Mold Expected to Kill Popular Garden Plants on Long Island

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    Some Long Island nurseries are now warning customers against planting Impatiens, a species of colorful flowering plants, because of a watery mold. Greg Cergol reports. (Published Tuesday, May 7, 2013)

    A watery mold will likely once again leave many gardens on Long Island without the most popular annual plant in the United States.

    Impatiens, a species of colorful flowering plants, were killed in gardens across the Northeast last year by a mold known as downey mildew. 

    "We planted them like we do every year, but they withered and died," said backyard gardener Jerry Simunek of New Hyde Park.

    Some nurseries are now warning customers against planting the colorful and traditionally reliable plants. At Hicks Nursery in Westbury, a sign reading "plant at your own risk" hangs on a rack of impatiens.

    The small rack holds the only impatiens being sold at Long Island's largest independent nursery, where in prior years more than a million of the plants have been sold.

    "Last year was devastating," said Doug Akerley, Hicks chief operating officer. "There were very few people who planted impatiens and didn't experience almost a total crop loss in July and August."

    Akerley explained that the mold tends to stay in the soil and remain active for two or three years. It thrives after wet springs and hot summers and is spread through the air.

    The prognosis is frustrating for backyard gardeners who have made impatiens a big part of their annual planting scheme.

    "I'm upset," said Barbara Schaffer of Glen Head. "We always like to do the reds and the whites."
    Nurseries on Long Island are now pushing alternatives to impatiens, like begonias or New Guinea impatiens, which are not impacted by the disease.

    Not everyone, however, is willing to give up on a plant they love.

    "I really like impatiens," said Laura Maio, as she headed to the nursery's cashier with some of the plants in her cart. "I may take these few to see how it goes."

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