Monday, April 1, 2013

Bye Bye Busy Lizzies! What to Plant Instead of Impatiens?

impatiens blight 2013
Still bad news for impatiens in 2017
Impatiens blight 2013.  Impatiens disease.  Impatiens fungus.  This spring,    impatiens will be be rarer than a five legged frog. Bye bye Busy Lizzies (as impatiens are nicknamed in Great Britain.)  Most stores won't carry them this year.  These easy, breezy, colorful mainstays of the shade garden are on hiatus.  Word has it there'll be few hothouse impatiens offered for at least three years.  Truth is, no one really knows how long impatiens will be off the market.

It was great while it lasted.  Impatiens filled even the shadiest garden from stem to stern with hot pinks, corals, salmon, fuschia and lovely lipstick red.  No plucking nor cutting back, just simply add water.  By August the blooms would merge, creating mounds of deep color, highly visible from anywhere in the yard. Downy mildew or impatient blight changed that. 

Yet, as in life, adaptation is the key to good gardening. 

sunpatiensFor deep shade, there truly are no replacements as colorful as impatiens, so it may be time for an interim detour to mainstay perennials like hosta, perhaps layered with spring bulbs. 

Prefer annuals?   Consider these:

White Sunpatiens
1.  Sunpatiens/New Guinea Impatiens:  They bloom better with a bit of sun, but are disease resistant.  Just don't forget to water as they wilt easily in hot temperatures.

2.  Minmulus/Monkey Flower:  With small blooms that resemble a monkey's face, these shade plants can't be found at a big box store, so stick with the local greenhouse.  Block's Market Stand usually carries them, but their homegrown crop is limited.  Monkey flowers will not pack the colorful punch of impatiens, but they'll provide delicate hues.

coleus instead of impatiens?3.  Coleus:  Eh, unsure.  The gardener looking for the same pop of primary color might not be amenable to the jewel toned rusts, browns, golds and greens of coleus.  Plus, there must be much pinching back to maintain the mounding nature of a true border plant. 

red begonia
4.  Begonia:  A second cousin of impatiens, begonia colors are more limited. The smaller blooms and
cooler hues create a different effect, but the foliage is more interesting.  My mother loved her red begonias.  Not nearly as pest resistant as impatiens, yet these old girls may have the last laugh!

Sunpatiens and Alyssum as border plants
4.  Alyssum.  This is where I'm placing my bets. Alyssum does well in part shade, mounds nicely as a border plant, and requires little maintenance.  Best of all, sweet alyssum is fragrant, and left alone, reseeds for years.  Purple alyssum reverts to the orginal prehybrid white in the second year. Layered with Sunpatiens, as shown above, the contrast of the fuzzy soft blooms against sharper leaves and bold colors is well balanced. 

impatiens disease
Uncovering a scarce flat of impatiens, does one dare take the chance?  Be judicious.  Don't fill the yard with these risky blooms, but perhaps gamble with a flat of locally grown.  Plant in a part shade location that did not host impatiens last year.  Don't oversaturate, and irrigate in the morning to allow drying time.  Avoid crowding and allow air circulation.  Then, cross your fingers. 

Possibly a benefit of the long cold winter may be the death of last year's downy mildew spores.  Time will tell.

Enjoy and experiment with the alternatives.  Ever changing borders are a gardener's happy challenge. 

impatiens fungus 2013More Articles of Interest:

Layered Planting -- Should I Cut Back Faded Bulbs?

Impatiens Disease -- Trouble in the Landscape

When Should I Plant Annuals in Michigan?