Gardeners accustomed to planting common impatiens in shady spots have had to change their game plan this year.
With few garden centers stocking the most common variety of the popular annual because of the spread of downy mildew, garden beds are being filled with other shade-loving annuals.
Downy mildew is a fungal disease that has infiltrated the region over the past few years and ravages common impatiens.
“It’s a shame that we’re having this problem with impatiens because it’s such a proven winner for people,” said Mark Felthousen, owner of Felthousen’s Florist and Greenhouse, where there are no common impatiens to be found this season.
“For years and years, we would sell hundreds of flats and many hanging baskets, but this year, we’re pushing the begonias,” he said.
For shady beds, Felthousen recommends wax begonias, and in planters, the Rieger variety.
Wax begonias bloom in shades of red, pink or white, while Riegers can be found in colors including orange, pink and yellow.
Perennials for shade
Shade-loving perennials can also do a good job of filling spots left vacant by the lack of common impatiens, he noted.
Some popular ones include astilbe, coral bells, pulmonaria and Solomon’s seal, although none of them flower continuously, as annuals do.
Some annuals not traditionally dubbed shade plants can be used in garden beds or planters that don’t get full sun, Felthousen said.
“It depends on how shady it is. The problem is some plants in a shady area will have their own issues if they’re used to the sun. They’ll get mildew on them — petunias would, or even ivy geraniums.”
Plants such as petunias might get leggy in the shade and thus would need to be pinched back regularly, he noted.
Hanging baskets or pots positioned in the shade can be filled with fuchsia plants and different types of ivy, Felthousen suggested.
Browallia is a shade plant recommended by Susan Platania, plant buyer at Faddegon’s Landscaping and Garden Center in Latham. The flowering annual grows to between 8 and 10 inches tall and has a blue bloom similar to that of common impatiens.
“It’s just a profuse flowering plant that does really well in shade. It’s a little bit different,” she said.
Faddegon’s is still selling impatiens, but this year has only a small fraction of the hundreds of flats that were offered in years past, Platania said.
Instead, in addition to browallia, she now recommends wax begonias, New Guinea impatiens and coleus.
“The difference is a lot of these other plants don’t come in six-packs, so it’s retraining the public to buy a 4-inch annual rather than a regular six-pack,” she said.
Common impatiens are traditionally sold in six-packs. Four-inch pots contain a single, more mature plant, but they’re more expensive. But Platania said the initial cost is offset by the fact that the plants will get quite large.
Coleus, a shade plant that doesn’t flower but has eye-catching leaves that range in color from yellow-green to bright pink, is one example.
“They’re going to blow up and they get huge, so they’re taking up a lot more space. One plant of coleus can [grow to] about the same size as a six-pack or two of impatiens in the end,” she said.
There are some common impatiens for sale at Schultz Greenhouse in Glenville, but there’s also a 2-by-8-foot banner nearby cautioning people not to buy them.
“Some people say they want them anyway. I just want to make sure they don’t think we’re trying to bait-and-switch them with New Guineas,” said Mark Schultz, one of the owners.
Downy mildew-resistant New Guinea impatiens are among the annuals typically sold singly, as more mature plants. This year, however, they’re being sold in six-packs at Schultz’s.
“We got a really good deal on the cuttings so we passed it along and put them in packs, just to make it a little bit easier for people,” Schultz said.
Pedrick’s Florist and Greenhouse in Glenville used to dedicate a whole greenhouse to common impatiens, but now there are none to be found. There are no hanging baskets or pouches of common impatiens either, and people have come looking for them, said Allison Sanganetti, who works in the greenhouse.
“The color is the main thing. A lot of people are looking for the colors and you don’t get that much from a lot of the other things, but for the most part, people have been OK with it, I think. They understand,” she said, noting that the greenhouse has plenty of New Guinea impatiens to choose from.