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Mulch Related Issues

Mulch Related Issues  
Artillery Fungus

Have you seen small specks of what looks like tar on the siding of your home or on your car this spring? What you may be seeing are the spore packages, called peridioles, of a wood-rotting fungus living in the foundation mulch around your home. This fungus (Sphaerobolus stellatus) is known as artillery fungus and colonizes mulch that contains a high percentage of wood. During the cool, moist spring and fall temperatures, the artillery fungus produces very small, cup-like fruiting bodies on pieces of wood in the mulch. From these reproductive structures, the fungus is capable of shooting its sticky, black spore packages as far as 6 to 8 feet up and 20 feet out from the infested mulch. They will adhere tightly as if super-glued to the paint on a car, to the siding of a home and even to nearby plant foliage.

There are no fungicides labeled for control of the artillery fungus in mulch, but there are cultural things that may reduce the incidence of this problem. If using mulch, select mulch that contains at least 85% bark. The wood component of mulch contains cellulose that is the primary food source for these wood-rotting fungi. Bark contains lignin which is more slowly degraded by this or other wood-rotting fungi. Adding a fresh layer of bark mulch on top of the existing mulch each year may reduce the sporulation of the artillery fungus. Do not apply so much mulch that the total layer exceeds 3 to 5 inches depth, as air movement into the soil is reduced. The addition of mushroom compost at 40% by volume with bark mulch will also suppress development of the artillery fungus.  

STRATEGIES FOR CONTROL: Prevention and avoidance are the major strategies for control of this fungus since chemicals are ineffective. This involves removing or disturbing the wood chips or bark mulch with a rake to disperse the fungus and to dislodge the fruiting bodies. This also helps to dry out the mulch by increasing air circulation and creating conditions which are less favorable for the growth of the fungus. Some success has been achieved by periodic overlaying with fresh mulch, thereby reducing the light which is important for peridiole discharge. However, when overlaying, it is important to avoid making the mulch layer too thick. It is also important to select mulches that contain at least 85% bark. Avoid mulches that contain a high proportion of wood since wood chips are better sources of carbon, an important food source for the fungus, than mulches that mainly contain bark.  Removing and controlling the fungi is virtually impossible. Scrubbing and scraping with tools or washing with soap and water aids somewhat in removal; however, the use of tools or harsh chemicals may actually damage painted surfaces. No fungicide is labeled for this particular fungus.

Slime Mold

Common names: slime molds, “dog vomit” fungus
Scientific names: species of Physarum, Fuligo, and Stemonitis

What do slime molds look like?

They start as brightly colored (yellow, orange, etc.) slimy masses that are several inches to more than a foot across. They produce many tiny, dark spores. These molds dry out and turn brown, eventually appearing as a white, dry powdery mass. Are they a problem? No. These fungi are “feeding” on bacteria growing in the mulch. They are normally a temporary nuisance confined to small areas. What should be done? The fungi may be left in place to decompose. If their appearance is offensive, discard the fruiting bodies in a compost pile, household garbage, or a spot in the yard away from existing mulch.

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