Why Are Mushrooms Growing In My Landscape?

Knowing what a mushroom is and its purpose in the environment helps to understand why they suddenly appear in your lawn and landscape.  Mushrooms are classified bunch of mushroomsunder the Kingdom of  Fungi (plural for fungus), which is separate from the plant and animal Kingdoms. Mushrooms are one of nature’s decomposers.  They “eat” organic material in the soil.  Organic material can be anything from dead plants and animals to leaves and other debris on the ground. Mushrooms can pop up anywhere when the conditions are right, which includes sufficient moisture and organic material in the soil.  Shade will also encourage mushroom growth, but is not absolutely necessary. Some mushrooms will grow in a fair amount of sunlight.

Fun fact:  According to National Geographic  there is a mushroom, nicknamed Humongous Fungus, growing in Malheur National Forest in Oregon that is the largest organism in the world and may in fact also be the oldest.  It is estimated that this mushroom is anywhere between 2,400 and 8,600 years old and covers 2,385 acres. Aren’t you glad this mushroom isn’t in your yard!

Is it ok if mushrooms are growing in my lawn and landscape?

The short answer is yes.  Mushrooms are actually good for the soil.  When mushrooms “eat” organic material, it supplies the soil with nutrients and acts as a natural fertilizer.  Mushrooms will naturally die off when the organic material in the ground is gone or when moisture is not sufficient to sustain them.  However, mushrooms can be unsightly in the landscape to some people and some mushrooms are actually poisonous which could harm children or pets.

How do I remove mushrooms from my lawn and landscape?

flat mushroomIf you choose to remove mushrooms from your lawn or landscape, it is relatively easy to remove them from view. You can use a garden rake to simply rake up the caps (tops) of the mushrooms and dispose of them.   But, raking up the caps only removes the portion of the mushroom you see above ground.  The main body of the fungus remains underground.

Tips: Some mushrooms are poisonous. Always wear gloves when you handle wild mushrooms  in your landscape.  Also, dispose of mushrooms in the trash.  Do not put them in your compost pile. If you put them in the compost pile they may spread as the compost pile contains the organic material and moisture that mushrooms feed on.

How do I remove the underground portion of the mushroom?

Removing the underground portion of the mushroom is not as easy as raking up the caps.  The organic material and moisture needs to be removed in order to suppress mushroom growth.  This takes a little more time and work.

First remove the moisture source if possible. There is not much a gardener can do about natural rain fall but if you irrigate your lawn and landscape, set the sprinkler system to start in the morning.  This allows your lawn to dry during the day.  Never water at night because it promotes fungal growth by allowing water to sit on the soil and plant leaves for an extended period of time.

Water your lawn and landscape fewer and longer periods each week.  Watering less often allows the soil to dry out in between waterings which discourages fungal growth. Plus watering in this ways encourages plants to extend their roots deeper into the ground in order to access moisture.  This makes your lawn and landscape plants stronger and more resistant to drought conditions.

Next, remove the organic matter that is feeding the mushrooms.  When mushrooms are in the lawn, look at the ground between the blades of grass.  Thatch is a layer of dead grass and debris that covers the ground.  If this is too thick, it will retain moisture and provide the perfect conditions to grow mushrooms.  Some thatch is good for your lawn but if it’s too thick or mushrooms are popping up, de-thatch the lawn with a de-thatching rake or rent a de-thatching machine from a local lawn care service. You can also hire a lawn care company to perform this service for you.  This will help remove the conditions necessary for mushrooms to grow.

If the soil doesn’t have a thick layer of thatch but still retains more moisture than it should, the soil may be compacted. If the soil is compacted, it may need to be aerated.  Aerating the soil quite literally means small holes are punched into the soil to allow air to penetrate the ground and moisture to escape. For small lawns  or for small sections of the lawn, you can use a tilling fork to aerate the ground by pushing the fork into the ground and rocking it back and forth.  If you have a larger area to aerate, you can rent an aerating machine or you can hire a lawn care service to perform the aeration for you.

If mushrooms are growing in your landscape mulch, remove the old mulch and replace it with fresh mulch.  Wood mulches and pine needle mulches are the organic material mushrooms need to grow.  If mushrooms are a constant problem, consider replacing organic mulches with decorative landscape rock or another type of inorganic mulch like recycled rubber.

In some instances, organic material cannot be removed. For example, where a tree has been cut down, even if the surface stump is ground out or removed, the remaining stump underground and root system will start to decompose and mushrooms may appear.  Removing any excess moisture and increasing the sunlight the area receives will help inhibit mushroom growth but may not stop it entirely. In this case, removing the caps will keep the area clean of mushrooms from view. Remember, mushrooms will disappear on their own once they are through “eating” the organic material present.

Mushrooms are good for the environment and your landscape, but if they are unsightly to you or if you’re concerned due to children or pets, removing mushrooms may be necessary and it’s easier to accomplish once you know what to do and why they grow.  Please remember to wear gloves when you are working with wild mushrooms.  As always,

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

“The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world.”

– John Tyler Bonner, Development and Evolutionary Biologist

 

 

 

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How to Safely Maintain a Mixed Landscape

Mixing edibles into the landscape with ornamentals creates a beautiful and interesting landscape that is also productive.  However, common synthetic landscape chemicals are not always recommended for use on edibles.  Plants absorb the chemicals we put on them through the roots and leaves.  The presence of these chemicals in and around the edible plant may make the plant and its produce unsafe for you and your family to eat.  So how do you maintain a healthy productive mixed landscape without the use of synthetic chemicals? By using safe organic alternatives to maintain your plants, it is possible to create a beautiful mixed landscape of  ornamentals and edibles without introducing unsafe toxins.

Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are very popular now and can be found at most local garden stores or online sites.  These fertilizers come in liquid, granular, and pellet forms. Use the fertilizer that is right for your landscape.  Some plants, like roses and blueberries, have special nutritional needs. These nutritional needs can be met by simply using specialized organic fertilizers.  Generally however a simple all purpose slow release fertilizer spread over your lawn and landscape twice a year is all it takes to keep your plants healthy and productive all summer long.

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Compost

Compost is always recommended to improve the texture of the soil but it also adds nutritional value and trace elements to the soil that are necessary for proper plant growth and food production.  Compost can be purchased at most local garden stores but for those gardeners that wish to create their own compost or for more information about the nutritional value of compost in your landscape, please refer to my article on compost that will explain the ins and outs of compost and compost production.   Compost. What’s The Big Deal?

*Hint: In home-made compost, use only yard and grass clippings that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals, especially herbicides.  Synthetic chemicals do not break down naturally and may remain in the compost. If herbicides are present in your compost, you could inadvertently kill your entire landscape when the compost is applied.

Herbicides (Weed Killers)

Weeds are the bane of any garden.  Keeping up with the weeding takes a lot of time and energy. The CobraHead Garden Tool makes this job a lot easier.  See my review of the CobraHead at The CobraHead. An Amazing Garden Tool. But to reduce the time it takes to weed by hand, herbicides can be applied to help control the weed population in your garden and landscape. Although there are a great number of synthetic herbicides on the market, they can be dangerous to humans and animals.  Luckily there are a number of natural herbicides available to help control the weeds in your landscape.

CobraHead and Mini CobraHead
CobraHead and Mini CobraHead garden tools

Corn Gluten Meal:  Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of milling corn.  It is a natural fertilizer that also works as a pre-emergent herbicide.  A pre-emergent herbicide stops the plant from taking root once the seed begins to grow.  Be aware that corn gluten meal will stop all seeds from taking root, including garden and grass seeds.  Read the manufacturer’s directions before using this product if you intend to plant seeds in your garden or over-seed your lawn.

Vinegar Vinegar:  An easy and inexpensive herbicide that is common in most households is plain white vinegar.  Vinegar contains acetic acid which is deadly to plants.  Common household vinegar is safe for humans but manufactured vinegar herbicides may contain a stronger vinegar solution which can be hazardous to humans and pets.  If you choose to purchase a manufactured vinegar herbicide, read the manufacturer’s label for instructions prior to use.

Vinegar works as a herbicide by drying up the leaves of the plant.  It works best on young plants and annual weeds.  It does not kill the root of the plant so several applications may be necessary to kill larger plants or perennial weeds.  To use common household vinegar as a herbicide, simply pour full strength vinegar into a spray bottle and spray on the leaves of the undesired plant.  Vinegar will kill all plants indiscriminately so it may help to use a piece of cardboard to protect desirable plants while spraying.  This will keep them safe from the vinegar spray. Repeat as necessary until weeds are gone.

Fungicide

To prevent outbreaks of fungus in the garden or to treat fungus that is already present, there are several organic solutions.  If one of the following solutions does not work, modify the strength of the solution or try another solution as some fungus is more susceptible to certain treatments than others.

Cinnamon:  Cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal.  It works on many types of fungus but is especially good at preventing damping-off disease on seedlings.  To treat new seedlings growing in starter trays, try sprinkling cinnamon on the soil.  Cinnamon can also be made into a “tea” by steeping one tablespoon of cinnamon in a gallon of hot water.  Leave it overnight to cool.  When it has cooled, filter the “tea”, then pour it into a spray bottle.  Spray the “tea” directly on the plants and the soil.  Spray once a week to prevent an outbreak or to treat a current fungal infection.

013.jpg  Milk:  Milk is also naturally anti-fungal.  Milk works on current fungal infections but also works as a preventative as well. Mix milk (2% works best) and water in a ratio of 1:4 in a spray bottle.  Spray it on the affected plant once a week, making sure to spray the underside of the leaves as well.  Milk works best if it is sprayed on the plant in the early morning or in the evening as it needs to stay moist to kill the fungus. Repeat until the fungus is gone.

Cedar Oil:  Cedar oil, which can be purchased at most garden stores, has been shown to have both anti-fungal and insecticidal qualities.  Cedar oil as an insecticide is discussed below.  Cedar oil as an anti-fungal is applied by spraying the affected plant and works similar to the milk treatment.  Read the manufacturer’s label for proper mixture strength and application instructions.

Insecticides (Bug killers) and Deterrents

Insecticides kill bugs, while other products act as a deterrent.  Attempting to kill all the insects in your garden or landscape is not recommended as beneficial insects, like bees and lady bugs are just that, beneficial. They pollinate your vegetables and eat the destructive insects like aphids.  However, killing or deterring detrimental insects will help keep your landscape beautiful, productive, and comfortable to work in.

Dish soap  Dish SoapDish soap in an excellent insecticide.  It is safe and effective for use in the landscape and garden.  Insecticidal soaps may be purchased at most garden stores. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.  To use regular dish soap as an insecticide on your plants, mix one tablespoon dish soap with one tablespoon olive oil or liquid vegetable oil in a spray bottle and fill the bottle with water.  Spray down the affected plant being sure to wet the leaves on the top and bottom.  Do not spray plants in direct sunlight as this may cause a condition called sun scald (sun burn) on your plant.  Also, some plants may be sensitive to dish soap so if in doubt, test the dish soap mixture on a small portion of the plant first and wait a few days.  If the plant remains healthy, it is probably safe to spray down the entire plant.

Dish soap insecticide works on contact with the body of the insect and has no residual effects so a few hours after treating your plant, use a hose or spray bottle with clean water, to wash down your plant and remove any soap residue and dead insects.  Repeat this process every three days until all signs of infestation are gone.

Cedar Oil:  Cedar wood smells good and has been used for hundreds of years to deter insects.  Cedar oil, when sprayed on the lawn, will deter fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and many other pest insects. There is a caveat.  Cedar oil will also deter beneficial insects like bees and butterflies so do not use it on plants that are in need of pollination, including garden vegetables and fruit trees, and in butterfly gardens.

Cedar oil is not harmful to plants, animals, or humans. It can be purchased at most garden stores or online.  Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application.

Diatomaceous Earth:  Diatomaceous earth has been used for many years as an effective insecticide.    It is silicon dioxide that comes from the fossilized remains of ancient algae that is mined from the ground.  It is non-toxic and safe for home and garden use.  Diatomaceous earth is generally sold as a powder and remains effective as long as it stays dry.  It can be used in the house any place insects hide or it can be used in the garden either on the ground or as a dust to protect plants from harmful insects.

The powder is comprised of sharp microscopic pieces that cut the insect’s underside causing damage leading to dehydration and death.  It works best on soft bodied insects like aphids and gastropods like slugs and snails. Even though diatomaceous earth is non-toxic, care should be taken not to breath in the dust or get it in your eyes due to the substance’s sharp microscopic texture.  Using gloves and a mask is recommended to apply this product and always read the package instructions for proper use.

Beer or copper for Slugs:  Slugs can be a problem for any gardener.  They chew holes in leaves and can devastate plants in a short amount of time.  As I have already covered this topic thoroughly in a previous post I will simply add the link here:   The Trouble With Slugs  Mixing edibles into the landscape with your existing ornamentals can be extremely appealing visually as well as a productive use of your landscape space. With careful  organic plant maintenance, your plantings will be safe, productive, and very beautiful!

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“You’ve got to out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”

-Will Rogers, American Actor

Bonus Quote:

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

-Moliere, French playwright and actor