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Gardening & More: Impatiens are doomed; choose other shade plants, instead

PLAN B — Impatiens has been gardeners’ favorite flower for the shade, but this plant is being obliterated by a disease. Until growers develop a strain of impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) that is resistant to downy mildew, you will have to choose alternative plants for your shade garden. Foxglove is a perennial that has bell-shaped flowers with vivid markings. Photo from Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses.


HAMBURG — You might be able to buy impatiens, this year, but after that, don’t expect to find them, anywhere in Western New York.

That is bad news for local gardeners with shady gardens. It is hard to find plants that flower in the shade and impatiens has everything you could want, in a shade plant. It has beautiful flowers that come in many different colors. The plant grows in a lovely, mounding shape and you could fill a large area for a relatively low price. It was such a great and dependable plant, for the shade. Until now.

Downy mildew is obliterating impatiens. It struck our area, last year, and people couldn’t figure out what they did wrong. Their impatiens could be thriving on Friday and, by Monday, they were dead.

If that happened to you, you did not do anything wrong. That’s small comfort, though, when we look at the scope of the problem.

There is nothing that you, as a home gardener, can do, to prevent or treat downy mildew. There are no sprays to fix this. There is nothing you can put in the soil. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you water your plants.

If downy mildew is in your garden and gets on your impatiens, the plants will die.

Downy mildew is airborne and it stays in the soil. If you were lucky and your impatiens plants were not affected last year, don’t count on being lucky, again. Your impatiens will probably be killed. If your plants were affected last year, they will die again, this year.

If you plant impatiens, this year, they will probably be killed by downy mildew.

Despite everything I’ve said, if you insist on buying impatiens, you will have to look hard for them. Some garden centers won’t carry them, at all. Others will have only a small supply and sell them, without a guarantee.

Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses in Williamsville will grow and sell a limited number of impatiens, this year, with signs’ warning customers that they cannot guarantee the plants, once the plants leave the garden center.

There is a treatment that can be applied in the greenhouse, so the plants you buy will be healthy. Unfortunately, the treatment lasts only a few weeks. “There is nothing we can do, once the plants leave the premises, to ensure that they will live,” said Mark Yadon, vice president at Mischler’s. He said that, sometimes, education goes only so far.

“Much of the time, people have to experience things, for themselves,” he said. “If a gardener hasn’t had a problem, it’s hard for that gardener not to buy impatiens. This will be the last year we sell impatiens.”

Lockwood’s Greenhouses in Hamburg will not be selling impatiens at all, this year.

Because downy mildew overwinters in the soil, for five years, refrain from planting impatiens for at least that long, said Jill Kisker, grower at Lockwood’s.

Companies are trying to breed impatiens that are resistant to downy mildew, but, until then, look for alternatives to impatiens.

Fortunately, this disease does not spread to other plants, so there are many possibilities, to choose from.

Two upcoming events can help you choose alternatives to impatiens.

A free class on shade gardening without impatiens will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 20 at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, located at 4484 Clark St. in Hamburg.

Sally Cunningham, a gardening expert, will show many fine, shade gardening plants and demonstrate using them, for displays. The event will also suggest perennials you can begin to incorporate, into spaces impatiens used to fill.

Some garden design handouts and plant groupings will be provided.

A 49 cent perennial sale will be held, through Saturday, April 27, at Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses, located at 118 South Forest Road in Williamsville. This is an opportunity to fill in your shady garden with inexpensive perennials that will spread.

You can see the entire list of sale plants online, at www.mischlersflorist.com. This list indicates which plants work in the shade.

I will share more ideas on alternatives to impatiens, in an upcoming article.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.
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