Balsam plants belong to the genus Impatiens balsamina, a genus of about 1,000 species of flowering plants. the name Balsam is often used interchangeably with Impatiens balsamina. In fact, Impatiens balsamina species in the tropics are known as Balsam. most Balsam plants are native to Southeast Asia but are also grown in different parts of the world. They are easy to grow and are popular for their showy flowers. Most of the heirloom varieties produce pink flowers.
Balsam plants are grown for ornamental as well as therapeutic purposes. Here’s how to grow balsam flowers and care for them.
Balsam plants have a soft, fleshy stem, and spirally arranged long pointed leaves. Plants may range in height from 8-28inch (20-70cm). The plant blooms from summer to fall.
The trumpet-shaped flowers produce seed pods that explode when they mature. These plants are also known as “Touch Me Nots” because the seed pods explode when touched. Impatiens balsamina is a species popular for its therapeutic uses.
The juice extracted from the leaves is used to treat snake bites, and the crushed flowers are used to treat burns. Balsam plants can be easily grown as long as you have a basic understanding of their requirements.
Balsam is an almost forgotten annual flower that used to be a cottage garden favorite. It is associated with the ubiquitous Impatiens balsamina, which has been ravaged by downy mildew, an airborne fungal disease. Downy mildew has become such a problem that many nurseries no longer sell hardy plants. balsam, although related to hardy plants, is resistant to this disease.
Since the botanical name includes “Impatiens balsamina”, you might expect to see something similar to its cousin, the flat-flowered garden balsam (Impatiens walleriana).
In fact, Balsam’s flowers are colorful, ranging from cup-shaped single flowers to camellia-like double flowers. Whichever version you prefer, this annual will add a tropical touch to your garden throughout the growing season.
Unlike other types of hardy plants, Balsam plants are tropical species that can grow in direct sunlight.
WHAT IS BALSAM?
Balsam (Impatiens balsamina) is native to India and Southeast Asia. In the Victorian era, brave plant hunters brought them to England. Their colorful flowers and neat, upright habits make them the perfect bedding plant.
Their nickname “Touch Me Nots” refers to the way they spread their seeds. When touched, the mature pods explode, spraying the seeds across the garden. Since the seeds germinate easily, Balsam can be an invader in your garden. I often find myself pulling out young seedlings in my garden.
The plants grow to 12-18 inches (30-45cm) tall. The flowers are double, similar to double lilies and camellias. The flowers come in pink, white, rose, purple and red, and many bi-colors.
Flowering will last until frost kills the plant. Unlike their hybrid hardy cousins, Balsam will get their true seeds from seed, which means the offspring will look like the parents, which is not usually the case with hybrid plants.
BALSAM CULTIVARS WITH VARYING FLOWER COLORS
Planting Balsam trees
Typically, Balsam plants are grown from seeds that germinate easily. You can sow the seeds directly in your garden or start growing them indoors. If you want to plant seeds indoors, start six weeks before the last frost.
Keep the soil moist so that the seeds will germinate within a week or two. The ideal temperature for germination is 70°F (21°C). It is not necessary to cover the seeds with soil, as exposure to light allows for faster germination. Once the outside temperature warms up, the seedlings can be transplanted.
Seedlings must reach a height of at least 2 inches (0.8 cm) before transplanting. Planting Balsam is best done in groups of five to six plants. You can sow the seeds in your garden after the last frost.
BALSAM TREE CARE MUST-KNOWS
The easy-to-grow Balsam prefers rich, organic, well-drained soil that is always evenly moist. It recovers quickly from wilting, but if it wilts too often, leaf burn can occur.
For best results when growing Balsam in containers, plant it in a moisture-retaining general-purpose potting mix. Keep the soil evenly moist but not saturated (the saucer should never have standing water) or the roots may rot.
Just like other types of hardy plants, Balsam can handle a variety of sun exposure. It can tolerate full sun as long as it gets plenty of water. The partial shade allows enough sun to promote good flowering and a dense habit. In full shade, this plant still performs, but it develops sparse stems and fewer flowers.
This annual is very easy to start from seed, which is helpful because you won’t often find it in the center of the garden. Get a good start on the growing season by planting seeds indoors on top of moist soil four to six weeks before the last spring frost.
Seeds germinate quickly, usually in as little as four days. Seeds can also be sown directly in the garden. Pinch off the tops of the plants when they are 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) tall to promote branching. After the last frost date, place seedlings or purchased plants in pots.
No further care (other than supplemental watering if needed) is necessary. This plant may self-seed and can sometimes be very strong in tropical climates.
IS THE BALSAM TREE CONSIDERED TO BE A MEDICINAL PLANT?
In traditional Asian medicine, the Balsam plant is used to treat skin diseases, warts, and snake bites. The flowers are used to treat burns.
HOW TO GROW BALSAM IN YOUR GARDEN
Balsam loves the sun, but in hot summer areas, they prefer a little afternoon shade. They need fertile, well-drained soil. You should plan to fertilize them twice a week with a balanced fertilizer specially formulated for flowers, or you can add a generous amount of compost to the soil.
Because compost is not as nutrient-dense as chemical fertilizers, you will need more compost than you would normally use in your flower beds. balsam doesn’t mind the summer heat, but the plants need regular watering.
If they don’t get enough water, they will stop blooming. If they dry out completely, they will die. A thick layer of mulch will keep the soil moist between waterings.
If you are buying plants, they should be spaced 12 inches apart.
HOW TO GROW BALSAM IN CONTAINERS
Balsam can be grown in containers as long as they have proper sunlight and fertilizer. Watering is crucial when they are growing in containers because containers dry out faster than your garden. You should plan to water your container plants daily.
Either use potting soil that has a slow-release fertilizer or if you use regular potting soil, sprinkle some slow-release fertilizer on the soil after you plant your Balsam.
It is important to provide enough fertilizer for any plant growing in a container because nutrients leach out of the soil every time you water. These nutrients need to be replenished or your plants will not grow and thrive.
HOW TO GROW BALSAM FROM SEEDS
Start your seeds outdoors – you can sow them directly in your garden after your last frost when the soil has warmed up. These are tropical plants. The seeds will not germinate in cold soil. In my NJ Zone 6 garden, I wait until the last week of May or the first week of June to sow my tropical seeds.
Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the soil. Do not cover them. They need sunlight to germinate. Germination is quick, just four days. After the seedlings have developed their true leaves, thin them to a distance of 12 inches (30 cm).
SOWING BALSAM INDOORS
Balsam seeds can be sown indoors starting six weeks before the last frost. Sow the seeds in a container with pre-wetted soil. Do not cover them. They need sunlight to germinate. I always moisten the soil before surface sowing because if I wait until after sowing to water, the water will wash the seeds out of the pot or cause them to float on one side or corner of the container.
The seeds should begin to germinate within four days. Keep the seedlings well hydrated. When the soil warms, you can plant them outdoors after the last frost. Space seedlings 12 inches (30 cm) apart.
Balsam’s colorful flowers brighten up the garden all summer long. It is easy to grow and can be reseeded for years of enjoyment.
PROCESS OF BALSAM FLOWERING PLANTS
Sow seeds in January – February for summer flowering and May – July for rainy season flowering.
Sow seeds thinly in seedbeds/nursery trays/nursery trays.
Fine sandy soil (outdoor) is required for seedbeds and coco peat for seedling trays (indoor) as a sowing medium.
Before sowing, the soil/coir should be made slightly wet.
Immediately after sowing, the seeds should be carefully watered with a watering can.
Allow seedlings to grow in a seedbed/tray that is kept in a semi-shade.
Transplant seedlings in pots or beds at the 6 leaf stage.
A good quality fertile soil or potting mix should be selected for transplanting seedlings.
Planting distance. When the plants grow into bushes, the spacing should be wide. Overcrowded plants do not produce good flowers. For pot culture, plant single plants in 10-inch (25 cm) pots.
Watering: Water well during the growing stage. The growth stage requires heavy watering. Soil should always be moist and flooded once a week. In dry conditions, the leaves will wilt and fall off.
Plant care. Balsam is affected by powdery mildew all year round. The presence of fungal infection can be detected by grayish-white spots or patches covered with a powdery substance.
Flowering time: flowering starts 60 days after sowing and lasts about 15-20 days.