Question of the Week: September 17, 2020

“I’ve had mushrooms pop up in my lawn. Do I need to be concerned? If so, what can I do about them?”

Mushrooms and toadstools are fascinating lower plants. They’re the subject of an entire field of botany called mycology, and specialists study them all day long in their laboratories. Some are edible. Some are deadly poisonous.

Mushrooms and toadstools that crop up in your turf are saprophytic funguses. That means that they’re living off decaying organic matter like old tree roots and grass clippings. They are not deriving any of their sustenance from living plant parts (parasitic). There are hundreds of species, each with its own characteristic look.

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They’re more common when the ground is wet, which is why we’re seeing them now, following recent fall rains. They appear, develop their spores and disappear within just a few days, and it’s interesting to watch it all happen.

I generally leave mine in place so I can see it all unfolding. However, if you have pets that seem to want to consume mushrooms, you probably ought to break the mushrooms off with a hoe or by dragging a garden hose across them, and you certainly don’t want to eat them yourself. But otherwise they’re of no concern.

As you can see more of the photo you will notice that the mushrooms have formed circular “fairy rings.” This happens over a period of time as the fungal growths use up the organic matter in a given area. The ring becomes larger, like ripples on a still pond, until you see a large ring like this. On rare occasions you may be lucky enough to see a perfect circle.
As the mushrooms use up all available nitrogen in an area and start to die off, they release that nitrogen back into the soil. You’ll occasionally even see rich green circles within the old rings as the grass feeds on the new source of nitrogen.
Posted by Neil Sperry
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