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Are Mushrooms in My Garden Bad?

October 12, 2011
Beautiful, Gilled Mushroom Ornaments an Autumn Lawn

Beautiful, Gilled Mushroom Ornaments an Autumn Lawn

All the time — especially in fall and spring — I get asked over and over again if the mushrooms popping up in gardens are harmful. The answer, in general, is that they’re fine.

Actually, the mushroom you see is just the portion of a larger beast that lives throughout the soil all the time. When you see a mushroom form, the fungi is in the process of reproducing itself by spitting out spores that will eventually become new mushrooms nearby.

Now, to be clear, there are times when seeing the fruiting bodies of fungi (aka the mushrooms) is a warning sign that something not so good is going on. For instance, if shelf fungus forms on a tree, its time (or quite likely past time) to bring in an arborist to check on the health of the tree. These fungi begin putting out fruiting bodies when they’ve eaten up much of the tree already. In most cases, fungi goes for organic material already beginning to die or decay, but when it goes for living plants, that plant is likely on its way out.

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And, just because a mushroom isn’t doing damage to your garden doesn’t mean it won’t do damage to you or your pets if you decide to nibble on them. I won’t even begin to try to tell you how to tell an edible mushroom from a toxic one.

Brilliant Yellow Vomit Fungi in Summer

Brilliant Yellow “Vomit” Fungi in Summer

Fungi comes in all sorts of forms from wiggly jelly cups to puff balls to cascading beards to varieties that eat and grow over other mushrooms to barfy looking technicolor piles to the traditional forms we all (pretty much) recognize from the grocery store. And, yes, there are many more forms as well. But, knowing which are edible and which are not is a deadly game if you aren’t trained. So, unless you’re absolutely certain you know what you’re picking, don’t even think about eating them. Some will make you sick right away; others can take days to destroy your internal organs – permanently. Even it if looks like a squirrel already nibbled on a ‘shroom cap in the garden, don’t think that means you can eat it!

Puff Ball Fungi Popping Up

Puff Ball Fungi Popping Up

If patches of mushrooms are popping up in your garden beds or your lawn, odds are they’re not doing any damage. If you enjoy seeing them appear, know they’ll probably disappear just as quickly after they spread their spore and go back to growing underground as mycelium where they live all the time. And as they’re growing, they’re helping process toxins, assisting vascular plants in taking up soil water and nutrients, and aiding in the decomposition process that converts decaying material nutrients into forms that your garden plants can use and thrive upon.

Want to learn more about mushrooms and even get to go picking edible varieties with people in the know? Consider joining and taking classes with a local mycological society like Psms.org. Groups like this also often assist communities with identification of mushrooms found in home gardens, and they can provide help should you suspect mushroom poisoning has occurred.

25 Comments

  1. Colleen Miko says:

    Nice photos, Robin. Where’d you snap the blight yellow one?

  2. Colleen, Thanks for dropping by. The bright yellow was on a trail near Mt. Shasta in September. It was truly brilliant!

  3. Jaz Black says:

    Mycelium(the part of the mushroom that grows underground) actually interacts with plants and helps them absorb nutrients.

  4. Rita says:

    Please advise. Little wild (toxic?) mushrooms have been cropping up in the soil of my organic veggie garden. Are they good for the garden? I’ve been pulling them out. Thanks in advance.

  5. Rita, as the article says, mushrooms are part of the fruiting bodies of naturally occurring fungi in the soil. Some can go after desirable, living plants. Others leave well enough alone. By pulling the mushrooms themselves, you’re just getting rid of the part that spreads spores. You aren’t removing the entire body. Knowing which is which can be tough. Try contacting your local extension office or a mycological society for help identifying yours. In the PacNW our go-to society is PSMS: http://www.psms.org/index.php

  6. There are a lot of edible mushroom types that can be intentionally planted in a deep mulch no-till garden, or in mulched landscaping. Many are very easy to grow, and as long as you are not spraying chemicals, can provide additional crops without requiring more space. Mushrooms are going to grow in healthy environments, or where there is dead organic matter to break down (that is their job). I figure if they are going to grow there, I might as well plant edible ones and enjoy the crop!

  7. Thanks for sharing Laura. Have fun in your fungi garden! 🙂

  8. Barbara says:

    Can I through them into the compost to help inoculate it?

  9. Barbara, thanks for your question. If you’re hoping that by adding mushrooms to your compost you will be able to grow mushrooms there, it isn’t always going to happen. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of various fungi and each has its own “happy place” where it will send out spores and grow anew. If you just want to add rotting mushrooms to your compost to create more compost, we don’t know a reason you shouldn’t add them to your rotting heap. In fact, some vendors even sell “mushroom compost” as a soil amendment. Good luck!

  10. Barbara says:

    Thank you, however, what I meant was can I pick the mushrooms growing in the vegetable beds and throw them in the compost and they will help the compost heap or will they be poison to the heap.

  11. Barbara, it’s unlikely mushrooms that fully decompose in your compost will create a toxic situation. Just don’t go eating that compost!

  12. Betty says:

    We have large dense flowery looking clumps of mushrooms popping up in our flower garden on the patio. They are very interesting looking – look somewhat like a clump of roses – short ones- but are coming up in more places there all the time and just this past week we found them growing around the roots of my balloon flowers and they were dying and dead as the entire plant came out of the ground. The largest one was about 2 feet in length by 15 or so inches wide. I feel like they are going to kill all my plants. The mounding crepe myrtle in the bed developed sooty mold all over each bush which we have sprayed with a fungicide and seem to be getting better. What to do??????

  13. Betty, It sounds like you’ve got quite the fungal bloom going on in your garden. It may be that the blooms are disrupting the roots of some plants from your description, which may kill a few things. But the blooms (aka when the mushrooms appear above ground) should be fleeting. If you haven’t seen these before, the fungi may have come in with another plant, mulch or soil. Some pop up more than once. Others appear once and not again. You might take samples to a local fungi society for help with identification. The sooty mold problem isn’t quite the same. You might bring in a local professional to take a look at the situation. Changing the plant’s environment may help in the long term. Good luck!

  14. Maureen says:

    Hi, we lost 4 trees on one side of our garden last year that just rotted at the root & basically fell over. Yesterday we cut down my favourite contorted willow tree that I hot 13 years ago when my Daug was born. It had become the largest tree in our front garden. It produced no leaves this year & last year the leaves got black spots all over them. Living in Western Ireland we get more rain than sun so we just figured out garden has poor drainage which may have caused trees to fall. Now one of the old stumps has a cluster of fungus growing & a friend suggested that maybe our soil is thronged with a poisonous fungus which is claiming a lot of our shrubs & trees. Any thoughts? I do have a photo of fungus but I’m not sure how to post photo.

  15. Maureen,
    Thanks for writing in. It’s really hard to know what could be happening. In general, decomposition fungi don’t attack living plants that aren’t already under stress. So, if your plants are overly waterlogged, which doesn’t usually happen with willows, they may be weak and decomposition fungi may be be going after them. It is no surprise to hear that you have mushroom blooms on a dead stump. That’s part of the decomposition cycle in action. Try contacting an ISA-certified arborist for an evaluation of your trees and property if you want to try to get to the root of the issue. Good luck!

  16. BJo says:

    I live in Central Florida and have my first raised planter garden with kale and red leaf lettuce. Growth has been great but we are still having heat and humidity like summer. My garden suddenly sprouted multiple small mushrooms with small triangular caps that opened like little umbrellas this morning. Reading your previous comments it sounds like I don’t need to worry. I hate to put a fungicide if I don’t need to. But I don’t want to risk losing my vegetables.

  17. BJo- Thanks for writing in. Sounds like a fungal bloom in the soil, not a fungus on your plants. Check with your local professionals for best help!

  18. Luv my scotties says:

    I have newly installed a 2ft × 4ft × 60ft floor box that was intended to control errosion from a joining property. Neighbor installed large shredded mulch to control weeds and erosion. There is a fence between the properties. All along the fence …growing are different species of mushrooms. We have experienced the highest amount of rain this year in our region and it’s been too warm for a typical winter weather. Is the fungi coming from the neighbors property.? Can this be a serious problem for animals.?

  19. Luv my scotties – thanks for your question. The mushrooms you’re seeing are the fruiting bodies of a larger living system that lives throughout the soil and among plants. So, they could be coming from just about any property location — maybe the new mulch, maybe something else. As for being a problem for animals, it’s hard to know, but you may want to keep your scotties away from them. Many mushrooms are highly toxic to pets. Good luck!

  20. Beth Davis says:

    I am using composted horse manure in the garden, and have noticed a lot of palamino cup/ Peziza repanda now growing. I mean they are everywhere! Is this a good thing? I know people actually buy mushroom compost, so I’m hoping it’s a positive sign of mycelium growth. This is for our veggie garden though..should I be worried?

  21. Beth, thanks for writing in. We see a lot of this fungi popping up everywhere. If you have fungi blooms, you have a mycelium mat underneath as well. Usually, this stuff pops up on wood chips. We aren’t familiar with its prevalence in horse manure. If you aren’t consuming the fungi, we don’t know a reason it should be concerning for your garden.

  22. Regina says:

    Hi I have an elevated garden box with some herbs and veggies. Got a bunch of tiny mushrooms in clusters. Read your article and it looks like they will.be ok but when they decay they leave black slimy spots on the leaves. Is that something to be concerned about? I am in Los Angeles

  23. Regina, be sure not to eat any of them. And, if they’re rotting onto your plants, you can always pluck them and drop them into your compost to decay there instead.

  24. Maureen says:

    This week I had a large crop of what looks like parasol mushrooms pop under one of my pine trees. They started as a button and then flattened out to a parasol shape. After about 2 -3 days, they are turning brown and smell bad. Should I dig them back into the soil, or remove them? Will it hurt my pine trees?

  25. Maureen, It’s unlikely that mushrooms under your pine trees will harm the trees. Its even possible they may be a type of mushroom that is known to grow under your type of pine. It sounds like the mushrooms have completed their “bloom” and are decomposing back into the earth. Did you know that some will pay to buy mushroom compost? It sounds like you’re growing your own! Good luck!

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