Our email's loaded with it:
This year (our impatiens) started off beautifully but
now look like they have been eaten. The leaves and blossoms are
gone leaving just the stems. We water on a very regular schedule
and have never had this problem before... Can you tell if this is
from a fungus or an insect/animal? Please help and let us know if
they can be saved and what we can do to avoid this next year.
Thanks! - J.H. -
Some beds of impatiens I have planted are in serious
decline. They have been exposed to the hot sun probably more this
summer than others and the irrigation doesn't seem to be able to
keep up. Is it perhaps the heat of this summer, or do I have a
possible blight situation? - J.G. -
I've heard the impatiens were all diseased. I think mine
have it... - M.J. -
...What do you think about this impatiens disease? -
(To comment or ask... )
Most of the time we are optimists
always able to see a silver lining. If it will ruin your day to
see us in a different stance, then pass by this article. We urge
you to bear up, however, in order to consider a problem that does
or will affect you, and a reasonable response that's not being
The gist of this:
• Welcome to the future of gardening
• How the disease spread
• No one is to blame
• Unstoppable invaders
• Not doom and gloom. How we'll beat
• Avoiding divisiveness; we need to join
• We'll all keep growing
• Skip to how to know it and control it, or
links and more help from other
sources such as Michigan State University bulletins (right)
Impatiens are failing
in gardens and greenhouses all over eastern North America. In
the last few years the problem has spread from one State to 25
despite attempts to stop it. So sad. These plants have been among
the most reliable plants in the flower garden during the last 30
years but they may become a rarity in the landscape because of a
virulent disease called downy mildew.
If it's already in your garden, learn about the disease to avoid
more failure next year. This year, plant something
different -- it's not too late!
If you haven't seen it yet, learn how to keep things that
Welcome to the future of
where we lose big because we've grown big. Before we lose you,
be assured we think we gardeners will rebound in a big way, too.
Stick with us for a few paragraphs as we explain.
The quick, steady, global exchange of goods unique to our era is
stirring what was once a very slow simmering pot. We are spreading
microorganisms between regions and continents at a terrifying rate.
At the same time, homogenization of the landscape and
centralization of plant production have provided disease organisms
with great opportunities to settle in and spread.
How did the disease get here?
For decades, impatiens have been so reliable in so many
situations that more of them have been planted than almost all
other annuals combined. Many have been grown in less than perfect
conditions, and stressed plants are weak plants, primed to contract
diseases and harbor insect pests. So a truck tire that rolled over
infected plants in a sadsack parking lot bed near a port where
spores wafted in from a contaminated shipping container will carry
the spores to similarly susceptible plants in other miserable
growing places, all along its route.
That said, please don't conclude that we are blaming the
shippers. There are a thousand thousand routes these tiny fungal
invaders take, including the feet of vacationing gardeners, tools
inadvertently tainted, beds infected by spores from birds'
feet. In a mess such as this, fault should not even be the issue.
The truth is that because everyone's involved and none of us are
going to give up our easy access to the huge range of plants the
big system affords, it's no one's fault.
And everyone is suffering this loss. Growers are no less taken
aback by their reliable crop's failure than you are by the
miserable show the plants put on in your prime hanging baskets.
Perhaps some growers are less surprised, having been to conferences
where plant pathologists reported the first sightings. Yet even if
alarm bells have been sounding louder since then (2004), it's one
noise in a din as many similar alarms are ringing. We believe the
professional growers are doing all they can in a difficult
situation and the best we can hope for is that savvy gardeners and
smart growers will slow the spread while hybridizers work on
alternate species and resistant varieties -- perhaps from crosses
between the standard, susceptible impatiens and their resistant
cousins, the New Guinea impatiens.
"They should have known," you may say, "and not sold those to
me." In some cases, maybe so. However, infection can happen all
along a network where massive greenhouses are cross linked to sales
points in a dozen States. In addition, the most efficient retailers
may not even have the plants in stock long enough to see symptoms
Certainly some must have seen, though. A few of those who were
informed as well as lucky put all the clues together quickly enough
to deflect that bit of the invasion. Yet even as we admire those
efforts, we think they may be no more effective than those of an
individual who can swat just one storm-driven locust at a time from
a swarm coming in on a tornado.
The tornado is us, voracious consumers entwined with the
grower-, shipper- seller network that developed to serve us. The
locusts are emerald
ash borer, downy mildew, lily leaf beetle, oak wilt and
hundreds of other organisms that could never, in another economy,
have crossed oceans and diverse environments to find homes away
from home so primed to accept and breed them.
NOT doom and
gloom. How our gardening community will beat this!
We are not predicting doom, only observing the reality of change
in this maelstrom. The fungus that causes downy mildew has already
swept through Europe, where impatiens are simply no longer a player
in the landscape. And yet: Gardens still exist there! Now the
disease is here (and was almost certainly here long before the
first official sightings) and it's our turn to adapt.
Are we at least as good as a fungus at adaptation? Can we plant
different plants? Can we diversify our beds? Can we
stop planting the same thing in the same place year after year?
All of that will help. It will not only make some small openings
where impatiens may still sometimes appear, but it will improve the
garden's health overall so it can resist the spread of the next
And have no doubt, it will come.
Above, right: Botanical gardens must come to grips and find
alternatives, too. We are glad to have their lead to follow. We'll
be watching what these pros plant where once they spread great
swaths of Impatiens.
Avoid divisiveness -
it's time to work together
One last thing. Please view people who supply us with plants as
comrades in arms. One reason we continue to garden professionally
even though it's physically hard, relatively low paid work, is
because we love this field and the people in it. That sentiment
unites most of the many professionals we know, from gardener to
The vast majority of people we know who sell plants not only
want to continue working with you but honestly like their clientele
as fellow plant lovers. Many are giving refunds for impatiens,
breaking all custom and taking a significant loss even though they
know they did all they could. Yet we've seen astonished sadness in
many of their faces recently as they told us that honest
commiseration plus store credit or a refund was met with
They're on your side so take advantage of that. There is no
absolute defense but good growers and garden center managers are
inspecting all their plants for symptoms. They can help you see
what to look for, so if the disease makes an appearance in your
garden you can snuff it quickly.
We'll all keep
...there simply is no other future for a gardener. We hope we
can be smart, continue to smile, and come out ahead together, even
in this strange new, impatiens-poor world.
Links and more help from other
Above: See something odd on your plants and want an answer
right now? The Internet offers a simple way to compare what you see
to known problems. Set a search engine to "images" and type the
plant species name plus one or more words that describe the
symptoms. Then look for matches and start with the Extension
bulletins (.edu and your State's college abbreviation in the URL is
your cue) to get the straightest story.
Michigan State University Extension's summary
of the problem
Purdue University's bulletin includes the sad
assurance that symptoms may not progress to the extremes shown in
some advisories, yet still be becoming established in your garden.
So remove even slightly symptomatic plants ASAP.
North Carolina State University explains practical
control in the landscape and links professionals to additional
Ball Seed Company, well-respected for its cutting edge research
and problem control recommendations, keeps growers and professional
For greenhouse growers (excerpt at
comment or ask about impatiens downy mildew.
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