It used to be so easy. You had shade, you planted impatiens.
A disease called impatiens downy mildew is ravaging the popular bedding plants, so much so that some retailers aren’t selling them and some gardeners aren’t planting them.
It’s a serious situation, but plant pathologist Jim Chatfield isn’t quite ready to pronounce bedding impatiens dead. “I don’t think it’s going to be a situation where no one grows impatiens anymore,” said Chatfield, a horticulture educator with the Ohio State University Extension.
Nevertheless the disease is enough of a threat that many gardeners are thinking outside the flat and looking for alternative plants for their shady spots this year.
Here are some to consider.
New Guinea impatiens
Many gardeners are already familiar with New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri), which can tolerate a little more sun than bedding impatiens but are still good performers in shade. Their flowers are similar in appearance to their relatives’ but bigger and not as profuse.
New Guinea impatiens grow more upright than bedding impatiens and but they don’t form masses of color the way bedding impatiens do. But they do come in a wide range of flower colors, and some varieties have leaves with interesting colors and patterns.
Like bedding impatiens, they need a good amount of water.
SunPatiens (Impatiens x hybrida ‘SunPatiens’), a hybrid between New Guinea impatiens and a wild impatiens, are even better suited for sun but also do well in partial shade. Heavy shade can make them leggy.
SunPatiens are similar in appearance and growth habit to New Guinea impatiens. They need consistent moisture, but unlike bedding impatiens, they can tolerate high heat. They also hold up well to wind and rain and don’t need to be deadheaded.
They can grow tall — 3 to 4 feet for the vigorous types, 2 to 3 feet for the compact ones and 2½ to more than 3 feet for spreading SunPatiens. So be aware that depending on the type you choose, you could end up with almost a flower hedge.
Begonias are compact plants that can add a shot of color to a shady spot.
One familiar type is wax begonias (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum), bushy plants with waxy leaves and small white, pink or red flowers. They do best in partial shade. In deep shade they can get leggy and flower sparsely.
Tuberous begonias (Begonia x tuberhybrida) come in a wide variety of colors and flower forms. They prefer shade most of the day, but their delicate flowers need protection from wind.
Less familiar are dragon-wing begonias (Begonia x argenteoguttata ‘Dragon Wings’), which have arching stems and showy, bell-shaped blooms in red or pink. They’re often used in containers but can be planted in the landscape, too.
All of these begonias like moist, well-drained soil and are deer-resistant. However, they’re toxic to dogs and cats, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says.
Browallia (Browallia speciosa) can be grown in partial or full shade. Also called bush violet or amethyst flower, it got those names from its jewel-like purple-blue flowers, which attract hummingbirds.
It produces a rounded plant that grows 1 to 2 feet tall.
Browallia needs well-drained soil, making it a good choice for drought-tolerant landscapes. It doesn’t require much fuss. In fact, too much water or fertilizer will cause it to produce leaves instead of flowers.
Torenia (Torenia fournieri) is also called wishbone flower because of the shape of its yellow stamens. Its small, velvety flowers look a little like pansies and come in white and shades of purple, blue, red and pink, as well as bicolor types.
It’s short, bushy plant that grows only to about 6 to 12 inches. Torenia prefers part to full shade and needs plenty of water. It doesn’t like hot, humid conditions.
Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) adds color to the garden not from its flowers, but from its showy leaves. The colors and color combinations of its many hybrids are almost limitless.
Coleus also comes in a variety of forms and sizes, from compact to lanky and from 6 inches to 3 feet tall. It prefers part shade but will tolerate full shade, and some newer cultivars can be grown in the sun.
Although it’s easy to grow, coleus does look better if it’s pinched back regularly and its flowers are removed when they appear.
It’s toxic to dogs, cats and horses.
Polka dot plant
Like coleus, polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) owes its beauty to its foliage. Plant breeders have created plants with green leaves that are dotted or splotched with pink, white or red.
The deer-resistant plant will grow about 1 to 2 feet tall, and pinching will encourage it to stay bushy rather than get lanky. It likes part shade, medium moisture and well-drained soil, and does well in hot, humid weather.
Vinca (Catharanthus roseus), or Madagascar periwinkle, is sometimes confused with impatiens because their flowers look so similar. Unlike impatiens, vinca will tolerate full sun and dry soil, although it also likes part shade.
This easy-care annual grows about 1 to 2 feet tall. Flower colors are white, pink, red and shades of purple.
The plant is deer-resistant and toxic to horses, cats and dogs.
Don’t confuse this vinca with Vinca minor, a groundcover periwinkle (also called myrtle) that can grow outside its bounds and into lawns or other areas where it’s not wanted.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.