For Immediate Release - June 11, 2013

State Agriculture Officials Alert the Public About New Plant Disease Affecting the Massachusetts Flower Industry

BOSTON – Tuesday, June 11, 2013 – Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) today announced that the Massachusetts flower and nursery industry is facing challenges from a new plant disease that affects one of the most popular groups of annual flowers – the Impatiens.

This disease, named Impatiens downy mildew, infects garden impatiens and causes them to die. The disease only affects garden impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) and a few other types with the same genetic makeup, including double-flowered and miniature impatiens.

Impatiens downy mildew is an airborne disease that is typically spread by the wind from great distances and can infect impatiens plants very quickly if environmental conditions of wet, rainy weather or excessive overhead watering occur. This disease can also survive over the winter months in dead impatiens plants that have been left in ground beds from one year, and then infect any walleriana-type impatiens planted in the same bed the next year.

The first signs of disease are leaves that are slightly yellow or off-color – not to be confused with lack of fertilizer. The undersides of the leaves will then have white-colored powder-like spores on the surface. Sometimes it is difficult to see the spores without a magnifying glass. Eventually the leaves and flowers will drop off of the plant, leaving bare stems with only a few tiny, yellow leaves remaining.

Plants that show the symptoms of this disease should be entirely removed, bagged and disposed of away from the property. Do not compost the plants, as there are no cures for this disease and fungicide sprays do not work.

DAR officials also stressed that not all impatiens are affected and that the disease will not kill any other plants. New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) types and Sun Patiens (x hybrida hort) are not affected. Many local garden centers will offer these varieties along with a multitude of other annuals and perennials.

“This has created problems for our flower growers in Massachusetts but our industry is providing many alternative annual plants that can be used in place of impatiens; including New Guinea Impatiens of all types, such as Begonias, Lobelia, Torenia and Coleus,” said Jason Hutchins, President of the Massachusetts Flower Growers Association and sales manager at The Flower Hutch in Townsend. “The best advice on what to use for your home and landscape is to consult with your local independent garden center, farm stand or professional landscaper to help you decide this year.”

Click here for DAR’s list of garden centers.

The association is also promoting “Don’t Just Stand There…PLANT SOMETHING!” This campaign aims to help residents enjoy the benefits of planting and is an initiative of Plant Something Massachusetts, a joint program of the Massachusetts Flower Growers Association and the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association. Plant Something MA seeks to get more people to enjoy gardening and support their local, independent nurseries, garden centers, landscapers and growers. Read more at www.plantsomethingma.org/.

DAR’s mission is to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions – Agricultural Conservation and Technical Assistance, Agricultural Markets, Animal Health and Crop and Pest Services – DAR strives to support, regulate and enhance the rich diversity of the Commonwealth’s agricultural community in order to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture’s role in energy conservation and production. For more information, visit DAR’s website at www.mass.gov/agr and follow us on twitter at @MDARCommish and @massgrown.