Impatiens Walleriana: A “Patience Plant” That Isn’t

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A favorite flower for many households, Impatiens walleriana is wildly popular in the UK and US. As a ground cover, they create a stunning, flower-dappled display. They make an excellent houseplant as well, growing easily if you give them the right conditions.

Impatiens has many crazy names like busy lizzie or sultana. It’s even sometimes called the “patience plant”, although in an ironic way – more on that later! It’s so popular that growers have cultivated several shades of flowers to choose from. Pink, red, white, orange, lilac, or bi-colored blooms appear to much delight.

Native to east Africa, impatiens isn’t very demanding. It’ll thrive with the right care and light conditions. Often, it does particularly well in shaded or partly-shaded locations.

We’ve gathered together everything you’ll need to know to grow this phenomenal plant. With a little patience, you’ll have impatiens galore!

Overview

Hot pink impatiens
Hot pink impatiens really pop in a shade garden. Source: zimbart

Scientific Name:

Impatiens walleriana

Common Name(s):

Impatiens, busy lizzie, patient lucy, bizzy lizzy, patience plant

Type:

Herbaceous plant

Family:

Balsaminaceae

Origin:

East and Southeast Africa

Zone:

USDA 10-11

Height:

6″-12″

Spread:

6″-24″

Foliage:

Dark green, light green, bi-colored

Bloom Time:

June to frost

Flowers:

Pink, rose, lilac, purple, orange, white and multicolor

Sun Exposure:

Partial to full shade

Soil:

Humus-rich, moist, well-drained

Water:

Moderate, avoid standing water

Characteristics:

Ornamental, decorative

Garden Uses:

Ground cover, bedding plants, hanging baskets, indoor houseplants

All About Impatiens Walleriana

Lavender impatiens
While fairly uncommon, lavender-tinged pink is the color of one cultivar. Source: Starr

In frost-free regions, busy Lizzie is an herbaceous perennial. Elsewhere, it’s considered a half-hardy annual. Its natural preference is a Mediterranean climate type.

The name “walleriana” was crafted to honor Horace Waller (1833-1896). A contemporary of Victorian explorer David Livingstone, Waller was a British missionary. He spent much time in Africa, and was known to be an anti-slavery activist in that era.

It was introduced to the western world by Dr. John Kirk. Another contemporary of Livingstone, Kirk initially believed impatiens walleriana to be indigenous to Zanzibar. It was later discovered throughout eastern Africa.

The term “impatiens” is a bit ironic, and contrasts with its common name of “patience plant”. The scientific name originates from the plant’s impatience to spread its seeds. The lightest touch will cause an impatiens seed pod to pop open and send its seeds flying everywhere! Needless to say, it’s quite good at self-sowing, even if it’s not very patient.

Sometimes referred to as shade impatiens, Impatiens walleriana is one of many impatiens. Some 500 species fall into the Balsaminaceae family, with this being one of the best known.

Other synonyms for this species include Impatiens giorgii, Impatiens holstii, Impatiens lujai, and Impatiens sultani. These are all scientific names that have fallen out of common classification use.

Caring For Your Busy Lizzie

Adaptable to many different regions, impatiens is a very easy plant to grow. Let’s go over the ideal conditions for this lovely bedding plant or ground cover!

Light & Temperature

Peach colored impatiens
These peach impatiens walleriana really brighten up this shaded garden. Source: elcafeparanormal

Shade impatiens has that name for a reason: it thrives in shady or partially-shady areas. Direct sunlight can sunburn your plants. Ideally, provide an area where it receives indirect but bright light for at least part of the day.

If planting beneath a shade tree, be aware that this plant may compete with your tree for nutrients. I recommend container growth underneath trees for that reason. A raised bed positioned just under the tree’s canopy can also work well.

Indoors, your impatiens will do well with the same bright, but indirect lighting. Window lighting is fine as long as it doesn’t get full sun conditions.

Temperature-wise, this plant prefers warm climates. Zones 10-11 are ideal for perennial growth. As an annual, this can be planted out in spring after frost danger ends. It’ll happily grow throughout the year.

Frosts and freezes are a major risk to impatiens. The plant will rapidly die out in temperatures below freezing level. If you wish to overwinter your plants, move them indoors when the weather is above 40 degrees.

Water

Hanging basket of busy lizzie
A bright and cheerful hanging basket of busy lizzie. Source: Annna

Watering needs for impatiens are something that take a little practice to master. They grow best in moist soil, but are susceptible to root rot. During hotter periods, they require more water. In cool conditions, they may need much less.

If grown as a ground cover, an inch of water per week should suffice. Check the soil moisture before watering. When it’s dry through the top inch, it’s time to water! If not, you can wait a bit longer. Using drip irrigation is a good choice to keep excess water off the leaves.

For indoor growers, avoid standing water in the tray under your pot. The extra moisture may cause rot conditions to form. Also, avoid watering heavily during the winter months when the plant is growing less.

People growing impatiens in a hanging basket should check their water consistently. Most hanging baskets dry out much more quickly than other planting conditions. That even, regular moisture is absolutely key for a healthy plant.

Soil

Red and pink impatiens
Mixing different cultivars in a bed provides a blend of bright color. Source: Starr

Well-drained soil that’s heavy in organic matter is best for busy lizzie. When planting directly in beds or as a ground cover, work at least 2″ of compost into the top 6″ of soil before planting. You can also work in a little balanced organic fertilizer at the same time if you’d like.

Kept as a houseplant, most well-draining potting soils will work. I still like to add a bit of compost to my mix!

A two-inch layer of mulch spread around your plants will help the soil retain moisture. You can opt for a wood chip or straw mulch, either will work just fine.

Fertilizer

For best growth, indoor plants should receive regular fertilizing. A half-strength water-soluble fertilizer can be applied up to every two weeks.

Outdoor ground cover or bedding plants may need less fertilization. This is doubly true if they’re in rich soil to begin with. Spreading a balanced, granular organic fertilizer in the spring and summer is fine. You shouldn’t need to fertilize in fall or winter.

Try to avoid fertilizers that are higher in nitrogen than other components. Those will produce lots of green foliage, but fewer flowers.

Propagation

Impatiens foliage
The foliage of your plant may range from light to dark green. Source: pris.sears

Impatiens are most commonly propagated through seed or cuttings. Viable seed comes from specific cultivars, but hybrids may not produce viable seed. Those should have cuttings taken of them.

For cuttings, select 3-4″ healthy stem tips and place them in an inch or two of water. Remove all but the leaves at the tip. Rinse the base and replace the water with fresh water daily. When the roots reach about a half inch in length, you can transfer them to moist potting soil.

Problems

While it’s not completely problem-free, your impatiens walleriana is pretty hardy stuff. It’ll withstand many different issues. But there are a few problems that might appear, so let’s discuss those.

Growing Problems

Impatiens walleriana
In direct sun, impatiens walleriana is prone to wilting. Source: Starr

Moisture stress is a very real thing for your busy lizzie. Their soil needs to be consistently moist or damp, but not soggy or dry. This stress can cause wilting, leaf drop, and flower drop. The best remedy is to make sure you water when the soil is dry in the first inch.

If your plant isn’t flowering, chances are it didn’t get enough phosphorous fertilization. Adding a phosphorous-rich fertilizer during the blooming season can fix that problem. For outdoor plants, use a slow-release granular balanced fertilizer. This should provide enough food for your plant to thrive.

Wilting may also be a sign of heat stress, as can sunburned leaves. If your plant’s receiving too much sun, you’re likely to see this problem. Make sure it’s in partial to total shade, receiving mostly bright indirect lighting.

Pests

Sucking insects are the bane of your plants! Aphids, whiteflies, and thrips are all prone to moving in for the attack. Spider mites and cutworms also like to attack impatiens, as do root knot nematodes.

Thankfully, many of these pests can be prevented with two things. Neem oil can handle most of them, and adding beneficial nematodes to your soil will handle the rest.

Diseases

Impatiens walleriana in sun
Partial sun conditions are fine for your patience plant. Source: Starr

Only a few diseases trouble impatiens walleriana, but they can be tough to beat.

By far, the worst is impatiens downy mildew. While it’s related to normal downy mildew, this strain only strikes impatiens walleriana. It creates white, spore-covered undersides of leaves, and plant growth may be stunted. The leaves will eventually yellow and fall from the plant.

You may be able to treat this with some fungicides, or by trimming off damaged leaves. Impatiens downy mildew can live in the soil for quite some time. If you’ve had problems with it in the past, you may want to opt for a mildew-resistant cultivar.

Another disease which strikes only impatiens is the impatiens necrotic spot virus. This viral disease causes severe stunting, ring spots on the leaves, and kills growing tip foliage. With this virus, there is no cure. You will need to remove and destroy the plant.

Other diseases which may appear include alternaria leaf spot, botrytis stem rot, powdery mildew, and damping off. We’ve covered all these at length in the past, so feel free to click through and read more about them!

One last issue is fungal-based rots. Both fusarium fungi and pythium fungi can cause fungal rots that damage your plants. To prevent these, don’t overwater.

FAQs

Here are some questions that are frequently asked about impatiens walleriana by gardeners.

Q. Is it safe to plant impatiens in a hanging basket in my balcony?

A.  If your balcony has bright, indirect lighting, sure! Make sure to keep the soil moist, as many hanging baskets dry out more quickly than planters do.

Q. When do impatiens bloom and what color will I achieve?

A. Impatiens bloom from early summer (May or June) to October and maybe even later in warm climates. You’ll have different colors of flowers depending on the variety you choose. They can be red, lilac, pink, orange, violet or multicolored.


With so many different cultivars, you can easily create a multicolored tapestry effect. Dapple your beds and your shady spots with patches of impatiens walleriana! You’ll be rewarded in a bounty of showy flowers.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu
Founder

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

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