Find alternatives to familiar flowers

By: Linda Shepard | C&G Newspapers | Published May 29, 2013

 Crowds gather at Eastern Market in Detroit on Flower Day May 19, shopping for colorful annual and perennial flowers.

Crowds gather at Eastern Market in Detroit on Flower Day May 19, shopping for colorful annual and perennial flowers.

Photo by Linda Shepard

Impatiens, a top choice for homeowners planting colorful annual flower displays, will not be available at most nurseries this year.

“There is a downy mildew problem with impatiens,” said Carl Eckert, owner of Eckert’s Greenhouse on Ryan in Sterling Heights. “We didn’t grow them this year, and most other nurseries also didn’t.”

Downy mildew is an airborne fungus-like pathogen that has become a worldwide problem for impatiens, Eckert said. “The jury is still out where it came from,” he said. “It started in England and they didn’t think it would come here, but it has now spread through the United States. It is one of those problems — in two or three years, we should be able to plant impatiens again.

“It leaves a big void,” Eckert said. “Impatiens were 45 percent of our flower flats sold. But it gives people an opportunity to try plants they may have overlooked. It gives some other plants the opportunity to be seen.” 

According to Michigan State University Department of Agriculture officials, downy mildew creates leaf yellowing, curling and dropping in impatiens, and the pathogen can live throughout the winter in the soil. New plants can become affected if planted in the same location as diseased impatiens. Officials recommend choosing alternative annuals for planting.

Eckert recommends a low-light vinca plant that has flowers similar to those of impatiens. “And it mounds up the same,” he said. New Guinea impatiens, a thicker plant that can be spaced farther apart than traditional impatiens, are not affected by downy mildew, he said.

Wax leaf begonias and torenia are also good choices for homeowners looking for something new, he said.

Karen Hessell, owner of Hessell’s Greenhouse on 23 Mile Road in Shelby Township, said she recommends sunpatiens to gardeners. “They look like New Guinea impatiens, but they can take full sun and do not get downy mildew,” she said. “They can get up to 3 feet tall and come in white, pink, lavender, magenta and orange.”

She also recommends lobelia and tuberous begonias to buyers, who are often resistant to growing flowers they are unfamiliar with.

“People like to stick with what they have had luck with before,” she said.

Hessell said container gardening continues to be popular.

“We carry a lot of unique planters,” she said. “We are known for that. Planting vegetables in containers is also very big right now. We design and make all our own containers right here. You won’t see them anyplace else, and we have all different sizes.”

Gardeners looking for perennial plants can’t lose by choosing knockout roses, Hessell said. “The knockout rose is more of a bush and it blooms all summer long,” she said. “It has a single flower, not a double bloom.”

Most perennial plants, which return every year, are fill-ins in the flower garden, she said. “Annuals give color all summer long.”