The Plight of the Impatiens

While a troublesome plant disease has made it difficult for gardeners to find healthy impatiens, there are many equally beautiful and hardy annuals to consider as alternatives.

Downy Mold and Impatiens - Red Variety

Healthy impatiens grow beside a paver pathway. Photo: shutterstock.com

This year, many are struggling to find a beloved mainstay of the American garden: impatiens. Sought for the vibrant colors of their blooms, as well for their tolerance of shady conditions, impatiens have been affected of late by an especially pervasive strain of downy mildew.

Related: 11 Signs of an Unhealthy Houseplant (and How You Can Help)

The fungal disease appears on the underside of leaves as almost fluffy-looking blanket of spores. First, the flowers droop and then shortly after, the plant starts to die. Impatiens walleriana is the one variety known to be vulnerable; hybrids like SunPatiens are safe.

If you suspect downy mildew has become a problem for your impatiens, brace yourself: there’s no remedy. If you want to protect any plants that have managed to stay healthy, you might try using a fungicide, but the most important thing to do is remove the diseased ones immediately (and do not compost them).

Down Mold and Impatiens - Infection

Downy mold appears on the underside of the leaves of impatiens. Photo: palmbeachcountyextension.wordpress.com

If you have not yet planted impatiens but still want to, proceed carefully and take preventative measures. Start with plants that show no sign of infection, and to avoid possible pathogens in the soil, add your plants to a plot that has not hosted impatiens for at least a few seasons.

Leave enough space for air circulation between impatiens. Remember to water in the mornings; that way, the plants have time to dry out over the course of the day (long periods of wetness being known to invite mold).

Or skip the impatiens and instead, experiment with a new species. Choose from a wide selection of shade-tolerant plants. Consider:

Torenia does as well in containers and as it does in the landscape, its pink and purple blooms thriving even in high-humidity conditions.

Begonias are mound-shaped bedding plants that come in so many different colors, you’re bound to find one that would complement your garden.

Fuchsia handles shady sites as successfully as impatiens, plus its vibrant pink flowers rarely fail to attract butterflies.

Salvia offers height and structure, not to mention lively color, and as a member of the mint family, the plant draws birds and bees to the landscape.