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Everything You Need to Know About Busy Lizzies

The Ultimate Quick Guide

By Hannah Miller at DIY Gardening

Busy Lizzies are a popular compact annual that produces long-lasting blooms throughout summer and well into autumn, often up until the first frosts.

They perform well in pots, troughs and hanging baskets where they blend perfectly with other popular annuals such as pelargoniums, petunias and pansies. You can also use them to fill space in borders and to add late-season colour.

Busy Lizzies are susceptible to frost so are usually discarded in late autumn, but they can be prolonged by relocating them to a sheltered spot as they cope with partial shade.

Busy Lizzies and a Pelargonium in a trough

Busy Lizzies and a Pelargonium (photo taken in early October)

Choose From These Two

Busy Lizzies can be separated into two groups:

  • Impatiens walleriana
  • Impatiens hawkeri

Impatiens walleriana is the classic Busy Lizzie that has been grown in the UK for decades and produces pale green leaves and pastel-coloured blooms. Expect this compact Busy Lizzie to reach heights of around 35cm and a spread of approximately 30cm.

Impatiens hawkeri produces bold, bright green foliage and much deeper coloured blooms and reaches heights of around 50cm and a spread of about 45cm.

Growing Busy Lizzies from Seed, Small Plugs or Garden-Ready Plugs

Busy Lizzies are best grown from small plugs or garden-ready plugs, but those of you who like a challenge can try them from seed.

Seed – Busy Lizzies are notoriously difficult to grow from seed; they are slow to germinate and grow and hate cold temperatures. You will most likely need a good propagator and a good dose of patience, no pun intended. The Gardeners Corner has an insightful forum post with hints and tips from other gardeners who have grown Busy Lizzies from seed.

Small plugs – these are usually available from garden centres and specialist nurseries from spring onwards and will need to be grown on in a greenhouse or bright windowsill and protected until the risk of frost has passed.

Garden-ready plugs – you’ll likely see these in garden centres from mid to late summer, and while they’re the least cost-efficient option, you’ll get plenty of blooms all the way into autumn.

The Best Location For Busy Lizzies

In the UK, Busy Lizzies perform best in a bright spot such as a hanging basket in a south-facing garden, but they’ll still put on an excellent show in partial shade and light shade; they can often be found under tree canopies where they bloom more profusely than petunias, pansies and other tender annuals.

The stems on Busy Lizzies are tender and likely to break if mishandled or grown in an exposed spot, so keep them away from the wind, if possible.

Busy Lizzies can be grown in borders, raised beds, pots, containers, troughs and hanging baskets but should be kept away from overly damp parts of the garden due to the risk of disease/mould.

Some gardeners have reported that Busy Lizzies lack flowers if grown in a crowded spot. This is most likely due to the plant competing for sunlight where it has to grow taller at the expense of blooms.

Busy Lizzie petal closeup

Closeup of a Busy Lizzie petal

Watering and Fertiliser

These annuals will perform best when grown in moist but not waterlogged soil, so pots and baskets should have drainage holes.

If practical, water from the side rather overhead, to prevent splashing and disease transfer.

Busy Lizzies have low to moderate fertiliser requirements, but as with many annuals, they will respond to a dose of general fertiliser containing high amounts of nitrogen (best up until mid-summer). From summer onwards, you should switch the fertiliser to one with low nitrogen and high potash content. 

The nitrogen will help the Busy Lizzies to put on top growth and foliage, while the potash will prolong the blooms and encourage new ones, even into the cooler autumn season.

The Best Soil or Compost For Busy Lizzies

Any general-purpose fertiliser can be used, although old garden soil shouldn’t be put into containers or pots etc., due to the risk of disease transfer.

Pruning, Deadheading and Maintenance

Busy Lizzies will benefit from regular deadheading as this will encourage new blooms.

Care should be taken to remove any mouldy leaves and stems as Busy Lizzies are prone to grey mould.

This annual, like many others, can become somewhat leggy later in the season and will respond well to a good all-around prune to help it maintain a compact shape.

Notable Pests, Diseases and Other Problems

Slugs and snails can be a problem but usually on younger stems and leaves. Later in the season, they prefer more tender annuals such as pentunias.

I’ve never had a problem with slugs or snails on Busy Lizzies later in the season and even added this annual to our list of slug resistant plants.

Busy Lizzies grown in hanging baskets and containers are easier to protect from slugs as barriers are more practical here, while organic pellets work best in borders and raised beds.

If you do experience problems with slugs and snails, try these products.

Aphids can be an issue during the growing season, but they can be treated with readily available products or squashed every few days before they establish a colony.

You can prevent the spread of grey mould by using fresh compost, watering from the side and removing dead leaves and stems.

Busy Lizzie Cuttings and Propagation

Busy Lizzies can be propagated from cuttings, and the stems root easily when placed in water.

This annual was once grown as a houseplant, and there’s no reason why it won’t thrive indoors provided it’s given enough light; a conservatory or bright windowsill out of strong, direct light, would be perfect.

Consider taking late summer cuttings, rooting them in water and transferring them to pots in a warm, bright conservatory. Keep the pots moist, in a sunny spot and above 14°c during the winter months.

Key Points

Height: 30-50cm

Width: 30-50cm

Flowering season: Early summer until first frosts.

Fertiliser requirements: Low/moderate.

Water requirements: Moderate.

Location: Sun or partial shade.

Pests: Slugs, snails and aphids.

Diseases: Grey mould.

Poisonous: Non-toxic to cats and dogs.

Summary

Busy Lizzies are back – after a notable absence due to downy mildew disease, cultivators have now created a disease-resistant variety and this once-popular annual is well and truly back.

Slight more upright than petunias and producing far more blooms than pelargoniums, Busy Lizzies can add colour and distinctive bushy foliage to any garden right up until the first frosts.

If you’ve never tried Busy Lizzies before, give them a try.

More From Hannah Miller:

This guide to growing Busy Lizzies was created by Hannah Miller, is one of many plant growing guides here and was last updated in October 2021.

Hannah is a keen amateur gardener, mother and a former NHS administrator.

She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.

Hannah is a keen photographer, and you’ll find hundreds of her photos throughout this site. She also contributes to our blog; check out her latest posts here.

Author Hannah Miller

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This Busy Lizzie growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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