Fungus Among Us

Are you seeing something yucky in your mulch?  Does it look like a baby puked?  Or maybe a dog barfed? OR MAYBE AN ALIEN??? (sorry)

or... Maybe you have some unidentified black spots on your siding or car that seem to have come out of nowhere?

These are reminders that as long as we live in nature there will be fungus among us.  Most fungus species are harmless, some are delicious, and nearly all have an incredible usefulness in nature.  

Fungi do some amazing things that scientists are learning more and more about every day.  If you wanna read something really cool check out

But.... what about the dog-puke looking stuff in my yard?  Well - when weather conditions are just right, organic matter plus moisture combines with fungal spores that are just about everywhere in the environment, and….we start to get a few calls about what looks like dog puke in mulch beds. The technical name is Fuligo septics. Dog vomit slime-mold is a well-accepted common name. It typically dries up within a few days and the appearance is “less yucky”. To keep it from spreading, however, you can scrape it up and trash it, top dress mulch to cover the fungus, use a coarser mulch, or cross your fingers and pray it doesn't stay so moist.   You could also remove the organic mulch and replace with stone mulch - but before doing so read our wonderful blogpost "Why stone mulch is the worst."

When faced with this issue it’s probably best to remember the newly-coined Aspen proverb "Sometimes life gives you lemons, and sometimes it looks like a dog puked in your mulch." or… you could read this link:

Another funky fungus is called Artillery Fungus. It’s something we’ve seen more of in recent (moist) years. The most noticeable aspect of this isn’t the fruiting body itself, but the black spots that are “catapulted” throughout the area. They are especially noticeable on light colored siding - and they really stay stuck! For more info check this out

For all of the anatomy fans out there, another “fun” fungus looks kinda sorta exactly like a gross phallus….So much so that I overheard someone calling it a “yucky dick-looking thing.” We won’t get into too much detail but they look especially gross when rotting. We’re a bit leery of linking to info on this on “the inter-webs” but feel free to google away such terms as “phallus mushroom,” “wiener fungus,” or whatever you like. You may, however, want to take care to not do this at work.

…Or, just keep your eyes open for a penis-looking ‘shroom near your petunias.… I saw one within a hundred feet of St Mary’s Hospital. It made me do a double-take.

A Few Spring Cleanup Tips for Madison, WI Homeowners

  • Raking all the thatch out of the lawn can actually encourage more crabgrass to sprout. Keeping the seed shaded helps a good deal.

  • Don’t compact soils - don't walk on soil or work soil when it's wet. Compacted soils can lead to weeds, less absorbtion of storm water, and unhealthy conditions for desirable plants

  • Mulching early in the season- before plants emerge, will save work and reduce damage to plants. Late fall is another option as well.

  • Have a nice edge to hold mulch in place. This can be a freshly cut lawn edge, or a physical border like steel, brick, poly, or stone.

  • Don’t pile mulch against or close to the elevation of your siding. We recommend the top of mulch be 6” below the bottom of your siding. This will reduce potential for moisture and insect related issues. This is not always possible with older homes and low-to-the-ground homes like many of the ranches built in the 60’s in Madison, WI. Many homes need regrading to effectively shed moisture in the more intense storms we are experiencing.

  • Prepare for mulching before having the mulch delivered. Over time, mulch builds up in a landscape bed - making it more mounded each year.  Over time, the beds can be so high that the mulch simply washes off into the lawn with the slightest rain or disturbance. One approach is to remove some of the decomposed material from the beds.

  • If you have excess broken-down mulch in beds, we have had good success simply spreading a thin layer (about 1/2” or less) on lawn areas. This helps to break down any thatch layer in the lawn, add beneficial soil biology (living microbes, etc) to the lawn, level low spots, and add nutrients.

  • Plan to overseed thin lawn areas around Labor Day - spring seeding may be effective but typically weed competition and summer drought wipe out new lawn plantings. Add some seed in early spring so it’s ready when conditions are favorable. Then plan to over-seed around Labor Day. Keep seed in a cool dry place to maintain viability.

  • Don’t rush out to buy plants without a plan. Do your research first and measure your available spaces first or you’ll simply end up with a mix-match of plants that don’t work well.

Adding Winter Interest to the Landscape

This time of year landscapes can be a bit less inspiring.  We have a few ideas to help enhance your winter landscape:

    - Consider evergreens to provide some green - or explore those that have unique coloration. Chartreuse, bluish/greyish, or even copperish evergreens are available.  

    - Upright ornamental grasses may add more texture, color, and movement throughout the winter.

    - Providing habitat for animals and birds adds life to the dormant winter landscape.  Sources of water and food greatly encourage birds and the shelter of dense/ evergreen plants is critical for many species.  Leaving certain areas of a property less manicured can be beneficial both for the budget and animals.  

    - Berries can provide both a splash of color and food for birds and other wildlife.  Flowering crabs, viburnum (cranberry bush, etc), winterberry holly, and others are good options.

   - Low-voltage landscape lighting is another way to really enhance the winter landscape.  Landscape lighting is especially beneficial in winter since nights are so long.  Highlighting trees with unique form and adding a wash of light to highlight a home's architecture are two great choices.  Simply having something “intentional and bright” in the evening winter landscape is highly beneficial. 


    - Plants with interesting seed heads, colorful bark, and interesting form.

Hydrangea paniculata flower heads stay attractive throughout winter

Hydrangea paniculata flower heads stay attractive throughout winter



Shearing isn't the only kind of pruning

Shearing shrubs and hedges can be appropriate in some settings- and with certain plants, but it shouldn't be the only kind of pruning you consider.

Shearing promotes density & a "witches broom" appearance on the outer edge of a shrub while entirely ignoring the inner structure of the plant.

hedge shearing - madison, wi

We often see ornamental trees like flowering crabs planted near the entrance of a home.  They are left unpruned for several years until it becomes obvious that they will outgrow the space.  So they are sheared into balls.  The idea of shaping a plant is fine, but the problem is that when shearing, interior branches are not considered at all.  Major branches continue to grow and over time begin crossing and rubbing on each other in any breeze - this creates open wounds that can't heal.  Because the exterior of the trees are so dense there is no air flow and fungal diseases can flourish.

We strive to site plants where they will thrive and fit the space with minimal pruning.  That said, we think it's important to address structural concerns within the plant every few years to ensure it can live a healthy life and grow successfully.

UW-Extension has some good info on pruning available at .  Take a look and feel free to let us know if you have any questions.



Establishing a Lawn in Madison, WI. Grass Seed or Sod?

We often work on sites where an older or historic home landscape has been uncared for over many years.  We are brought in to renovate the landscape and fix the lawn.  These are some tips and ideas that may help if you are debating between seed and sod.  Choosing between seed and sod isn't as simple as it might first appear and once you've made the decision, there are other questions to ask.

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A Note on Pruning

Many folks like to shear their plants into balls and cubes.  I really don't.  I like my plants to have a nice appearance, but with a bit more loose, natural look.

Beyond appearances, the main problem with shearing is that it ignores the underlying structural issues within a plant....  and, it's whats on the inside that really matters.  Below we've highlighted some common structural problems with trees. 

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