Busy Lizzie problem - impatiens downy mildew disease killing plants

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Comments: 92

Busy Lizzie hanging baskets – a thing of the past?

I’ve been doing a lot of gardening question time roadshows recently, and one question that regularly comes up is: “What’s wrong with my busy Lizzies – they’re dying?”

The answer, sadly, is a disfiguring disease that is killing busy Lizzies (impatiens) all over the UK. Impatiens downy mildew is a relatively new disease. It was first discovered in the UK in 2003, but there was never a real problem with it until a couple of years ago. But this year, probably encouraged by the cool, damp summer weather, it has run riot in gardens – killing plants wherever it appears.

Unfortunately, the disease is proving ‘difficult to control’ on the nurseries growing and supplying the plants, with even approved professional fungicides proving ineffective. This could indicate either the presence of a new ‘aggressive’ form of the disease or that it has developed resistance to the fungicides.

For us gardeners, there are no approved fungicides for its control – so there’s nothing we can do once it strikes in our gardens. All this means that it could be the end of the busy Lizzie as we know it. If the plant nurseries can’t control it – then they won’t be growing them – and if we have no approved fungicides to use at home, once it appears on our plants that’s it.

There is one possible ray of hope. The Sunpatiens varieties seem to be resistant to the disease. These plants are bigger and more robust than your common or garden busy Lizzie and it may be this that provides the resistance.

If you’ve had any problems with your busy Lizzies and impatiens downy mildew disease, please let us know.

Gardening Roadshows

The last gardening question times for 2011, sponsored by Miracle-Gro, are:

  1. September 10-11: Essex County Show, Barleylands, Billericay
  2. September 17-18: The Cambridge Food, Garden and Produce Festival, Parker’s Piece, Cambridge

Come along and say hello and get your gardening question answered. We’ll even be asking you questions and if you get them right you can win some gardening goodies.


Reader comments

  1. Geoff Hodge (not verified) (You)

    As for your bamboo screen you have two basic options. Bamboos that are clump forming and those that are spreading. Although spreading species can form a good thick screen, you will have to keep an eye on them so they don’t spread all over your garden!

  2. Jan Jenkins (not verified) (You)

    I live in South Wales and until this year had great success with busy lizzies. This year, however, all plants grown from seed and those bought from nurseries died within weeks of planting out. Begonias are very good, though.

  3. Janice (not verified) (You)

    I am thinking of planting a screen of bamboo plants. What are the problems I should look out for?

  4. Janice (not verified) (You)

    I am thinking of planting a screen of bamboo plants. What are the probelms I should look out for?

  5. Patricia Harrison (not verified) (You)

    More problems with Busy Lizzies. Everyone of my 200 odd plugs from Jersey failed.
    I brought this to the attention of the supplier who said that they , in Jersey , dont have the problem and it will have come from the Downy Mildew wintering in my garden.
    No more busy lizzies for me , shame.

  6. carol (not verified) (You)

    here in Somerset Iv’e lost all mine

  7. betty marchant (not verified) (You)

    Lost my busy lizzies too, as did all my friends and neighbours. We live in Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, and I bought mine from Morrisons locally. One of my friends brought all hers on from seed (mostly from last year’s flowers) but hers went just the same. I have three pots against the front wall out of the sun and under two foot wide eaves, so do not get watered except from the tap. These have survived!!

  8. david206 (not verified) (You)

    2 window boxes side by side, 4 plants in each box. In the right hand box, 1 plant died almost immediately (of course, I didn’t know why – I didn’t know about the mildew), the 2nd about a month later, & the 3rd last week But the 4th appears to remain perfectly healthy. All 4 plants in the other box remain healthy although the end plant had been touching the end plant that was the 2nd to die in the right hand box.
    So how is the mildew spread?

  9. Thomas (not verified) (You)

    200 Busy Lizzies reduced to stumps. I have had them in pots in borders, in shade out in the open. Every one got Mildew. Sad but I won’t buy again untill a solution is found.

  10. myra w3ood (not verified) (You)

    I am very concerned my privet hedge has started dying, for no reason that I can see, at the other end of the garden my conifer hedge is going brown, can anybody help me save these hedges as they are very important to the wild life

  11. Julie C (not verified) (You)

    My Busy Lizzies planted in baskets on a North facing wall under the eaves have produced a wonderful display – no sign of any mildew. However Busy Lizzies in patio tubs open to the wind and rain have all suffered from the effects of the mildew. Whether it is because the plants on the North wall have to be watered as they get no direct rainfall, or whether it is because I use tap water and not rain water for these baskets – either way there has been no evidence of any mildew. So a sheltered position could be the answer

  12. David W (not verified) (You)

    Does anyone out there know if it is still possible to buy or get a cutting of an original Busy Lizzy?
    My Gran had one in the 70s and I always admired it, she grew it from a cutting and after reaching the height she required she nipped the leader leaf out and that caused the plant to bush out.
    If anyone out there could tell me where I could get a cutting or even someone will to send me a cutting I would really appreciate it.
    Thank You

  13. Janice (not verified) (You)

    All mine died as well. I fed them and even sprayed them with insecticide as I couldn’t understand what was wrong until I was informed about this disease. I cannot imagine an English garden without busy lizzies.

  14. Dawn, Blackburn (not verified) (You)

    Hi Susie, Thanks for that, I have decided to uproot all of my lilies from their present spots and put them all together in a corner part of the one of the terraces in our garden that I have prepared and is sterile, but first I am going to spray the lily demon and the ground around the lilies. I have never had any problem with them before this year and assumed that they had appeared from out of the manure I put on at the back end of last summer.

    So when the weather permits I will be spraying the demon. !!! Lets hope it works

  15. Mike Walker (not verified) (You)

    Bizzie Lizzie – as above total destruction of our plants this year in Lowestoft. Have grown them successfully for many years. Rather looks as though this will be the last time.

  16. susie (not verified) (You)

    Hi Dawn,

    i think you have lily beetle, the only way i;ve been told to get rid of them is to kill them. i dried drowning them once but that didn’t work.

  17. Dawn, Blackburn (not verified) (You)

    Came upon this page by accident trying to find out about the red beetle that has almost decimated my lilies this year, never having seen them before, but they have had a go at every one of my lilies even thought they are in different parts of the garden and also in tubs. Haven’t found what I was looking for but at least I have the reason why all my Lizzies have lost their leaves and flowers. I was beginning to think it was my fault and this dreaded red beetle, although I never found one on the lizzies. I will also stick with Begonies alone next year as they are absolutely terrific this year, just my babies, my lilies are suffering.

    Has anyone in this country found a way to get rid of them? America and Canada seem to have had load of problems with these beetles but they don’t seem to have found any thing in common to get rid of them other than picking them off one by one and squashing them.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  18. Dianne (not verified) (You)

    We’re in Stoke on Trent and have also lost all our busy lizzies to this disease. Looking back, they didn’t do that well last year either. I really hope a ‘cure’ is found, busy lizzies are my favourite bedding plant. I support the campaign to Save Our Busy Lizzies!

  19. Mary (not verified) (You)

    Glad to know that it wasnt just me and my busy lizzies !! Anyway its getting to the end now so lets get the pansies growing. Mind you , you cant beat good old geraniums!

  20. Alison (not verified) (You)

    I didn’t no there was a problem until now thought I had just over watered my busy lizzies so I took them all out and replaced them with some big new guinea b/l and guess what they are now showing signs of the deadly disease.

  21. Lin Eaton (not verified) (You)

    Here in Dorset we have the same problem, I am left with healthy Looking stalks !! This happened to my aunt and uncle first and at the time mine were still blooming ,until about a week later all the flowers dropped off in every pot i had. hope this problem can be resolved as they are such lovely flowers and usually so easy to look after.

  22. Tony Lumley (not verified) (You)

    Thanks Geoff and all the other contributers to this blog. really good to see I wasnt responsible for my wifes busy lizzys loss of leaf and flower, and eventual demise, Lum southminster

  23. John Kirkham (not verified) (You)

    I grew several hundred busy lizzy and Izzy Wizzy plants (the hanging basket trailing variety ) from seed. All was going well, plenty of growth and and abundant flowers in hanging baskets, borders and containers. The flowers then started to fall off and were not replaced with new growth. I was mystified to why this was happening and thought we had probably had a sudden fall in temperature, Now they are all dead and I have only just found out why!! Thanks for enlightening me!!!

  24. Susie (not verified) (You)

    Hi my sister and i purchased some plug buzy lizzie from QVC and they grew wonderfully after a slow start. they lasted for about 3 months but have now all been ruined by the mildew. i live in watford, hertfordshire. was wondering, i have purchase some seeds from USA recently, do you think these will be ok? thank you

  25. Diane (not verified) (You)

    Well I feel very privileged to have one wonderful little pot of busy lizzies I bought it back in june it was a dying plant i thought i would save hardly watered it and it sits outside my patio doors in the sun its fairly well protected from the elements too! It was from Morrisons supermarket. It is now looking its best.

  26. Geoff Hodge (not verified) (You)

    Hi everyone. Thanks again for all your comments and reports of impatiens downy mildew around the country. As far as I am aware, there is research work being done by the trade to see what can be done. Perhaps we should start a campaign – Save Our Busy Lizzies!

  27. Sandy (not verified) (You)

    Glad to find out what has been happening to my bizzie lizzies this year. They started out well enough in the early part of the year, but as soon as we started getting the rain they began going downhill fast. First the flowers started dropping off, then the buds, and the leaves then followed. I began noticing after a while that there was the same powdery mould under the leaves that others have also mentioned. This would drift into the air when examined. For a while I thought it was something being carried by the rain, particularly as the few plants which are still alive are protected by the eaves of the house. I have one single plant in the middle of a hanging basket with different plants surrounding it which appears to be thriving in its position under the eaves. This basket is on the front of the house, and is certainly subject to the wind and cold but is fairly protected from the rain itself which obviously seems to cause the real havoc. What a shame this all is, as impatiens are usually so easy to grow and last until the first frosts. I have grown them for years and will miss their prescence in the garden. Let’s hope someone comes up with the answers to this problem soon.

  28. trev (not verified) (You)

    i thought it was my compost that was the problem, till i read it on the net what a shame for these gorgeous plants

  29. Jenny (not verified) (You)

    This could be deemed boring if not so sad! Mine and those of many neighbours lost in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

  30. Helen Ashton (not verified) (You)

    Sad to report the problem is also on the Isle of Wight! I live in the West Wight & have always had very good displays,I am at least relieved to have an explanation for the complete failure this year, but what a terrible shame!

  31. georgaline (not verified) (You)

    My pots of busy lizzies were terrible and I thought I had had killed them, my baskets were great then all of a sudden went the same way. I live in Northern Ireland and this is the first time they have went like this, I have noticed other peoples as well.
    Hopefully my winter pansies will be better.

  32. Lorna Holland (not verified) (You)

    I have gradually had to remove about 200 plants. The first ones to be infected were some variegated ones from Thompson and Morgan. These never grew well even in the greenhouse before I hardened them off and I suspect they were already infected when I received them. It was hard to notice on the veriegatd leaves I have two pouches which still seem OK. One is under the porch and one hanging off the trunk of a large silver birch tree. This seems to tie in with the theory that the exposed ones suffer first,. I live near Maidstone Kent.

  33. Roy Kibble (not verified) (You)

    Sadly i have had the same problems with my Busy Lizzies, one minute a gorgeous show in borders,baskets,tubs & bags and then almost overnight lost all of them. The only survivor a double plant in the conservatory that i had taken numerous cuttings from, indoor cuttings still ok but the outdoor ones lasted about a week before suffering the same problem. I live in West Oxfordshire.

  34. sandra nixon (not verified) (You)

    I have had the same problem with my Busy Lizzies here on the Isle of Man, bought from our local B & Q store,all the flowers & leaves disappeared only stems left, but my neighbour has a beautiful display in hanging containers which dont seem to have been affected.

  35. Geoff Hodge (not verified) (You)

    Yes, the disease spores are airborne. But they will also remain in the soil/compost, so will affect plants grown in the same soil/compost when the spores are splashed back onto the leaves when it rains/when watering.

  36. Pam Blackshaw (not verified) (You)

    I grew all my Bizzie Lizzie plants this year from seeds. I had a wonderful display with the biggest flowers I’ve ever had. You’ve guessed it – the dreaded mildew disease started attacking the main border at the back of the house, quickly followed by hanging baskets. Today, I found that the pots in the front of the house have started to ‘go’. I haven’t read all the postings on this site so I apologise if I am asking a question which you have already answered, that being, how is the disease transmitted? Is it airborn?

  37. Marian Carthew (not verified) (You)

    Back in July I had beautiful flowers on my Busy Lizzies. I went away for a weekend towards the end of that month only to return to find most of my flowers and their leaves gone. In less than a week there was nothing left but the stems. Other flowers were fine. I live in Carmarthenshire.

  38. Geoff Hodge (not verified) (You)

    Hi everyone. Thanks for all your comments – keep them coming as we’re finding them very useful.
    Lynn & Linda, as previously mentioned, this downy mildew disease is specific to impatiens. Courgettes and pansies (and lots of other plants) do get a powdery mildew disease, but each one is specific to a plant/group of plants. So pansy powdery mildew will only attack pansies, marrow powdery mildew will only attack, marrows, courgettes and closely related plants.
    Powdery mildews are not as damaging as downy mildews, so if your plants do get it, they may look unsightly, but it is highly unlikely to kill them. Ornamental plants can be protected against attack (protection is the best way to stop diseases) by spraying with FungusClear BEFORE the plants get the disease. Fungicides work best as a protection rather than a cure.
    Powdery mildews are always worse in warm, dry conditions especially when the plants are under stress by being dry at the roots.

  39. Linda Johnson (not verified) (You)

    Three weeks ago there was a torrential downpour and all the petals came if my busy lizzies but they were still flourishing and budding. The budding never materielised and I put it down to something in the rain as all the leaves and buds dissappeared and I was left with stalks. I have replaced with pansies so if the problem was the mildew will it kill the pansies as well?

  40. Dave (not verified) (You)

    brought busy lizzies from a grower in jersy as plugs split the plugs between me and my brother in law in Birmingham i live in Derbyshire but all the plants went at the same time with the same symptoms is it possible that the decease came from the grower or is it just a coincident

  41. Brenda (not verified) (You)

    Bought several trays of very healthy looking busy lizzies from an excellent garden centre in Clitheroe but within a month after planting in tubs they were just stalks. I was blaming it on the lack if sun this year but it looks like they have succumbed to the disease

  42. Lynn Freeman (not verified) (You)

    i have had the same problem…i live in Rochford Essex and bought my Bizzie Lizzies locally from 2 different places. At first the ones in the pots died and as someone else mentioned it was the light coloured ones that went first. the ones I had planted in the garden did really well especially the deep coloured ones – but then about 1-2 weeks ago i noticed that they have died as well. they seem to go really quickly just leaving a stem. i have now noticed my 1 and only corgette plant has mildew – could this be conected ??

  43. Des Rice (not verified) (You)

    Yes, we had a beautiful display here in belfast but within 2 weeks the Busy Lizzies in every basket, pot and bed were devastated. What a shame

  44. Sarah Atkinson (not verified) (You)

    Nearly all my Lizzies have succumbed too (as has my sisters) up here in Hartlepool. I have managed to hold on to a couple of plants planted in a wishing-well up ‘til now but sadly now they too look as though they are on their way out….such a shame to lose such a lovely plant….but glad to know that it’s nothing I’ve done. Thanks for the info Geoff.

  45. Lisa Cattanach (not verified) (You)

    I know this is vein of many peoples responses but I am so glad to find out what happen to my bizzies this year. I planted an entire border right round the edge of my garden with them, I am now concerned about contaminated soil. They flowered briefly but then I lost them all with the symptoms as described, just glad it wasn’t me I bought them in two nurseries where I live near to Benfleet in Essex. I also planted several tubs and hanging baskets with mixed annuals including bizzy’s and lost them in the tubs as well. I am concerned though with comments that it cannot spread. One tub of mine had about 8 bizzy’s around the base of a standard rose, the rose now has a white mildew material all over its leaves seems strange that the rose was healthy until the bizzy’s died, what can I treat my rose with please? Also the petunias that were touching the bizzy’s in my hanging basket have also died. Very disappointing this year all round I lost my courgettes to mildew as well, oh well better luck next year. Hope to be at the Barleylands show in September, Many thanks Lisa

  46. carole freeman (not verified) (You)

    my buzzy lizzies are also in this state,im just about to empty tubs of them bought mine from dobies very disapointing year ,im in south yorkshire

  47. Geoff Hodge (not verified) (You)

    This will be pansy powdery mildew – completely different disease. You can protect plants from attack by spraying with FungusClear.

  48. Geoff Hodge (not verified) (You)

    Good choices for shade include begonias – both fibrous-rooted and tubers – fuchsias, lobelia, pansies and violas. Does anyone else have some good suggestions for shady places?

  49. Frank Burrows (not verified) (You)

    I live in wigan and after initially looking wonderful all I have left in my tubs and borders are stalks. You say this mildew is only effecting the busy lizzies I have quite a number of violas which are mixed in with the busy lizzies and they too have stopped flowering and have a mildew look to the leaves. Is this soley down to the atrocius north west summer we have had so far ?

  50. Georgie (not verified) (You)

    I live in Cheshire and lost quite a few BL quite quickly after planting them. Several started to grow quite well, so I thought the slugs must have got the others. I had bought from 2 different places a very good garden centre and a DIY store. But then a few weeks ago, every BL plant started to slowly die. I have to say also i agree with a couple of other comments, that last year quite a few off my BL plants were not up to the usual fantastic display. It is such a shame, these plants are wonderful in the garden, so versitile, I have grown them for many years and can’t imagine them not being on my gardening shopping list next year. All my keen gardening friends and family have all reported the exact same problem.