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Busy lizzies 'could be wiped out in five years'

16 August 2011
Busy lizzies 'could be wiped out in five years'

The busy lizzie, one of gardeners' favourite bedding plants, could be wiped out within five years as a virulent disease tightens its grip.

Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) across the UK are being struck down by downy mildew which thrives in mild, wet summers. "The UK busy lizzie market could be dead in five years time unless something is done," said Paul Hansord (pictured), managing director of Thomson & Morgan (T&M) Young Plants.

Impatiens downy mildew is a fungal disease that's often first seen as white powder on the underside of leaves. First confirmed in the UK in 2003, it causes leaf yellowing, leaf drop and leads to death of plants.

The most severe UK outbreak occurred during the wet summer of 2008, but experts fear this summer could be bad, too. T&M is researching the extent of the problem and is already looking to find alternative to busy lizzies if the disease tightens its grip. Andrew Tokely, the firm's horticultural manager, said spread of the disease was being driven by temperature fluctuations this summer.

The Royal Horticultural Society said no fungicides are available to amateur gardeners to control the disease. It is advising gardeners to remove affected plants quickly. Plants should be burned and never composted. Due to the risk of soil contamination, the RHS says affected areas should be rested from impatiens for at least one year. At an industry meeting last month, experts in the seed trade said they feared the problem could become as serious as blight on tomatoes and potatoes.