Achimenes is a surprisingly rare plant, and I say surprisingly because it has such wonderful qualities. These low-growing shrubs are native to Central America, where they grow in the tropics. The most common ones are low-growing and boast trumpet-shaped flowers in profusions of every color. Because of extensive hybridizing, they are available in virtually every color. In terms of cultural requirements, achimenes grow from underground rhizomes and, under most circumstances, will have a dormant winter period when they should be cut back. The rhizomes can be stored during the cooler months, then replanted in the spring and kept continuously moist. Lack of moisture will trigger the dormant period.
- Light: Achimenes thrive in bright light, but don't like direct sun. Browning leaves or dry, crispy leaf margins are a sure sign your plant is getting too much light. During the winter dormant period, they can be kept in a dark bag.
- Water: During the growing season, it's imperative to keep the soil continuously moist. Prolonged periods of drought or dry soil can trigger the dormant period, even if the temperature stays relatively warm. On the other side, however, they cannot tolerate sitting in water, which can cause the rhizomes rots.
- Fertilizer: As soon as they start growing again, begin to apply a good flowering fertilizer. Avoid fertilizers with excessive nitrogen, which can result in weaker flowering.
- Soil: Make sure they get good drainage. Poor soil or compacted soil can result in excessive moisture and rhizome rot.
Achimenes can be propagated by rhizome division at the end of the growing season or by cuttings at the beginning of the growing season. To take a cutting, use a rooting hormone and place the cutting into seedling soil, then place the cutting in a warm, bright place and keep it moist until new growth emerges. Most people who buy achimenes, however, but them as bedding plants and don't propagate.
Achimenes are typically planted in smaller containers (4-6 inches) for a single growing season. As the growing season ends, the plant will die back and you can snip it off near the soil level and let the soil dry out. When the soil is dry enough, remove the rhizome from the soil and store it in a bag in a cool place until the growing season begins again. To start the new growing season, replant the rhizome in the same size container as the previous year and resume watering.
There are about 25 species in the genus, but the trade is dominated by one type: an extensively hybridized plant that is usually simply labeled as "Achimenes." This plant is the product of serious hybridizing efforts by gardeners in tropical climates, who rely on this plant much the same way that temperate gardeners use impatiens. Choose your achimenes based on its color.
Achimenes grow in conditions similar to other rhizomous tropical plants like caladium. They love bright, filtered light but dislike direct sun. They are heavy feeders and do best in well-drained, rich soil. And while growing, they love lots of moisture and should never be allowed to dry out. They look best when massed together, and well-tended plants will remain in bloom throughout the growing season. To encourage better blooming, remove dead flowers and pinch back growth every so often. Achimenes are relatively cold sensitive and dislike temperatures below about 50˚F or cold drafts. It's also not a good idea to disturb a growing plant as they have delicate roots that are easily disturbed. Achimenes is vulnerable to mealybugs and aphids.