This has been the worst summer for impatiens. In the past two weeks, they all died. When I mentioned it to other gardeners, they all said the same. What happened?
Unfortunately, our troubles are just beginning with a disease called impatiens downy mildew, which is sweeping up the East Coast this year — and there is no cure.
To check for downy mildew disease, look on the underside of the leaves and stems for a powdery coating. Dead and dying plants should be removed — stems, roots and all — and the area raked clean. Bag them and put them out for the trash. Do not compost this infected plant material.
For the next few years, plant something other than impatiens in the bed — begonias would be fine — since the spores can live in the soil. This disease does not seem to affect slightly larger and taller — and more expensive — impatiens hybrids, which grow in more sun. This disease is spread by wind, by water or by moving infected plants from one garden area to another, and encouraged by cool, damp weather, so do what you can to stop it from spreading.
Q: I have three big Boston ferns hanging in my yard this summer, and they are beautiful. With this fall and winter approaching, how can they be saved for next year? A: If you have the space, your big, beautiful Boston ferns can be wintered over without too much trouble. Inside, they belong on a plant stand or in a hanger so the fronds can droop naturally. They need to be kept cool, about 60 degrees, and humid, with bright light, but no direct sun, or the leaves will burn. Water enough to keep them moist but not wet or standing in water. Fertilize in the spring as new growth appears — don’t fertilize over the midwinter months.
You may want to put an old sheet or a tarp under the plant because it will drop leaves. Dropping is normal, but very messy.
Some gardeners like to keep their ferns in a bathroom or kitchen where the humidity is high, but be careful to allow the room to get somewhat cooler through each night. (Temperatures below 40 degrees will kill the plant.) Spraying with water several times a week — and a quick bath in your shower — will help to keep the plant humid, clean and healthy.
Every three or four years, think of repotting in spring. The plants can be divided at this time.
This week’s dirt
It’s harvest time in vegetable and flower gardens, and your garden is at its peak. Think about preserving veggies for winter — and drying flowers and herbs. Now is the time to pick them, while flowers and veggies are at their most perfect and beautiful.
Damaged flowers and foliage, especially scented foliage such as geranium and marigold, and evergreens, can be dried and cut, crumbled, and used in a mixture of homemade potpourri.
Neighbors and friends will enjoy your excess crops of fresh tomatoes and zucchini, or maybe this is the year to learn about canning, drying and freezing.
Think of a dried potpourri of mint and rosemary in a pretty glass jar as gifts. How about making sweet chutney? Or a dried bouquet of herbs? A jar of catnip for a feline friend? You deserve a gift from your garden — and so does your neighbor who watered for you last July while you were away. Now is the time to do it.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is an occasional feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara by email at email@example.com or write to her c/o the Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.