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Where Are All the Impatiens?

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Where Are All the Impatiens?

Do you love planting impatiens, those bright, velvety annuals that seem to be found around every other suburban tree each spring?

If so, you may need to find an alternative this year, and for a few years to come. A killer fungus is destroying these popular shade loving plants faster than greenhouses can grow them. As a result, many garden centers are pulling them from their inventory.

A vicious strain of downy mildew has been plaguing the Impatiens walleriana population since at least 2011, and growing worse over the last couple of seasons. Horticulturists estimate that the saleable stock of the plants in the U.S. and Canada may be down by as much as 45% this summer, and many of those that are sold may still ultimately succumb to the disease, which lingers in the soil from year to year.

Downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens) is actually a type of mold that thrives in cool, damp conditions. It first appears on the undersides of leaves as a light, fuzzy coating of spores (thus the descriptor “downy”). Because the early stages of the mold’s development are easy for gardeners to miss, plants are usually too far gone to save by time it’s discovered.

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The disease can spread in one of two ways: through the air, via the spores, and through infected soil. The disease gets into the soil through the stems of infected plants and can live through the winter.

What to Do if You’ve Had Infected Impatiens
If you planted impatiens in the last couple of years, only to have them mysteriously die off, you may have contracted downy mildew. You’ll need to treat your soil with a soil fungicide before growing more impatiens in that soil — the disease does not affect other varieties of plants.

If you’ve planted impatiens this year, you may not notice signs of downy mildew until later in the season — late June or beyond. If you do start to lose your impatiens, do not compost them or allow them to decompose in place. Dig up all diseased plants, seal them in an airtight bag, and throw them in the trash. Using infected plants in compost will allow the disease to spread.

Alternatives to Impatiens
If you’re a die-hard impatiens lover who is distressed over their sudden scarcity, there are some alternatives.

Torenia (wishbone flower), wax begonias, coleus, hostas, and bleeding heart are all viable options to fill that empty space in your garden this spring.

While it’s always painful to lose an old standby, enterprising growers could view this impatiens plague as an opportunity to branch out and add new colors and shapes to their ornamental gardens.

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1 Jaime McLeod { 05.12.13 at 2:48 am }

Dotty, if you’ve never lost any impatiens, that spot should be OK. You could treat it with a fungicide to be safe.

2 Dotty { 05.10.13 at 3:51 pm }

I am sorry to learn about this fungus. My husband and I love to garden and we planted lots of impatients the last few yrs and have not had a problem. We always put them in the same spot, should we change them this time or leave them their. We live by the ocean in Maine.
Thank You

3 Cindy { 05.08.13 at 12:24 pm }

Impatiens come up every year and grow like weeds around my property. They reseed on their own. I live in Ohio so it will be close to July before they will be actively growing. I do hope this will not affect my plants. I will be sure not to purchase any at greenhouses for early blooms as I sometimes do.

4 Queen Thumb { 05.07.13 at 11:44 am }

No, it’s for real. I planted a dozen+ a few months ago and within weeks they were shot. Never bloomed and went leafless. This is heartbreaking, in gardener-world, anyway.
Now I have three little seedlings that are poking up and I so hope they’re somehow resistant to this blight. Fingers crossed.
In the mean time, cheery torenias fill in the low and the good ol’ self-seeding, butterfly attractin’, PENTAS are filling the high spaces.

5 Tracy { 05.06.13 at 9:14 am }

Um I am thinking that there will be impatients. Not every impatient everywhere is affected. Sounds like a ploy to get other plants bought to replace the beloved impatient…. Why not grow from seed?

6 Jaime McLeod { 05.07.13 at 9:06 am }

Jennifer, you won’t be able to see that the soil is infected.

7 Jennifer { 05.06.13 at 8:38 am }

I wonder if you could post a picture of infected soil, please? I grew impatiens last year and this year I emptied out the pot in order to use it to plant more, and found a foul smelling yellow-orange substance taking over the soil where I expected to find the root system. I would love to know if this is what I was finding as I gardened yesterday. Thank you!

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