Susette has worked in the water conservation industry for more than four years and has a master's degree in sustainable development.
Mushrooms, which are a type of fungi, grow everywhere—in forests, the desert, the beach, and in people’s yards—and may be important keys to human health and planetary health, according to mycologist Paul Stamets. In fact, there are many trees and plants that couldn’t grow or reach maturity without their symbiotic relationships with mushrooms. And there are dead trees and bushes that would never decompose without parasitic mushrooms.
Contrary to popular opinion, mushrooms are actually healthy for your yard. Among other things, they break down tree waste and chemical fertilizers so your plants can utilize the nutrients. Without the mycelium (roots and actual plant of the mushroom), microbes and plant roots that need nutrients would not be able to absorb any inorganic material in the soil. They also extend your trees’ ability to find food, and they protect the tree roots against invasive diseases.
I found this all out when I ran a landscape committee for the homeowners association (HOA) where I lived several years ago. At the time, I was also employed by a water conservation consultancy that taught landscapers how to minimize water use in their lawns. The HOA was located in the desert, yet had extensive lawns with big brown patches in some areas, mushrooms in others, and a huge water bill.
To help the HOA with their lawns, I decided to research how to take care of lawns in the desert, how to properly irrigate, and what it meant that mushrooms were growing in the lawn.
3 Reasons Mushrooms Are in Your Yard (and How to Get Rid of Them)
Like most people, I believed that mushrooms were associated with too much watering and were therefore a bad thing. But since my research, I’ve concluded that mushrooms are an essential component of a healthy lawn. Without them, even the application of fertilizers would not help your lawn much.
Like any plant, the mushroom plant has its own perfect growing conditions. Here are several conditions that help the plant produce fruit (i.e., mushrooms):
- Humidity: Not just water, but wet air helps mushrooms emerge.
- Water: Lawn mushrooms love wet soil.
- Inorganic matter: Old tree roots, leaves, rotten branches, chemical fertilizers, wood chips, and straw are all good food for mushrooms.
- Nitrogen: Like any plant, mushrooms require some nitrogen to thrive.
I would not recommend getting rid of the mushrooms sprouting on your lawn, but if you’re sure you want to get rid of them completely, well . . . just prepare to suffer other consequences. Here are several ways to control mushroom growth.
1. Your Lawn Is Too Wet
Where I lived, the section of the HOA lawns where mushrooms usually grew were the wetter ones. Mycelium filaments are delicate and need soft, moist soil to thrive. In some ways, they can be compared with our own nervous system, which uses water to send signals to other parts of the body. (Yes, mushroom filaments send signals, which the presence of water helps.)
Mycelium usually fruits into mushrooms after a rain, but it will also fruit if you have an irrigation leak and/or your lawn floods.
Solution: Improve Your Lawn’s Drainage and Water Sparingly
The presence of mushrooms on a regular basis in a particular area can be an indication of irrigation leaks. Start your search where mushrooms are sprouting.
It’s a good idea to check for leaks in your irrigation system no matter what. If you don’t fix your pipes when they leak, not only are you wasting water, but you may be setting yourself up for future floods.
Note that fixing your drainage will not get rid of the mycelium, it will just cause it to fruit less often. If you don’t want mushrooms to grow at all, then don’t water at all. They won’t grow under dry conditions . . . but neither will the lawn. If you just want to minimize mushrooms, while still keeping the lawn, fix your leaks and water it properly, i.e., deep and rare.
Even though I live in Southern California, I’ve found that irrigating a mature lawn once a week, deeply, is enough—roughly 20–30 minutes for each station. It prevents mold or moss from growing on the surface and minimizes the fruiting of mushrooms. Best of all, it makes grass roots grow deep in search of water instead of bunching up near the top of the soil. When roots bunch up, then water can’t sink down, so it runs off the surface into the gutter and you’ve wasted it.
2. Your Lawn Is Too Shady
The big, rolling front lawn where I now live in Pasadena is shaded by huge trees along the edges. At some point during the day, every part of the lawn is shaded, but it also gets plenty of sun. That lawn has bright green spots where irrigation pipes leak underground. That’s where the mushrooms grow.
Back at the HOA where I used to live, there was a big tree that mushrooms grew near. That area got minimal morning sun and a lot of afternoon sun. The shade was thick, so I don’t think the tree had ever been pruned. The irrigation also leaked there. It’s clear to me that it’s the combination of water and shade that lawn mushrooms like.
Note that when trees have lots of branches and leaves, it not only provides shade, but also moisturizes the air. That’s what I think the mushrooms are after.
Solution: Trim Your Trees to Increase Sunlight
Pruning trees can be healthy for them, and it may reduce the fruiting of mushrooms too. However, if you really don’t want any mushrooms at all, then chop down all your trees and don’t water the lawn (joke).
3. Your Lawn Has Too Much Organic Waste
Unless organic waste is all piled up, or the layer is too thick and is suffocating the lawn, organic waste is incredibly healthy for your lawn, flowers, bushes, and trees. In fact, organic waste is about the best thing you can provide your lawn—better than fertilizer. If you have a lot of organic material, mushrooms will help you break it down, so the other plants can utilize it better for their own growth.
If you don’t have a lot of organic waste, you will need to fertilize your grass regularly in order to keep it healthy. In that case, you will still need mushrooms to help break down the chemicals in the fertilizer. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money. Fertilizer companies won’t tell you that, of course, so you’ll have to think for yourself on this one.
Solution: Remove Organic Waste
I don’t recommend you remove all organic waste. Most people already remove grass cuttings and rake (or blow) leaves off anyway. But if you have organic waste that’s piled up and mushrooms are growing in that area, consider gathering it and putting it in the green waste recycling bin or, better yet, using it to start a compost pile somewhere away from your lawn.
More Ways to Eliminate Mushrooms in Your Yard
The only way to truly get rid of mushrooms, long term, is to plow the yard to break up the mycelium, then do a deep rake and pull those clumps out. That’s what agribusiness does with their mono-crops. Then they apply chemical fertilizers to put a few nutrients into the soil. But because there’s no mycelium to break down the chemicals, the crops can’t utilize much of the fertilizer. That’s why agribusiness produce is not very healthy.
Remove Mushrooms Manually
The best way to pick mushrooms is by hand. Since they only fruit after a rain, it should be easy to go out and pick for a half-hour in the afternoon. If you catch them before they open, they will not disperse spores, which is how they reproduce.
On the other hand, if you look at mushrooms as edible fruit, which many of them are (including the ones in the photos above), then you may have a little orchard growing in your yard. Once you’ve checked to make sure they’re not poisonous, you can pick them anytime you want, fry them up or add them to soup or salad, and have yourself a little feast.
Be very careful, though, to go through that testing stage before deciding whether to eat them. If you fail to do your due diligence and they turn out to be poisonous, you may be feasting yourself to an early grave—or at least to the hospital (Cleveland Clinic).
Fungicides are dangerous. Not only are they toxic to the one who applies them, but they also kill everything in the soil—not just the mycelium, but also all the little microbes that keep soil healthy, and the little worms that keep it aerated. If you’ve ever heard the term “living soil,” that is what you’d be killing off by applying a fungicide.
Wait for Them to Disappear
Mycelium usually fruits after a rain. Then, as the soil dries again, the mushrooms disappear on their own. Their job of reproducing spores is over. Waiting for them to disappear is obviously a good “solution.” It only takes a week or so.
Pros and Cons of Lawn Mushrooms
Turns tree stumps, branches, and twigs into nutrients for grass.
Can be unsightly in a green lawn.
Helps bacteria and other microbes form a living soil.
A few lawn mushrooms are toxic to pets and/or humans.
Digests chemical fertilizers, so plants/grass can utilize them.
Are Lawn Mushrooms Poisonous?
Molds, mushrooms, and yeasts are different groups of fungi. All can be found in your yard in some form. Some can be eaten. Some are poisonous. Some are allergens.
When you forage, you need to first carefully identify and test anything you intend to use or eat. Very few lawn mushrooms are actually poisonous, but it should be stressed that you should always check to be safe. My recommendation is to first look up the mushroom of interest in a mushroom identification guide like this one, put out by Audubon.
I’ve tested and eaten all the mushrooms I’ve seen growing in my lawns without any problems. First I identified them. Then picked one to test, fried and nibbled it to see how it tasted, and checked for negative side effects. Only when I could rule out any negative reaction and was sure of my identification did I proceed to eat it. (I usually let mushrooms sit for a few days before eating a whole one or two).
While this method works for me, I recommend taking classes and working with an expert before exploring this option yourself, since a few mushrooms are poisonous and/or deadly if inappropriately consumed.
Are Mushrooms a Sign of a Healthy Lawn?
Unequivocally yes. Mushrooms are a sign of a healthy lawn. In fact, they rebuild soils that have been destroyed through neglect or over-production. If you have mushrooms, you most likely also have the microbes that feed off of the nutrients mushrooms provide, thereby helping plants around them to thrive. These microbes cannot digest wood, like mushrooms can, but they can digest what the mycelium break down. And what the microbes break down, plants can eat.
What are mycelium? When we talk mushrooms, we’re really talking about mycelium. Mushrooms are the fruit of mycelium (like apples are the fruit of the apple tree), which is actually a plant that grows underground. This plant is made of a massive network of fibers that can extend miles wide. If you’ve ever overturned a rock and found masses of flat, white strands underneath, that’s most likely mycelium.
Mycelium survives by eating chemicals and organic nutrients in the soil (like tree stumps or twigs), including chemical fertilizers. This breaks them down into nutrients that can be eaten by the microbes that feed plants. Microbes are another essential component of a living soil. The mycelium feed both—microbes and plant roots.
Mushrooms and microbes are a major part of what is called “living soil,” which helps plants thrive. With both supporting your soil, along with proper watering, you should have a pretty healthy lawn. If you want to know more about how mushrooms operate, read Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running. It’s a fascinating book.
© 2021 Sustainable Sue
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on March 17, 2021:
Haven't tried psilocybin mushrooms (lol). But I did buy a big package of wild mushrooms off the Internet one day, and have been making wild mushroom soup and adding local ones. Pretty strong flavor, but healthy! Good luck on growing shiitakes.
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on March 06, 2021:
This is one great article! Lots of useful information here.
I for one love mushrooms, even the psilocybin mushrooms, haha!! And so, I agree with the perception of mushrooms being: "edible fruit", as You mentioned. They are great! I cooked a mushroom and chicken liver stew yesterday. Very yummy! And I am looking at starting to grow shiitake mushrooms. Wish me luck!
Thanks for the article - all the best!