Impatiens are a common, easily grown summer annual that lights up shady yards throughout the country. When I worked for my brother in Rhode Island, we used to plant over 20,000 impatiens each year at our family pediatrician’s home. It’s quite possible that you use them as well, either in your beds or in containers. I wanted to give you the bad news that this year, you probably don’t want to use bedding impatiens. It seems there’s been a disease called impatiens downy mildew sweeping through Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Plant experts are predicting that it will wreak havoc in the US this year.
What does impatiens downy mildew do?
The disease can start as a white, downy growth on the underside of the leaves. According to what Dr. Armitage said in his talk (see? You should have gone) the plants will chug along just fine until the leaf and stem color turns really light, leaves and petals drop, and eventually the stems collapse. There’s nothing that can be done to save the affected plants. Not only do the spores stay in the soil but they are also airborne. This means even your containers will likely be affected.
That’s just great. Is this ALL impatiens?
The good news is that impatiens downy mildew does not affect all types of impatiens. It affects the common bedding impatiens, Impatiens walleriana, in the photo above. You can still plant New Guinea impatiens and the funky cool SunPatiens. Even if your soil contains the spores for impatiens downy mildew, the disease does not affect other bedding plants. You can mix it up this year, planting begonias, coleus, New Guinea impatiens and other great bedding plants.
I’m certainly bummed out by this news, but it’s better to know this before planting, right? If you’re unsure how to still get great color in your annual beds go talk to someone at your local independent garden center. Unlike the big box stores they’ll be happy to help you out and will have great alternatives for you.