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updated: 6/30/2013 12:03 PM

Mushrooms help give lawn nutrients it needs

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By Mary Boldan Mary Moisand

Q. Why do I have mushrooms growing in my lawn?

A. Has all of the wet weather we have experienced recently caused you to see mushrooms in your lawn? Smile. Don't frown! You have visitors to help nurture your lawn and provide it with healthy nutrients. Many homeowners think their lawn is diseased when they see mushrooms popping up, but this isn't the case.

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Mushrooms are quite beneficial. They break down nutrients in the soil and extend the root systems of plants.

Many homeowners want to know how to eliminate lawn mushrooms. The reality is that you cannot get rid of them without getting rid of the lawn. Lawn mushrooms are fungi which are part of every plant-based ecosystem. Food sources such as animal waste, buried scraps of lumber or sawdust, bark, dead tree roots, leaves, needles, thatch, or other plant debris will support mushrooms in your yard.

There are no chemicals registered for eliminating them. Removing them as you see them or frequent mowing will improve the sight of your lawn and help reduce their spread. Aside from removing them as you see them, the only way to rid them permanently is to exhaust all of the food sources in your yard and soil which can be difficult. Thus, the lawn mushrooms are likely to reappear once conditions are suitable.

Why do mushrooms appear? Mushrooms are part of the fungus family that reproduce when something is decaying or breaking down. The top or cap of mushrooms (or toadstools as they are commonly called) is actually the fruiting part of the mushroom and is vital to its reproduction. The cap appears for a few days, and during that time it produces millions of spores, each capable of developing into a new mushroom. For a spore to survive, it must land in a damp, moist environment. If conditions are right, spores mate and grow structures below and above the soil. The part that grows above the soil forms a stalk or stem on which a fruiting cap grows, and the cycle is repeated.

Because small children tend to put anything in their mouths and pets sometimes become interested in them, you will want to remove any visible signs of mushrooms from the yard before allowing them to play there. Most lawn mushroom species are poisonous and under no circumstances should you consider eating them. Otherwise, enjoy nature at work through the diversity of mushroom forms appearing in your yard.

• Provided by Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email Cookcountymg.com@gmail.com

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