HOW TO CULTIVATE IMPATIENS (busy Lizzie)

13 deg C/55 deg F

Busy Lizzie is probably the most ubiquitous of all houseplants. Unfortunately. it is so often seen as one of the least decorative of plants, with straggly leafless stems, an ungainly shape and few flowers.

A good specimen of this plant should be neat, spreading and dwarf in habit. It should have fine leaf colour, and be covered in beautiful blooms. This perfection is not easy to achieve in old plants. Moreover, since the plants are derived from species native to Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) and other parts of Last Africa, a congenial winter warmth is needed to keep them in healthy condition.

The best results in growing these plants are achieved by making frequent starts with seed or cuttings during early spring. Seed is the most practical method, since it can be difficult to save plants over winter if conditions are not suitable. Plants which have experienced a temperature as low as 7 deg C (45 deg F) can be saved, but they inevitably lose their foliage and become tatty-looking. Nearly all the best impatiens are hybrids or cultivars, mostly derived from /. wall-eriana (syn. /. lwlstii) and 1. sultanii. There are numerous excellent seed strains available, and as well as making fine pot plants they are splendid for outdoor summer bedding. ‘Futura’ is an F, hybrid with a wide range of uses. It is not so compact as many others, but is strong and vigorous and very free-flowering, with a mixture of beautiful colours and large blooms. It can be used in hanging-baskets as well as ordinary pots. It does well in slight shade and positions of good light. ‘Minette’ (F, hybrid) is particularly good

for pots and has a very dwarf and flatfish habit of growth. It is very quick to flower, giving a mixture of bright colours. ‘Imp’ is similar, but not quite so dwarf. Both are useful for outdoor bedding or for window-boxes and patio pots. as well as for indoor plants. ‘Zig-zag’ is a recently introduced F, hybrid, notable for its white flowers, all with contrasting gay stripes in rose-red, orange or salmon. This hybrid can be used outdoors or indoors. The proportion of white to other colours varies somewhat between batches, and in some the effect may be of a white star or cross on each bloom. The flowers are large and the habit neat and compact. ‘Miss Swiss’ is a new hybrid, remarkable for the brilliance of its very freely-produced salmon to scarlet flowers. Lx-ceptional for its huge flowers, which can exceed 5cm (2in) in diameter, is ‘Grand Prix’. This is very compact and spreading. It has a mixture of good colours and can be used outdoors. If it is possible to save plants there are some specially fine cultivars having attractive foliage. ‘Fanfair’ has golden-yellow green-edged foliage and rose-pink flowers. ‘Aflame’ is rather similar. but with more marked reddish vetoing and darker green borders and pinkish flowers. ‘Red Magic’ and ‘Cotton Candy’ have dark, bronzy foliage with vivid red flowers in the former and pinkish flowers in the latter. These cultivars may not flower so generously as the hybrids raised from seed – particularly those with variegated foliage – but they are very beautiful. They are not so easy to keep, since they are more insistent on winter warmth and humidity and come from species native to Papua New Guinea. Generally, busy Lizzie plants like plenty of moisture, although this does not mean waterlogging, and a high humidity.

Although they grow well in partial shade, they also enjoy plenty of light. avoiding direct sunshine behind glass. There is a tendency for these plants to be excessively overwatered. and this leads to yellowing and shedding of foliage. Most plants for the home can be given 13cm (5 in.) pots, and any of the modern potting composts will produce splendid growth. The plants sometimes benefit from a ’ced of magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts), at 24ml (1 teaspoon) to 500ml (1 pint) of water. This helps maintain a good leaf colour. The recommended method of propagation of the hybrids is from seed, with cultivars raised from cuttings. Impatiens are liable to most of the common pest infestations, such as aphids. whitefly, and red spider mites.

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