Busy lizzie, or impatiens, is a tender plant with long-lasting blooms, flowering continuously right through summer and autumn, often right up until the frosts. Impatiens are compact-growing, adaptable and versatile plants that can be grown in all types of pots and containers as well as in borders or raised beds. They flower in vibrant shades of red, pink, orange and purple, as well as white and softer pastels. Their blooms are mainly single, with some double-flowered varieties.
Impatiens can be divided into two main types. The old favourite ‘busy lizzie’, Impatiens walleriana, disappeared from the scene for some years due to widespread problems with downy mildew disease, but plant breeders have now produced disease-resistant varieties so it is available once again. This type is compact, with small, pale green leaves. The other type of impatiens is New Guinea impatiens, Impatiens hawkeri. These are larger-growing with big, brilliantly coloured blooms and bold foliage.
Busy lizzies are grown as half hardy annuals in the UK. They can’t survive cold weather, so are best enjoyed during the warmer months and discarded at the end of the season before buying fresh plants the following spring. Alternatively, move them to a frost-free spot in autumn to enjoy the flowers into the winter.
How to grow busy lizzies
Grow impatiens for long-lasting blooms in pots or in the ground. Buy impatiens as plug plants in early spring or as garden-ready plants from late spring to summer. Impatiens can be grown from seed but can be tricky to grow. Plant outside after the last frosts, in sun or part shade. Keep watered and fed, and deadhead to encourage more blooms.
More on growing busy Lizzies:
Where to grow busy lizzies
Busy lizzies flower best in full sun or part shade. Plant in a spot where they’re sheltered from winds as the stems can snap easily. Grow impatiens in pots, hanging baskets and window boxes as well as in borders and raised beds.
How to plant busy lizzies
Busy lizzies are available to buy as plug plants or young plants in spring. Plug plants can be more cost effective but you’ll need to grow them on before planting out. Pot them individually into 9cm pots and grow on a well-lit windowsill or in a heated greenhouse.
Busy lizzies are tender and won’t tolerate frost so plant them only after all risk of frost has passed. Use a peat-free, multi-purpose compost for growing in pots and improve border soil with garden compost or soil conditioner. Where pots are standing on a hard surface, raise them just off the ground so any surplus water can drain away freely. Space impatiens 15-30 cm apart, depending on variety size and the size of container. Water in after planting.
How to care for busy lizzies
Water pot-grown impatiens regularly to keep the compost evenly moist, but not waterlogged. From mid-summer, apply a liquid fertilizer high in potash, once every 10-14 days. Remove faded flowers and yellowing leaves once or twice a week to keep plants looking good and to avoid danger of grey mould (a fungal disease). Trim back any straggly shoots to encourage a compact bushy shape.
How to propagate busy lizzies
Impatiens can be grown from seed although they do need a long growing season, so it’s only practical to start from scratch if you have a warm and well-lit growing environment with a temperature no lower than 13-15°C. Sow seed in late winter at a temperature of 21°C and transplant the seedlings into individual small pots when large enough to handle.
Growing busy lizzies: problem solving
Impatiens are reasonably trouble-free, given the right growing conditions and care. Aphids may occur on young, new shoots – inspect plants regularly and hand-squish small infestations to stop them becoming established.
Slugs and snails can be a problem, eating young stems and making holes in leaves. Plants in pots are less accessible to these pests than impatiens growing in the ground. Surround plants with absorbent granules or barriers or use an environmentally friendly bait.
Regularly picking off dead leaves and flowers avoids grey mould (botrytis).
Downy mildew disease can affect non-resistant varieties of Impatiens walleriana. Leaves turn yellow and a fine white growth may be visible on the underside before the leaves fall and rot. Affected plants drop most of their leaves and flowers and should be dug up and disposed of as there’s no treatment for this disease.
Advice on growing busy lizzies
- Before you buy, work out whether you want to grow busy lizzies, Impatiens walleriana, or the larger Impatiens hawkeri
- You can save money by buying impatiens plug plants in early spring, which you grow on yourself, or opt for the convenience of ready-to-plant potted plants from late spring
- Impatiens are available from a wide range of garden centres and nurseries, but you may find more choice at specialist nurseries
Where to buy busy lizzies
Busy lizzies to grow
Busy lizzies, Impatiens walleriana, are most compact, with a height and spread of 20-30cm. ‘Accent Mixed’ has a wide range of colours from white and soft pink to red, purple, and bicolors, while ‘Beacon’ series has the greatest disease resistance with a similar colour range.
New Guinea impatiens are larger with a height and spread of 50cm, bold contrasting foliage, and large blooms that can be single or double. ‘Divine’ offers a striking mix of red, pink, violet and white; ‘Sunpatiens’ varieties are free-flowering and vigorous, in a range of colours. ‘Wild Romance’ series bears rosebud-like double flowers in colours that include white, red and pale pink, shown off by large, dark green leaves.