Massive impatiens die-off--mystery

ginny12August 5, 2012

I have a large garden that I have tended for 35 years. There is a lot of shade so I count on impatiens for color all season, especially after my perennials have gone by in mid-August.

Two weeks ago, my beds started dying off quite rapidly. Or rather the flowers and leaves. The stems are left standing. Thought a critter was eating--deer or rabbits--so sprayed with Liquid Fence which has worked before. No luck.

Then I thought slugs as, for the first time ever, I have a slug problem. Put down a slug product but the damage continues.

Today the Globe's Handyman column leads off with someone in Rockport with the same problem. Is anyone else having anything like this with their impatiens? Any idea what is going on?

I am crushed as I have planted hundreds of plants, fed and watered and weeded, and as of the third week of July, at their peak, they are done for. Someone said earwigs?? What do you think?

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I've had the same problem. The weird thing is that only half of my impatiens are struggling. The other half is fine. No idea what to do...

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 1:12PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Our Cooperative Extension newsletter for August has an article about downy mildew in impatiens. It has been IDed in Westchester Co. and Long Island, so far. It sounds like there is no cure but time.

Here is a link that might be useful: Downy Mildew Article

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 1:16PM
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Thanks for this, mad_gallica. It could be the culprit but it sounds as if there is no cure at all. Rip out infected plants and don't water. How can you not water?

I did not notice any signs of what I would call mildew--like on lilacs or phlox--but the second photo looks like my areas of impatiens.

The news was all bad in that report--even to not planting impatiens next year. Woe is me. But knowing is better than not knowing.

Impatiens is also big $ in the hort industry. They will have to come up with a solution for this. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 2:10PM
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They discussed this on a greenhouse tour that I recently attended. The New Guinea impatients are immune to impatients downy mildew. One alternative mentioned for shade color is coleus.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 7:00PM
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It is called "Impatiens Downy Mildew" and it is a garden catastrophe. I spent a lot of time reading about it online yesterday, beginning with mad_gallica's excellent link which contains further links within.

I ripped out all my hundreds of impatiens this morning, with as much soil attached as possible. Everything is in plastic trash bags, going out with the garbage. The diseased plants cannot be composted.

With the deer, chipmunks and voles, ice storms, October snowstorms and now this, I am getting very, very discouraged. It is like the plagues of ancient Egypt. Can my garden survive?

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 10:52AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Ginny, I am so sorry your garden has taken another hit. It is maddening, isn't it? There do seem to be a lot of obstacles to overcome. It sounds like you need a

I have felt very discouraged with my garden a couple of times and thankfully, it doesn't last long. I usually do take a break from it for a week or so and then regroup. In the end, I have made a significant commitment of time and money to at the least have the property look attractive, so I don't have much choice but to keep on. I am adjusting as I go along, to try to respond to these type of obstacles by trying some new direction that resolves it or avoids it. For instance, growing plants deer are not attracted to, managing mulch so as not to attract voles, or focusing on what is working in my garden and doing more of that.

It isn't easy! Hang in there. It's summer, maybe you need to leave the garden to fend for itself for a few days and take a trip to the beach. :-)

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 12:19PM
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Very discouraging, Ginny! You have my sympathy. I think I read about this new disease last year or the year before that - some public gardens were affected badly.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 6:37PM
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Thanks for the kind words, pm. They mean a lot.

It really is outrageous that nurseries are selling what they know are diseased plants and, worse, infecting the soil for who knows how long.

I am contacting the nursery, known to you all, where I bought these and it will be interesting to hear what they say.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 6:37PM
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Thanks for the sympathy. It means a lot from my fellow gardeners. And no matter how exasperated I get, I will never give up on my garden.

I don't know how I missed reading about this before, considering how much reading I do!

And just fyi, the impatiens in my containers have been the last to be affected but now I see the two big gorgeous pots on my front steps showing clear signs of disease.

I still think it is the height of irresponsibility for nurseries to be selling impatiens during this epidemic.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 1:04PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Wow, I've never heard of this before. I always use impatiens in my shade gardens. So far this year things look okay (she says with crossed fingers!).

But I'm not clear on the appearance of symptoms - can we blame nurseries and garden centers for selling infected plants? Is there a way for them to know if the plants are infected if no symptoms are showing? Or is it like buying tomato starts and ending up with late blight? In other words, can a healthy plant contract the disease in your garden, or would it have to be infected beforehand?


    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 2:35PM
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I was at a local garden center the other day looking to freshen up my annuals which have taken a toll with this tough weather -- in particular I have had a lot of trouble with petunias. Was talking to the owner about it and she told me that she was at a major N.E. grower's nursery recently and they were telling her about a problem with impatiens they were seeing. It was quite random and affecting small numbers of plants.

I didn't probe more about what they were doing about it. Most likely they are ditching the affected plants and selling the rest. The rest probably become symptomatic later.

I think I know which grower it was, but I probably shouldn't mention it because I am not 100% sure.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 8:02AM
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I suggest anyone interested Google "impatiens disease". You will have your eyes opened. This is a world-wide endemic. I'm sure I sound like Cassandra but I think we have seen the end of impatiens for quite awhile.

It is everywhere. If you don't have it, you will. "Clean" plants have it in the soil or it blows in from quite a distance.

It has cost condo communities in FL hundreds of thousands of dollars to rip out their plantings, for example. Soil can be infected for--they estimate--five to eight years.

Very sad for an old reliable for us poor shade gardeners.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 6:40PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Yes, indeed, very sad. They are most definitely an "old reliable" for those of us with shade. Five to eight years - yikes. That's a long time.


    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 8:07PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

There's an article by Anne Raver in the New York Times yesterday about the impatiens downy mildew:

A Pox on Your Flowers


    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 10:55AM
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corunum z6 CT(6)

Claire, I couldn't get that link to work. Trying the one below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Anne Raver, NYT, Impatiens

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 1:34PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Thanks, Jane. The link worked when I previewed it. This has been happening frequently; I have no reason why.


    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 4:43PM
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spedigrees z4VT

Sigh... another disease pest coming this way, on the heels of tomato late blight, red lily beetles, expanding populations of deer ticks, Lyme disease, rabies epidemics, the deliberately released plague of insects that eat purple loosestrife. I'm not sure now if I should cross impatiens off my list this year. If they go the way of my tiger lilies, I will miss them.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 5:11PM
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corunum z6 CT(6)

Sped, it sounds awful. Maybe we should just buy more tequila.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 5:26PM
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spedigrees z4VT

Sounds like a plan, Jane! ÃÂ ;-)

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 5:41PM
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