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Cottage Garden Favorites: Balsam

Updated on January 20, 2017
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

Balsam or Touch-Me-Not
Balsam or Touch-Me-Not | Source

Balsam, or Touch-Me-Not, is a nearly forgotten annual flower that used to be a favorite. It is related to the ubiquitous impatiens which have been ravaged by downy mildew, an airborne fungal disease. Downy mildew has become such a problem, that many nurseries no longer sell impatiens. Balsam is resistant to this disease.


Balsam is native to India and southeast Asia. It was brought back to England during Victorian times by the intrepid plant hunters of that era. Their colorful flowers and neat, upright habit made them perfect as a bedding plant.

Their nickname, Touch-Me-Not, refers to their method of spreading their seeds. When touched, the seed pods literally explode spraying seed all over your garden. Thanks to the ease with which the seeds germinate, balsam can become invasive in your garden.

In traditional Asian medicine, balsam plants are used to treat skin diseases, warts and snake bites. The flowers are used to treat burns.


The plants grow to 12- to 18 inches high. The flowers are double, resembling double impatiens and camellias. Flower colors are pink, white, rose, purple and red with many bicolors. Flowering will continue until frost kills the plants. Unlike their hybrid impatiens cousins, balsam will come true from seed.

Balsam love sun, but in areas with hot summers, prefer a little afternoon shade. They need rich, well-drained soil. You should plan on fertilizing them twice a week with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or you can work a lot of compost into 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 don't mind summer heat waves but the plants need to be watered regularly. They will stop flowering if they don't get enough water. They will die if they dry out completely.

Balsam can be grown in containers as long as they have the proper amount of sunlight and fertilizer. Watering is critical when they are grown in containers because containers dry out much more quickly than your garden. You should plan on watering your containerized plants every day.


You can start your balsam seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last frost. Do not cover the seeds with soil. They need light to germinate. Or you can direct sow your seeds in your garden after all danger of frost. The seeds should start germinating within four days. Thin to 12 inches apart. Keep the seedlings well-watered.

Balsam's colorful flowers light up the garden all summer. It's easy to grow, attracts butterflies and will reseed itself for years of enjoyment.

© 2015 Caren White


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    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 11 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      So glad my hub brought back such a nice memories for you. Your future grandchildren will love them in all of their wonderful colors! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 19 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Old Roses, this is a wonderful hub. That photo is beautiful. I would love to grow balsam for my patio container garden or just as a potted plant. Thanks for sharing about this wonderful flower.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 19 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Oh, I remember touch-me-not's from when I was a kid but had forgotten all about them. I'll have to look for these and find an area to set aside and let them multiply. This would be so fun for our future grandchildren!

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 2 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Me too! It self-sows so aggressively in my garden that I spend an awful lot of time in the spring "weeding" out all the seedlings.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Glad to hear that this flower has useful traits. It has grown like a weed for us.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      I'll look forward to it! I love my begonias. There's been an annual Begonia Festival in Ballarat ever since I can remember - my parents used to drive up there, taking us to see it. They're so colourful (the flowers, I mean!).

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 2 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      bac2basics, unlike penstemon which have flowers on a stalk, balsam flowers grow directly from the stem in between the leaves. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 2 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Blossom, I usually write about plants that I have grown. I've never grown tuberous begonias, but now I'm curious. I'll have to look into growing them and then write about it. Thanks for the great suggestion and for reading and commenting.

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 2 years ago from Spain

      What a fantastic hub. I´m a keen gardener, but don´t think I have ever seen these anywhere, they do remind me of Penstemon´s though.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thank you for an interesting and useful hub. I wonder if you might do one on tuberous begonias sometime? Mine are getting pot-bound, but I love them and don't want to kill them by repotting at the wrong time. I'd love to know more about them. I know that they can be propagated by using their leaves, but I've never had any success with that.