Ack! What’s Happened to My Impatiens?!

A year ago, this space was awash in Impatiens.  3 months ago, it was full of newly planted Impatiens.  Now?  Bare soil and a few scraggly hangers-on. What happened?

Good question!  The brief answer is that they rotted.  The bigger question is why–and even I’m not sure. Nearby Massachusetts has an outbreak of a disease called Impatiens Downy Mildew.  They are recommending that folks with infected plots not plant the following year, because it can infect the soil and recur.

Here’s a fact sheet from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on the phenomena.  My problem is different from what’s going on in this descriptive fact sheet–I think.  The problem in my case is that the stems of the plant are rotting off–literally–at the base. It’s much more like a damping off sort of issue–only in mature plants that have been in the ground for months.

And just like with damping off, once the stem of the plant rots off at the base, needless to say, there’s no saving it.

I’ve often had Impatiens that look similar to those in the UMass fact sheet–they occur near the end of the season and I just presumed that their yellow leaves and spindly anemic growth was a result of the lateness of the season and the coolness of the temperature.

In fact, this hanger-on looks suspiciously as if it does indeed have downy mildew.

Perhaps I’d just better change my planting habits in this bed for the next several years–in an abundance of caution.  Who wants to look at bare soil from now until the first snowfall?

2 thoughts on “Ack! What’s Happened to My Impatiens?!

  1. Kevin Dowd September 23, 2012 / 9:30 am

    Glad to finally know that the failure of my impatiens was not of my doing. They usually are spectacular against my rock walls. This year they were a disaster. I assume i will be planting something else for the next couple of years. thanks for the info.

    • gardendaze September 23, 2012 / 3:04 pm

      Hi Kevin,
      Great to hear from you. If it’s any comfort, just about everyone I talked to this year had the problem with impatiens. It must be something that got into our soil or containers in prior seasons because it’s a fungal thing spread by moisture and we certainly didn’t have too much of that this year!

      But you’re right–once it’s in the soil, there’s no remedy except to avoid planting impatiens. The New Guinea types are immune, for some reason, so those would be fine. Coleus, browallia (if you can even find that-it seems to have fallen out of favor lately), begonias and torenia, which goes by the more common name of “wishbone flower” and has done really well for me in lots of places, will work instead.

      Thanks for reading! Give my best to the family.


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