Balsam: Heirloom Annual Worth New Popularity

I haven’t planted balsam, the pretty Victorian-era annual, since 1970 or possibly 1971, but I can still visualize the tidy flowers shaped like little roses or camellias. I wasn’t alone in my admiration of balsam, botanically known as Impatiens balsamina, a relative of the more common impatiens. Thomas Jefferson was a huge fan, and planted balsam in 1767 at his home, and the gift shop at Monticello still sells seeds of what became a favorite annual at the historic home.

I decided 48 years has been too long without balsam, so I’m taking a trip down memory lane and planting balsam once again. I located seeds at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and will soon start them indoors under fluorescent lights.

Growing Balsam:

  • Balsam is an annual bedding plant that prefers part sun, part shade. Morning sun and afternoon cool shade is ideal, or filtered sun under the loose shade of small-scale trees. Full sun is acceptable in cool microclimates.
  • Although it’s related to impatiens, the growth habit is distinct, and you might not recognize the relationship.
  • Balsam produces flowers that are  rose-shaped, quarter-sized, and borne along the central stalk.
  • Several varieties are available, commonly growing to 18-30 inches tall.
  • Space plants about 18 inches apart.
  • It was a favorite in Victorian times, and is often included in historically accurate flower plantings.
  • It’s easily grown from seed started indoors between April 1-15 to produce transplants suitable for setting out between May 15-25.
  • Amend soil with rich organic materials, peatmoss or compost.

If you’ve got a partially shaded, or cool-sun location, give balsam a try. Happy Gardening!

3 Responses

    1. Don Kinzler

      Hi Diane. Impatiens Downy Mildew, which can decimate ‘regular’ impatiens with total plant collapse, has not been found to be a serious problem with balsam, for most people. Balsam isn’t immune to the disease, but only shows minor leaf spotting, if it should happen to get it, according to any source I’ve seen. People who have been growing balsam for years have reported no problems, whereas Downy Mildew on impatiens has become a widespread problem in our region. Thanks.

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