Favorite summer flowering plant hit by disease
Lush, beautiful impatiens in pinks, purples, brilliant white and deep oranges are a favorite annual of almost any gardener with a shady growing area. But this year, nurserymen, garden centers and growers are advising against planting them.
Impatiens walleriana has been hit with an emerging disease called downy mildew that infects the plants and results in leafless stems that then collapse. The disease was first seen in Florida a number of years ago and has been on the move ever since and is now in more than 30 states, including the Garden State.
The good news is that there are lots of other showy plants that do well in the shade that garden centers and landscapers in the area are stocking this growing season.
Paul Molzon of Molzon Garden Center in Lincroft, called impatiens downy mildew “a terrible thing.
“There’s no actual cure for it,” he said. “Most of the growers just aren’t growing it because people aren’t going to buy it. Most of the landscapers are just going to switch to using other plants.”
Impatiens downy mildew only infects the Impatiens walleriana, not New Guinea impatiens or sunpatiens, which look remarkably like the impacted variety of impatiens, or other plants.
Plants that are infected will get a fuzzy, white growth on the underside of the leaf.
“That’s the first sign,” Molzon said. “The next step is a lot of the foliage will fall off. There might be just a few small leaves left with a few flowers on the top. The next step is … the stems will just fall down as if they had melted,” he said.
“The big problem is (growers and experts) don’t know how long this will last in the soil. It’s out there. It handles the cold; it overwinters in the soil. So, if you had a problem, you don’t want to plant impatiens there again because you’ll definitely have the problem again.”
The Master Gardeners at Sickles Market in Little Silver have assembled a collection of hearty, colorful alternatives to impatiens, making selections that are particularly suited to conditions at the Shore. The easy-to-grow, shade tolerant and fungus-resistant plants include New Guinea impatiens, sunpatiens, angel wing begonias, torenia, angelonia, ivy geraniums, caladium and coleus, and they will prove a worthy replacement to the fungus-prone impatiens.
“These substitute plants are so easy to care for and give a wider range of colors and textures that were lacking with impatiens,” said Natale Siclare, garden center manager.
Molzon also is recommending substituting impatiens with such plants as begonias.
“There are tons of great begonias that will handle the shade … They come in all different colors” and varieties, including common garden begonia that come in flats, the dragon wing begonias and a variety called “Big” that grow to about 24-inches tall, he said.
Coleus, which come in a variety of vivid colors, lobelia and New Guinea impatiens and sunpatiens are also recommended to take the place of the annual favorite.
Molzon has been proactive about letting his clients know about the problem by sending information weeks ago in his newsletter and putting it on his Facebook page. “I’m going to have a few impatiens in but have a big sign on them to educate people,” Molzon said.
“All the large seed companies are working on this like crazy because it will be a big hit,” he said.