Impatiens downy mildew is terrible, and dealing with it means
losing more than the plants and their show. Here's a frightening,
true story meant not to scare but to make two points. One, if
you're a professional gardener, or you ever carry tools or plants
to friends' gardens or places where you volunteer, start viewing
impatiens as hazardous material. Think ahead if you touch them so
you can limit the contact, and clean up before you touch anything
else. Two, think again if you view your garden as safe because you
have not seen the disease that is devastating impatiens all over
the eastern part of the continent. We hope you will know, after
reading this, how easily and innocently everyone from a mail
carrier to a songbird is spreading it.
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Janet arrived at a garden to find the impatiens had succumbed to
downy mildew. That was disappointing but no surprised -- we've been
looking for it every day, and hearing from others how suddenly it
can appear. It was no comfort to know that we planted clean plants
(remnants from the flats purchased for this garden went into the
ground elsewhere and continue healthy), but it was proof of how
easily this disease can spread.
Below: Impatiens downy mildew is
spreading quickly across North America, and this story explains why
so many growers and professional gardeners think it's pretty much
Above: It's a species
that can look skimpy for other reasons but when we turn over a leaf
and see downy white, we cross impatiens off the list for that
Resigned to the unexpected job, Janet dug in to get rid of the
plants. Almost an hour went by before she realized what hadn't
occurred to us before. She looked at what she was digging and
bagging, considered herself and saw she had become a vector of the
Her gloves were full of spores yet she'd gone to the tool bucket
for additional tools -- how many and which things did she touch?!
Spores had fallen from the plants and drifted all over, including
on and in the wheelbarrow. Her boots, including the upper surfaces,
must be covered in spores. She'd also touched her clothes,
eyeglasses, camera, phone...
Below: Looking into the tool bucket she wondered, "How many
things did I touch, here?" But it didn't matter -- spores would
have fallen onto everything.
She was scheduled to work in another garden that day, but had to
cancel, since first she had to decontaminate before going
anywhere.... even home. (Ironically, we had a misery-loves company
talk with Michigan State University plant pathologist Dennis
Fulbright just weeks ago, after he remarked, "I inadvertently bring
home everything bad I work on!")
Two hours later, Janet arrived home wearing new clothes, with
tools and work clothes sealed in plastic and the wheelbarrow
wrapped in a plastic tarp. She'd had to buy the clothes, plastic
bags and disposable tarp, plus enough bleach to make a 10% bleach
solution in the bathtub -- the only place we could soak large
wooden-handled tools for the recommended 30 minutes. Her choice in
stores had been based on not having to park or walk anywhere except
across vegetation-free pavement.
"I don't know, Steven," she said glumly. "I tried to drop my
work clothes and boots straight into the plastic bags but the
changing room in the store really ought to be disinfected now."
Right: All the tools and the tool bucket went into the tub
for 30 minutes in a tub filled with 9 parts water, 1 part bleach.
Boots... thank goodness they're due for replacement because being
scrubbed with bleach water is not going to add to their
It took three hours to get everything soaked in or wiped down with
bleach solution. Fortunately, the metal handle wheelbarrow was
involved, not the one with wooden handles. Drat that the new boots
we hate to break in mid-season are probably now a necessity.
We are trying not to think about all that time plus a half day's
work lost, and the total money spent. We're thinking, "Maybe we can
spare someone else this mess!"
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