They appear spontaneously, or so it seems, popping up out of the mulch, rising in a single spot on the lawn or bursting from between the pathway pavers like little marshmallows. But there is an intricate master plan at work, just not one to which most gardeners are privy.
What are the mushrooms in our gardens trying to tell us — and would you be surprised to learn it’s mostly good news?
“Without the fungi we wouldn’t have soil, at least not the way we know it now,” said John Michelotti, of Catskill Fungi in Big Indian, N.Y., a family farm on land his great-great-grandfather bought, where Mr. Michelotti spent his childhood summers. “Their filamentous underground mycelia are essential for the nutrient cycling and balance of our soils, plants, microbial life — and ecosystems as a whole.”
‘Fantastic Fungi’ if you want to really appreciate the puffballs in your lawn,” said Mr. Michelotti, who has a walk-on in the documentary — and a favorite recipe for puffball piccata.
Again: Enough with the eradication efforts. First, you can’t eradicate them — most of the fungi’s life is unseen, below ground, and continues even if the fruiting bodies are removed. And “if you pick them and toss them somewhere, or mow them, you’re actually helping spread their spores,” Mr. Michelotti said.
Edible mushroom cultivation — accomplished by inoculating logs with shiitake spawn or growing oyster mushrooms in coffee grounds on the kitchen counter — has soared in popularity.
Although we are already unintentionally growing mushrooms in our yards, Mr. Michelotti nudges us to try our hand at deliberately growing delicious workhorses like wine cap king Stropharia (Stropharia rugosoannulata) in mulched paths or beds. The annual almond Agaricus could be cultivated in finished compost, alongside squash vines, or you could inoculate a compost heap or undisturbed garden bed with blewits (Clitocybe).
Sources of spawn like Field & Forest Products and Mushroom Mountain offer extensive selections with detailed how-to instructions on each species.