I’m a big fan of African violets, but sometimes you need something a little different if you’re looking for a plant that will flower indoors.
Impatiens, that stalwart garden plant for shady areas in the garden, is every bit as fantastic indoors as it is outside.
They flower cheerfully whether you put them under a tree outdoors or near a window in your home or office.
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Also known as jewelweed, busy Lizzie, patience, or touch-me-not, impatiens have been a garden favorite for decades because they’re adaptable and floriferous.
Most people don’t realize, however, that they can be lovely houseplants, too.
If you aren’t familiar with impatiens, first check out our growing guide to find out their history, environmental needs, and potential problems.
Then come back here, and we’ll talk about what it takes to grow them indoors. Here’s what we’ll discuss:
If your interior is just begging for some color, let’s jump in!
Impatiens can be started the same way indoors that they can be outdoors. You can grow them from seed, take cuttings, or transplant purchased starts.
Here’s the process for each in a nutshell:
Impatiens seeds need light to germinate, so just press them into the soil. From there, it’s all about keeping the soil moist and providing bright, indirect light.
Seeds typically germinate in a few weeks, and once they grow a few true leaves, you can transplant them into individual containers.
Rooting cuttings involves taking a stem with a few leaves on it and planting it in a pot filled with seed-starting mix. Place this in a spot with bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist.
New growth should develop within a few weeks. That’s when you know your cutting is happy and developing roots.
Of course, you can always just buy live impatiens plants. There isn’t much to do other than maybe repotting them if you want to display them in a different container.
We’ll talk about that process under Maintenance below.
If you’re wondering if you can propagate your outdoor impatiens and bring them inside, the answer is: yes, absolutely!
How to Grow
Think about the kind of conditions that most impatiens thrive in.
They like moisture, low light, and moderate temperatures – just the kind of environment that you can provide for them indoors.
It can be tricky sometimes to strike the right light balance with houseplants. Too little light, and your impatiens will be leggy and stunted. Too much, and they’ll burn.
But impatiens aren’t too challenging. The exact exposure required will depend on the species that you’re growing, but common impatiens do best with a bit of direct morning sun and bright, indirect light for the rest of the day.
Just stick them in front of an east-facing window, or a west- or south-facing window with sheer curtains, and you’re probably good to go.
Impatiens will flower indoors, but if they don’t receive enough light, they will stop flowering. If your plants stop blooming and become leggy, move them to brighter light and pinch them back to encourage new, bushy growth.
Some varieties, like New Guinea impatiens (I. hawkeri), might do best if you grow them outdoors during the summer and indoors during the winter so they can have the sunlight they crave.
If you want to move the plants outside, you must harden them off for at least a week first.
Plants can be hardened off by taking them out to the place where you intend to keep them for one hour on the first day, then bringing them back in.
On the second day, take them outside for two hours and then bring them in. Add an hour each day for a full week.
Providing enough moisture, both in the soil and the air, is probably the biggest challenge in keeping impatiens happy indoors.
Our indoor air tends to be drier than the outdoor air because of things like air conditioning, forced air heating, and air filtration.
You want the plants to be exposed to air that is moderately humid, and the soil should stay moist but not wet.
Having said that, it seems like most new houseplant growers fall into one of two groups: those who overwater in an attempt to be good plant parents or because they stick to a schedule without checking the actual moisture level, and the neglect-prone people who forget to water for weeks on end.
I fell firmly into the first group when I started out. It took me a while – and a good moisture meter – to figure out how to water well.
Whether you’re a newbie or an old hand at houseplant growing, you must check your soil before adding water. Don’t make assumptions.
Feel the soil or stick a moisture meter probe in there. The soil should register as moderately moist, a five on a scale of one to 10, or it should feel like a well-wrung-out sponge. If it feels drier than that, it’s time to water.
Don’t worry, impatiens will tell you when they’re thirsty. They’ll start to droop.
Curious about why this happens? It’s because the plant contains tubes or vessels called phloem and xylem that are used to move the water throughout the plant.
When there isn’t enough water, the pressure in the xylem is too low and the tubes collapse, causing the herbaceous stems to droop because part of their support structure is gone.
A plant will close the stomata, or pores, in its leaves to conserve water and build up pressure, but if there isn’t water available to access, it won’t recover until you provide moisture.
Feeding indoor impatiens needs to be more frequent than with outdoor specimens since they have to rely entirely on you for nutrients.
Feed them every two weeks during the spring and fall with a mild, flower-specific fertilizer.
Down to Earth Rose & Flower Mix
Something like Down to Earth’s Rose & Flower Mix will work well. It’s available at Arbico Organics in one-, five-, or 15-pound compostable containers.
Once you have your fertilizer, dilute it by half and apply it to the soil.
There are two parts to maintaining impatiens indoors. First is pruning.
You can somewhat ignore impatiens outdoors. They will keep blooming even if you don’t deadhead them. But indoors, they almost always become leggy.
Pinching them regularly helps, as can pruning back the stems after the flowers fade.
You can do this using your fingernails or a clean pair of scissors. Cut stems back to just above a leaf bud at the approximate height where you’d like to maintain the plant.
Secondly, you will also need to repot your plant periodically. You have two options here:
If you want to keep using the pot that you have the plant growing in already, there will come a point where your impatiens outgrows its container.
You’ll know this is happening when roots start to poke out of the drainage holes.
At this point, you can divide the plant and place part in another container, keeping the remaining portion in the original container.
Remove the impatiens plant from its pot and gently tease apart the roots and aboveground growth into sections of the size you prefer. Brush away the soil and remove any dead or damaged roots.
Replant the main part in its original pot, refreshing the soil as needed. You can plant the other portion in a new container, or just plant it outside or give it to a friend if you’re out of space.
The other option is to move into a larger pot. Choose a pot one or two sizes up from the existing container.
Remove the old plant and brush off the soil. Trim off any dead or damaged roots that you see. Fill the new pot with clean, fresh potting soil and firm the plant into the new container.
This is the same process you’ll follow for transplanting a newly-purchased plant into a different container.
Both options for repotting can be done at any time of year.
Be aware that some species are annuals and you’ll have to either replace them at the end of the season or propagate them to keep your impatiens display going.
Species and Cultivars to Select
Any varieties of impatiens that can grow outdoors can grow indoors as well, at least for a time.
Species or hybrids that need bright light, like those in the SunPatiens series, will need to be placed in a window or somewhere with direct sunlight or supplemental light.
Or they might do best if they can spend the summer outdoors.
Himalayan balsam (I. glandulifera) needs partial sun, but it’s an excellent indoor option in part because this is a safe way to grow it without it becoming invasive, which it can do outdoors.
You can let this one dry out a bit between watering, and you should definitely deadhead it or it will shoot its seed missiles and stop flowering.
I. parasitica, which is an epiphytic plant, can happily grow indoors mounted on wood or stone. It’s much harder to find than other types, but it’s well worth snatching up if you see it.
I. repens is a stellar species for hanging baskets.
It has a trailing habit with long, red stems that add color to the room even when it’s not in bloom.
The most common type of impatiens in stores is I. walleriani. These are plants that thrive in shady areas of the yard, and they also do extremely well indoors.
Candy Box Mixed Impatiens
If you want to start with a combination of colors, Burpee carries a Candy Box mix of colors with pink, fuchsia, purple, and salmon flowers.
Choose from a packet of 30 I. walleriani seeds or 12 live plants.
Managing Pests and Disease
Indoor plants have far fewer opportunities to encounter pests and diseases than those grown outside.
You can help ensure that’s the case by quarantining any plants that you bring home or back in from a vacation outdoors until you’re sure they aren’t carrying any hitchhikers.
You should also always be sure to clean any pots and tools that you use with soapy water.
Aphids and spider mites are going to be your two major concerns.
The yellow melon aphid (Aphis gossypii) is the most common species that you may come across, but any aphid that hangs out on houseplants might give your plants a nibble, sucking out the sap.
When they do, you’ll see yellowing leaves and stunted growth.
Spider mites, particularly the two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae), can cause similar symptoms, but you’ll know aphids aren’t the problem because they leave behind a fine webbing as they colonize a plant.
The easiest and least chemical-intensive way to deal with either of these is to isolate your plant.
Spray the pests off in your shower or sink using a steady stream of water, and repeat this once a week until the pests are gone.
You can also spray your plant with neem oil after it dries off if you want to be extra sure you’re getting rid of the pests.
Unless your plants are already infected with the dreaded impatiens downy mildew (IDW) when you bring them home, you won’t have to worry about this incredibly common disease.
When a plant is infected with the oomycete Plasmopara obducens, the leaves become discolored and begin to curl at the edges. Eventually, the plant defoliates.
Again, be sure to isolate new plants to check for signs of disease before allowing them to share a space with your other plants!
Impatiens Are Just As Nice Indoors
Impatiens are grown in gardens everywhere for a reason. They’re unfussy and provide long-lasting color, even in shady spots. But few of us think of them as houseplants.
Why on earth not? They can bring that cheerful color just as easily to your living room or home office!
Which impatiens will you be growing indoors? Tell us in the comments section below!
If you’d like a few other options for indoor color, check out these guides next: