Q: I heard that nurseries are advising us not to plant my favorite annual, impatiens. Can this be true and what can I plant?
A: Everyone is devastated by the new problem with a true Southern favorite shade plant, impatiens. Sometimes referred to as "Bizzy Lizzy" and lots of other nicknames, impatiens are a beloved summer annual. They bloom all summer in shade and don't require much more care than regular watering. They have been a mainstay for regional gardeners for years.
The problem was seen in Europe a few years ago and now it has reached our shores and the Tennessee River Valley. It is a fungus called downy mildew, which causes rapid defoliation of impatiens. You plant your plants, they produce a nice crop of leaves and buds, then you look outside and no leaves, no buds, just pale stems rising out of the soil. It looks like skeletal fingers emerging from the ground that gradually shrivel up.
Unfortunately, there is, at present, no treatment home gardeners can use for this disastrous disease. The spores can overwinter and will affect new plantings; they are carried by the wind and can affect whole neighborhoods. Growers are advising that folks not plant impatiens until the scourge can be eliminated.
Substitutes are hard to find. Deep shade will support the growth of perennial hostas, which won't have to be replaced every year. You can plant New Guinea impatiens, which seem immune, but require more sun. Also try begonias or annual vinca, both of which tolerate some shade.
Sorry about the bad news, but be assured growers are trying to overcome this problem, just not in time for 2013.
Email Pat Lea at Lea.Pat@gmail.com