How to Grow Impatiens / Busy Lizzies

Bright and cheerful, Impatiens are a popular annual bedding plant. Their happiness to grow in shady areas of the garden has only helped their popularity. Also known as Busy Lizzies, Impatiens can also be grown in containers or as a houseplant.

Impatiens is latin for impatient. The plants were given this name because their ripe seed pods are prone to bursting open at the lightest touch. Thus giving the impression that they are impatient.

If you want to add a bit of color to a dark corner of your garden, Busy Lizzies are the obvious choice. This guide will take you through everything you need to know, from selecting a variety to planting and caring.


Bright and colorful. Busy Lizzies willingness to grow in shady spots has helped to make them a popular bedding plant. 

Impatiens Varieties

There are numerous varieties of Busy Lizzies available. One of the most popular varieties is Impatiens walleriana, this includes the Super Elfin cultivars. These are short flowers with a prolific spreading habit. They are also available in a range of pastel shades.

The Swirl Series is another walleriana cultivar. These pretty orange and pink flowers have a distinctive red outline.

Another common variety is the Tom Thumb Series (Impatiens balsamina). This is a dwarf variety that produces large double flowers in a range of bright colors.

New Guineas (Impatiens hawkeri) produce large flowers in a range of colors. They are also happy to grow in full sun positions.


Busy Lizzies are available in a range of shades and patterns. This has helped to cement their popularity in the flower garden.

How to Grow Impatiens

Busy Lizzies are commonly brought as young plants from garden centers. While they can be grown from seed, this can be a difficult process.

Starting Busy Lizzies From Seed

Sow seeds undercover 8 to 10 weeks before your last local frost date.

Busy Lizzies require warm soil, at least 75°F, and light to germinate. If soil temperature is not maintained during germination the seeds will rot.

Sow the seeds in trays or pots filled with fresh or sterilized soil. Water with hot water, at least 100°F. Repeat this process after an hour.

When the soil has cooled sow the impatiens seeds thinly. Simply press the seed into the soil. Don’t cover the seeds.


Sow Busy Lizzie seeds on top of the soil. Loosely cover to prevent the seeds from baking in the humidity. The cover can be removed once the seeds have germinated. 

Cover the trays or pots in a loose plastic bag. This is intended to maintain humidity. Keep the bag loose to prevent the humidity from rising too much and cooking the seeds. Place the trays in a light position and keep the soil warm, 75-80°F.

On a bright day you can lightly mist the seeds. This helps to maintain humidity levels but is not necessary for successful germination. Don’t overdo misting. Also don’t mist on cool or cloudy days.

If germination is successful, white sprouts will emerge from the seeds within 7 days. This process may take slightly longer in cooler climates. Some varieties may also take longer to germinate.

Following germination, allow the seedlings to grow on until they are large enough to transplant.

How to Plant Impatiens

Busy Lizzies can be planted in borders, beds or containers. If you have purchased Busy Lizzies, keep them well watered until you are ready to plant. Busy Lizzies will wilt if they don’t have enough water. You can plant Busy Lizzies out as soon as the last frost has passed. Harden off the plants before planting.


Busy Lizzies dislike cold conditions. In most climates Busy Lizzies should be planted out only after the last frost has passed. In warmer areas they can be grown throughout the winter. 

An annual plant in USDA zones 10 and 11 Busy Lizzies can be planted in the fall. They will then flower through the winter and early spring.

In shaded landscapes and in Zones 9 and higher the plants will reseed. This allows you to enjoy Busy Lizzies throughout the year.

Soil

Impatiens desire to sit in moist positions means that the soil should be rich and well draining. If the soil isn’t well draining the roots will begin to rot. Working either humus, gravel or sand into the soil helps to improve drainage. Another way of improving the soil is to adopt a no dig approach.

Position

Busy Lizzies do best in partial or full shade. If you want to plant the flowers in full sun they will need to be acclimatized to the position. This is done by slowly exposing the flowers to increasing amounts of light over the space of a week.

Your chosen position should have some protection from the wind.


Busy Lizzies appreciate a slightly sheltered position. This gives them protection from cold winds. 

Planting Busy Lizzie Flowers

Work the soil over with a fork before planting. This loosens the soil, helping the plants to establish themselves.

To remove the plant gently squeeze the container. This helps to loosen the soil, meaning that you can remove the plant without damaging the roots.

Plant in a hole that is large enough to comfortably hold the rootball. Before planting work in some compost or slow-release fertilizer. This gives the plants an immediate boost, helping them to quickly establish themselves.


Working the soil over before planting helps plants to establish themselves. Working in organic matter such as compost will enrich the soil, further helping the plants. 

The flower should sit in the ground at the same level as it sat in the pot. When the plant is comfortably positioned fill the hole and water. Placing organic mulch or compost around the base of the plants will deter weeds and aid moisture retention.

Spacing

Busy Lizzies grow more quickly if planted closely together. They will grow taller if planted close together. If you want the plants to stay low to the ground space them 8-12 inches apart.

Caring for Impatiens

Once planted, Busy Lizzies are easy to care for.

Water

Once planted Busy Lizzies will need around 2 inches of water each week. This may vary depending on the weather and your soil conditions. Aim to keep the soil moist.

Plants growing in containers will require watering every day. During warm periods they will require more water. To save on your water consumption, why not try harvesting rainwater? This can then be used to water your garden plants.


Old containers and barrels can be easily repurposed into rainwater collectors. You can then reuse the water in your garden.

If Busy Lizzies don’t receive enough water they will begin to wilt. After a good watering they will quickly revive themselves.

Fertilizer

Regular feeding will help to improve the appearance of Busy Lizzies. A general purpose fertilizer is fine. You can even try making your own at home.

Water soluble feeds can be applied once a fortnight. Slow release feeds can be applied at the start of spring and again in mid summer.

Temperature and Humidity

Busy Lizzies dislike overly warm conditions. They will require more water during warm spells.

If you want to winter the plants take them indoors or place undercover before the first frost. Exposure to frost will quickly kill Busy Lizzies.


Busy Lizzies dislike cold temperatures. If you want to overwinter the plants, place them undercover before the first frost hits. 

Pruning

Deadheading is not necessary. Impatiens self-clean their spent blooms. This habit enables them to flower throughout the season.

Busy Lizzies can become leggy as summer progresses. Over fertilization can also cause legginess.

Trimming the top third of vegetation from leggy plants will improve their appearance. It will also encourage new blooms to emerge.


Prevent legginess by trimming some of the vegetation. This will encourage more blooms to emerge. 

Propagation

While they are readily available, some people will enjoy propagating their own Busy Lizzies. This is easily done, meaning that you can quickly and cheaply fill your garden with pleasing flowers.

The easiest way to propagate is by taking a cutting. Select a non-flowering stem with at least two leaf nodes. Make a clean cut just below the leaf node. The cutting should be between 3-6 inches. Remove the lower leaves, if there are any, from the cutting.

You can dip the cutting in rooting hormone to encourage propagation but this is not necessary.

Place the cuttings in trays or pots filled with fresh potting soil. You can also place cuttings in a damp mixture of perlite or vermiculite. Water well and place in a bright but indirect light.

You can also root cuttings straight into the garden. Simply stick them into the soil in a partially shady location.

If successful the cuttings will root within a couple of weeks. Once rooted you can transplant the cuttings to the desired location.

 

Rooting in Water

You can also root Busy Lizzies in water. Take a cutting and, with the lower leaves removed, place in a glass or vase of water. The water should cover the lowest couple of nodes.

Place the vase in a light location, away from direct sunlight.

Change the water every day or every other day.

Once roots have emerged the cutting can be transplanted to its permanent location.


Not only are they easy to grow, Busy Lizzies are pleasingly easy to propagate. This means that you can easily fill problematic, shady spaces with these colorful blooms.

Common Problems

In New England trailing impatiens have been devastated by a downy mildew pathogen Plasmopara obducens. This can cause leaves to yellow before dropping from the plant. Once present in the soil downy mildew will affect future plantings. Varieties such as Sunpatients or New Guinea are resistant to this disease.

Snugs and snails will target Busy Lizzies. Organic solutions, such as spreading coffee grounds around the plants, can deter pests. Spider mites can also target Busy Lizzies, particularly those growing in containers.

Companions

A good companion plant, Impatiens will happily grow alongside most plants and flowers with little issue. Busy Lizzies are often planted with Begonias and Coleus. The latter produces colored foliage that pleasingly echoes the colors of Busy Lizzies.


Bright and colorful, Busy Lizzies are an easy to grow addition to any garden or container.

Brightly colored and easy to grow, Impatiens have long been a popular way to add color to shady areas of gardens. Just as happy to grow in containers and window boxes, it is little wonder that this is one of the most popular annual bedding plants.