For gardeners, impatiens is in short supply this year
Local gardeners who are fans of impatiens may be disappointed this spring if they plan to bring the plant’s popular splash of color to shady areas of their yards.
A nasty disease known as Impatiens downy mildew is decimating the impatiens walleriana species, and some local greenhouses are not selling it this year for fear of spreading the mildew and disappointing customers.
Sally Sawyer, co-owner of Mountain Greenery in West Bethel, is disappointed herself. “It’s one of our bigger annual crops,” she said. “We usually sell more than 1,000 flats.”
Impatiens are popular for their color, low-maintenance and love of the shade.
Sawyer first learned of the problem in January when she read about it in a newspaper – after she had already ordered and received her 2013 supply of impatiens seeds. “We sent our seeds back,” she said.
The mildew was first discovered a decade ago in England. For the past three years, said Sawyer, impatiens have not been sold in Europe.
The symptoms of mildew start with yellow and droopy leaves, followed by a light gray growth that appears on underside of the leaves. The leaves eventually drop off. The mildew spores can be spread by wind and water. Sawyer said that although impatiens seeds should be free from the mildew, the sprouting plants can pick it up from spores left behind in greenhouses and elsewhere last season and then spread it further.
“We don’t want it in our greenhouses, or be selling it to people,” she said.
When her greenhouse opened last week, people coming in immediately asked for impatiens. When told the news, said Sawyer, “they were all very sad.”
At Pooh Corner Farm in Gilead, greenhouse owner Carole Duplessis has not entirely ruled out impatiens this season, but, she said, “I am growing a precious few and will display an information sign next to them. If there was a problem in the garden last year, it will be present this year. I use a lot for weddings and containers, so I will have some available. It also has not been present everywhere, so some people want to chance it. But this is likely my last year with them since the disease will stay in the soil for five years. I’m counting on the plant breeders to bring us a resistant variety.”
Both Duplessis and Sawyer recommend wax begonia as an alternative to impatiens, and Sawyer also suggests coleus.
For more information on impatiens downy mildew go to www.maine.gov/agriculture/horticulture/ImpatiensDownyMildew.htm