17 July 2010

what's that growing in your mulch ?

moldy mulch ? fungus ? mushrooms ? what ?!?

every few weeks, a customer calls the garden center to complain that we sold them faulty mulch. not so. less than a minute's investment in just thinking logically about what mulch is, and giving science some credit, leads to making sense of understanding how and why you might just have some spots of moldy or oddly growth-filled mulch.
mulch is aged, rotting wood. it's decaying material, if you think about it. so especially when we have sudden spells of moisture (by which i mean rain--wonderful rain !), and it gathers in flowerbed areas where the drainage isn't especially efficient, such episodes of higher ick factors are more likely.

these natural occurrences can make themselves known in any mulch from any supplier, keep in mind. i believe that certain types of recycled, shredded, and aged wood might be more susceptible to these growths than others, but i'm not well-learned about any specifics beyond that.

to teach people about the real deal behind mulch mold and more, i usually show them a copy of a brochure published by the penn state college of agricultural sciences cooperative extension.

the brochure identifies the main kinds of molds, mushrooms, and fungus that can spur into mulch beds, complemented with a few visuals, of course. people seem to calm down a bit in their huffing and puffing when they see this university-associated literature about the issues.

the only copy i had of the brochure, until recently, was one from 1997, very weathered and beaten. i contacted the university's publications department and learned that an updated version came out in 2009, so i ordered that. they will only send one free copy to a pennslyvania resident. after that, you pay per copy.

i don't believe this exact literature is online, and my cropped pages on display here may be a bit difficult to read. if you would like the originally scanned files, for easier reading, let me know and i can e-mail those to anyone who is interested.

but at least by the photographs, if you have these growths culturing in your landscape, you know they're common and can learn more about them.

the brochure's content mostly explains that the mold, fungus, and mushrooms are short-lived and will eventually decompose on their own. instead of finding them repulsive, you're supposed to appreciate the beauty in their existence, especially in that most of them are not harmful to your landscape. if you can't stand to look at them though, it's suggested that you scoop them up and dispose of them.

unfortunately, one damaging breed here is artillery fungus. they shoot of little spores that often stick to siding, cars, or any other objects around the mulch, and it's very difficult to remove them, especially without leaving a stain. the brochure's only remedy for dealing with this problem is prevention by adding mushroom soil to blend with your mulch.

if by chance you come across this and know anyone who has complained about these little sights popping up in their flowerbeds,  pass it on !

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