has achieved broad acceptance in the market because most people know what the plants look like and feel comfortable growing them. Impatiens perform well in the shade, so it is only natural that people will try to grow them out in the sun, too.

However . . . they won’t perform as well. Impatiens CAN be grown in the sun, but daily or twice daily watering is necessary to be successful, and in most cases that is just not going to happen.

Sunpatiens® from Sakata offer the perfect alternative. A cross between New Guinea Impatiens and Standard Impatiens, Sunpatiens® feature waxier leaves and are tougher plants in general. This is an Impatiens that does well in the sun! In fact, Sunpatiens® actually require the sun exposure to bloom well; they perform poorly in the shade.

Flowers are fewer with the New Guinea genetics mixed in, but blooms are also bigger, so the overall color coverage is about the same. Sunpatiens® is a large series, organized into three major groups by habit. We have all three groups in trial, but we are offering only one in full production right now.


The spreading type comes in four colors but we don’t know much about it yet. Sunpatiens® is a series with a lot of internal variations, so we have learned not to look at individual specimens but to grow out batches in order to discover the true characteristics of a plant. This variety is strictly in trial this year. 


On a scale of small, medium or tall, the vigorous type would rate somewhere around “monster”. It easily grows over 36 inches, and all that top weight can present problems in boxes and containers. Use this type in bedding gardens where you need to fill space or make an impact from a distance. We grow this variety upon request only—it is suitable for specialized situations.


We like the compact type and have moved it to full production. For us, this type is plenty vigorous—it grows at just the right height for baskets, containers and window boxes without being overwhelming. The compact type also offers the best color selection and range of the batch.

Although Sunpatiens® are new to us, they are not new to the market—they’ve been around for a while. Some politics are involved: originally, this series was a box store exclusive and we were locked out of the material by contract. When they didn’t make their numbers, Sakata opened the plant up to anyone who wanted to buy it. By that time, we had developed the attitude that if we couldn’t be first, we certainly didn’t want to be second.

Instead we tried the Ball version of this cross, the Fanfare™ series. Fanfare™ is similar to Sunpatiens® in many respects, but it has an Achilles heel that is very painful: it takes about three weeks to get the plants to flush out in a bed. Just when you start to get mad at them, they pop. Over time, we have learned how to pamper them, but we are not happy about the fact that we have had to do so—it certainly doesn’t make the Fanfare™ Series landscaper-friendly. 


Sunpatiens®, on the other hand, seem to thrive right out of the pot. Such immediate results speak volumes, and we are not so blinded by our attitude that we can’t see an exceptional plant when it grows right in front of us. Yes, it has box store roots—but it also exhibits the best performance in the sun, especially at the point when we care about performance the most—the install. If you want the best, you have to grow the best; the conversation stops right there. 

Now, you can’t simply plant a Sunpatiens® and call it a day. These plants require more attention than standard Impatiens because they do need water and they do sit out in the sun. They will require moist soil until they are established—usually a couple of weeks at the most. Getting them established will guarantee their success.

When you select your Impatiens this season, try some Sunpatiens® in 4-1/2 or 6-inch pots. As we mentioned, we offer the compact type this year and we are very happy with its performance. Later in the year we will be commenting on our trials of the spreading type Sunpatiens® and we’ll have some show-and-tell pieces at our Field Days in August.