The end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 has been a time when we have plenty of moisture in our soils. What better way to start 2009 than with adequate soil moisture?
This soil moisture is a benefit to our lawns, gardens and trees. But in a number of landscapes, the excess moisture is causing a stinky situation. There is an odor emanating from shrub and flower beds and in some lawns.
What is causing this putrid smell? It is coming from a mushroom called a stinkhorn. The odor has been described as something like decaying flesh.
The stinkhorn fungus is a decomposer. This fungus helps to breakdown organic materials that are high in cellulose, such as the organic mulch that we use in our flower beds. According to the calls and e-mails that I received have this week, the stinkhorns were growing in the hardwood and cypress mulch around plants. Not only do they like to grow in mulch, but they will grow in sawdust, dead roots, stumps and other materials that have high cellulose.
Stinkhorns usually grow during cool, wet conditions, so the excess moisture and cooler temperatures are the reason that we are seeing more of them now.
There are many different types of stinkhorns. They range in shape from tall and columnar to globular. They can range in size from two inches to six inches tall. They can range in color from a cream color to pink to orange; the majority of the ones that I have seen this week have been orange. The one thing that they have in common is the foul odor that they emit.
The odor comes from the spores of the fungus. The odor attracts flies and beetles, which walk on or ingest the mushroom. After dining, these insects depart with their legs and other body parts covered in the spores, which they spread throughout the environment.
The fungus starts as egglike structures that are attached to the ground by long root-like strands. Most of the egg is underground and is the size of a golf ball. This egg-like structure contains a fully formed miniature adult. When enough water becomes available, the adult stinkhorn will emerge from the egg. It might take only an hour from the egg-rupturing stage to the mature stinkhorn. Fortunately, these smelly mushrooms seem to shrivel and disappear almost as quickly as they appeared.
The good thing about stinkhorns is that they do not cause any type of plant diseases. In fact, they are very beneficial. So, if you can live with the smell for a few days it is best to leave them alone. Most of the time, they will not reappear in the area where they grew.
There is no chemical control that will work on stinkhorns. So, if you need to control them, you will need to do some cultural control. This can be accomplished by removing the fungus when it is in the egg shape. The top portion of the fungus will be slightly out of the ground. The next option is to remove hardwood mulches and replace them with pine straw or pine bark.
We are done with the stinky topic, so let's look at something that smells good. There are a number of trees that produce flowers that are fragrant. One that is considered a small tree or large shrub that does well in our area is the fringe tree. The native version of this plant is Chionathus virginicus . Other names that you might hear this tree called is Grancy Graybeard or Old Man's Beard. The flowers of this tree are formed in white, lacy clusters that usually appear in May.
The tree will get 20 to 30 feet tall and will grow in a wide range of soil conditions, but will do best in deep, moist, fertile soils. It will grow in full sun or partial shade. In full sun, the plant will be full and requires little pruning. I have found the plant growing on granite rock outcroppings and along streams in Columbia County.
If you would like information on trees to plant and where they do best, you can attend the next Gardening at Lunch program on Wednesday. The program starts at 12:10 p.m. It is free and open to the public.
Reach Columbia County Extension agent Charles Phillips at (706) 868-3413 or at email@example.com. The office is at www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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