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Q: Last year we had a problem with mushrooms growing on our west-facing front lawn. The growth started as a couple of small bunches in mid-summer but increased significantly until there were quite a few bunches near the end of summer. There was more growth in the shade of a large pine tree on the north part of our front yard. Many of the mushrooms grew to the size of baseballs in less than a week. Coincidentally or not, we hired a well-known professional lawn care company to fertilize our lawn early last summer. We mowed the lawn ourselves. What can we do this spring to control or prevent this problem?
A: In reality, the mushrooms have a rather extensive system of mycelium located in your soil system. The mushrooms you see are only a small part of the whole system. This type of fungus is simply decomposing organic matter located in the soil. This is a good thing. If the short-lived and temporary mushrooms are bothersome to you just kick them over and remove them. If you knock them down before they sporulate or release their spores you will not have them return as easily next year.
Decomposing mushrooms are not an indication that anything is wrong or out of balance. They cannot harm your turf. If they really are bothersome you can dig down into the soil and find the organic matter they are decomposing. The matter is usually some type of wood. In your case it may even be a rotting root from your pine tree.
Digging up the soil and removing the organic source will help control the mushrooms. Also, try aerating the area, as this will help get air down to the source and help with the decomposition.
Filipski’s Fun Facts
Sometimes I just go off on plant tangents, and this is one of those times. An area of research that has always fascinated me is called plant kin recognition.
Biedrzycki and Bais wrote in the Journal of Botany (Vol. 61, Issue 10, 2010) “Biologists have long accepted that diverse animal species have evolved means to recognize and interact with other members of their species, often specifically kin members to enhance their survival. More recently, studies have shown that various microbes, some of the simplest life forms, also have the ability to recognize their kin. So why is it surprising that studies have shown that plants, too, can recognize and interact with their kin?” In other words, if animals can benefit from interactions with their kin why not plants?
In 2007 Dudley and File at McMaster University in Hamilton found that “an annual plant, Cakile edentula, exhibited kin recognition, as the plants produced more roots when grown in pots with strangers (plants of the same species, but grown from seeds collected from different mother plants) versus being grown with kin plants (plants grown from seeds collected from the same mother plant).”
Again, simply put, if you grow Cakile edentula seeds from the same mother plant in the same pot those plants will produce less roots than if you grow plants from two different mother plants in the same pot. The more roots a plant grows the better it’s able to compete with plants that are strangers.
Plants need less roots when grown with kin or sibling plants because they are not in full competition. It is amazing to me that plants can actually tell the difference between kin and strangers. So the plant joke would be “mama plant told her kids never talk to strangers.”
This is worthy of trial for the home gardener. I plan on doing an experiment this season. I have saved tomato seeds from a favourite plant. I will grow them in two pots. In one pot I will grow all seeds from mother plant A. In the other pot I will grow seeds from mother plant A and mother plant B (or store-bought seeds of the same variety). I don’t plan on digging the plants up to examine the roots, but I do plan on noting whether one set of plants grows better than the other. Good luck and happy gardening!
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