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For many home gardeners and landscape professionals, common garden impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) used to be a go-to pick at the garden center. They were an easy choice for shade gardens, as the plants filled in nicely over the season. They worked both in colorful borders or as groundcover in large swaths of a garden. That is, until impatiens downy mildew made an appearance, decimated the plant in gardens across North America, and almost eliminated the plant from retail shelves. However there are attractive replacements that will thrive in your garden. We’ve teamed up with SunPatiens, a bloom-filled hybrid impatiens that we feel really fills the void. Not only is it resistant to impatiens downy mildew, it has other great attributes that are likely to appear on a gardener’s checklist.
What is impatiens downy mildew and why should gardeners avoid planting Impatiens walleriana?
Impatiens downy mildew is a nasty pathogen (Plasmopara obducens) that affects the leaves of all varieties of Impatiens walleriana. A few years ago, gardeners had to start keeping an eye out for green leaves curling downward, and then checking the undersides of the leaves, as well as the flowers, for a white, fungus-like growth. The flowers and leaves would then drop and the plants would die. Impatiens downy mildew has been widespread in both North America and Europe, which has really hurt the plant industry, from growers to retailers, as they have had to provide alternatives to customers to fill the gap.
If your garden impatiens plants succumbed to this disease, it’s recommended that you not plant them again as the pathogen can live on in the soil for several years. Impatiens downy mildew, however, does not affect other species of plants.
There are, of course, other plants you can purchase for the garden instead of Impatiens walleriana. If you liked the characteristics of the aforementioned plant, SunPatiens is a great choice.
Why SunPatiens are a great alternative to common garden impatiens
Firstly, if you were a big fan of the look of Impatiens walleriana, SunPatiens look similar. But that’s where their similarities end because SunPatiens® are unaffected by the strains of impatiens downy mildew that have ravaged Impatiens walleriana cultivars. This is great news for garden centers that have a big impatiens-loving customer base.
SunPatiens offer a bigger bonus. They like both sun and shade, so you can pretty much plant them anywhere. They are also fast growing, don’t mind the heat, and will bloom until the first frost. And while garden impatiens were a cheap, easy option to toss in shady areas of the garden, each SunPatiens plant offers more growth potential than a traditional impatiens plant, meaning you can plant less per square foot. This makes them a cheaper option for large-scale planting. Essentially, you get what you pay for with these low-maintenance beauties.
Varieties of SunPatiens and where to plant this impatiens hybrid
SunPatiens come in three different series with different growth habits. What’s a growth habit? It’s just plant breeder speak for the physical attributes of a plant.
SunPatiens® Compact can reach 14 to 32 inches in height and 14 to 24 inches in width in the garden. They like full sun to part shade, and don’t mind the heat and humidity. Look for names like Compact Tropical Rose, Compact Coral, and Compact Orchid. Plant them in hanging baskets as well as containers where you want a more upright look. They’re a great size for smaller garden spaces and work well with other annuals.
SunPatiens® Spreading is a perfect choice for spreading outwards in a landscape—between 24 and 36 inches wide. And they’ll get to be 18 to 36 inches tall. Because they are spreaders, you can plant them a bit further apart (14 to 24 inches). These full sun and part shade lovers are great for pots if you want a mounding shape, hanging baskets, and anywhere you want to fill in lots of space quickly with a mounding plant. Look for names like Spreading Shell Pink (an AAS winner), Spreading Clear White, and Spreading Corona.
SunPatiens® Vigorous is a strong option for municipalities that have big spaces to cover. These plants have very sturdy stems that can withstand rain and wind, and that will reach 24 to 42 inches tall and 24 to 30 inches wide. They have an aggressive root system that will fill in those spaces and plants have a V-shaped form. They also make for a colorful backdrop for other plants. There are four plants in this series: Vigorous Lavender, Vigorous Magenta, Vigorous Orange, and Vigorous White.
How to plant and care for SunPatiens
SunPatiens are bred to be pretty low maintenance, but there are a few things you can do to help them flourish.
- In your hanging baskets and pots, you’ll want to use a well-drained soil for planting. If the soil doesn’t contain fertilizer, add half a dose of a slow-release fertilizer. Water well and keep the soil evenly moist until plants are well established (about seven to 10 days).
- In a garden, plant your SunPatiens in a soil that drains well. Amend with organic matter, like compost, if necessary. Avoid stepping close to the plants as they do not thrive in compacted soil. Water more frequently when they’re first planted to help them get established (about seven to 10 days). You can add a light mulch around plants, but be sure it doesn’t touch the stems of the plants (to avoid rot).
On the SunPatiens website, you’ll find lots of inspiration for planting these flowers, as well as DIY project ideas. We showcased some of these in another article featuring ideas for container gardens that you can give as gifts. These would work well for Mother’s Day, teachers’ gifts, a wedding shower activity, etc.
A big thank you to SunPatiens® for sponsoring this post and providing our readers with a stunning alternative to Impatiens walleriana. Here’s where you can find a retailer near you that carries these terrific plants.
Have you tried SunPatiens in your garden? Tell us about where you planted them!