PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Like an artist’s palette, impatiens are summer’s color splash. However, a plant disease is making its way north that will have a major effect on them this year.

“We like impatiens so much because they are so easy to grow. They go crazy. All they need is a little bit of water and some fertilizer and they fill in where other plants won’t,” Post-Gazette Garden Columnist Doug Oster said.

However, these little flowers have become bull’s eyes for something.

“It’s called Downey Impatiens Mildew,” Oster said. “The disease is specific to a certain variety of impatiens. That’s the only thing this disease will attack.”

In some areas it’s already reached alarming levels.

“In Florida, now it’s an epidemic. Our concern is that it’s coming through the air up this way,” Oster said.

If it does, it could deprive summer of its color, as it did in the later part of last summer’s growing season.

If your impatiens were wiped out last year, there could be spores dormant in your flower bed, but there is hope.

“Science is telling us the soil born spores are not causing the infection. It’s coming from airborne,” Oster said.

With the airborne fungus now coming north like a non-stop flight out of Orlando, the green thumb folks say now is the time to prepare by not being totally dependent on impatiens.

“Split them up and put some of this other stuff in between it. You don’t want this big bank of impatiens if we do get the disease,” Oster said.

Oster said there are alternatives that will thrive in the same environments impatiens like.

“Tirrenia, begonia, coleus, dusty miller, are all plants that will thrive in the shade the same way that impatiens do,” Oster said.

That’s not to say give up on impatiens though. Oster said use plenty of mulch and different watering techniques.

“One of the best ways to protect the plant is to change the way you water them,” Oster said.

Don’t water from above because that will promote fungal diseases. Instead, drip underneath or water at the base.

Oster said you also might wait a couple more weeks to plant when it’s warmer. The worst impact of the fungus is not expected until midsummer.

“When we get halfway through the season, we can start applying an organic fungicide to prevent the disease,” Oster said.


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