I’ve been getting lots of emails and Facebook posts regarding a creepy, oozy fungus in mulch. I have discovered that almost 90% of the cases are directly related to extremely poor-quality mulch, and specifically black dyed mulch. I’ve written about it for years - even in my first book around 2004 - but I haven’t talked about it on the air very much recently. And since the topic is cropping up a lot, I thought this would be a good time to update our tip sheet on it.
This fungus has been described in many ways.
"An ooze coming from my mulch."
"Something that looks like wet scrambled eggs."
"I think my cat regurgitated his breakfast in my garden."
"It's as if a dog has thrown up in my mulch."
It’s often called “scrambled egg mold,” but officially it’s saprophytic fungus and technically a version of slime mold.
If you have shredded hardwood mulch in a landscape, sooner or later you're going to have an incidence. It normally starts as a wet yellow or orange blob on the top of a mulched bed. Then, in most cases, it hardens, turns tan and finally becomes a brownish pile of dust.
While the wet stage only lasts 24-36 hours, the hardened, brown-spore stage can last up to a month.
In 1973, yellow, pulsating blobs of scrambled egg slime plasmodia appeared in Dallas and caused a near panic. Some residents thought it was either aliens from outer space or mutant bacteria preparing to take over the earth. Typical Dallasites.
Interestingly, scrambled egg slime mold and a similar type are fried and eaten by natives of Veracruz, Mexico. They call it caca de luna. I'm not making this up!
In the Houston area, it is almost always associated with the poorest quality hardwood mulches. It gets energy from organic matter below the soil rather than from the sun, like green plants. If a fungus feeds on living organic matter, it is called parasitic. If it feeds on nonliving organic matter, it is called saprophytic (pronounced: sah-pro-fit'-ik).
Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because it’s not life-threatening. However, it’s hideous looking, so I don’t really know how you could consider it a good thing. Like mushroom fungi, though, it does indicate a high level of organic matter trying to find some place to go. So, you might not need to be in a big hurry to get rid of it, but I hope you can catch it early enough to mitigate the ugliness.
You can control it simply by flipping it over before it gets to the hardened stage. Anyone who has tried to flip the hardened stage with its countless brown spores knows what an effort in futility that can be. But if you catch it in that oozy, wet stage, you can flip it over and soak the area with a fungicide like Consan. Once it's dried and hard, forget about spraying it with anything.
Another familiar saprophytic fungus in our lawns is basic slime mold, which is also quite easy to take care of. I just dip a broom into a solution of Consan 20 and water and sweep it away.
By the way … you might want to read a little about Artillery Fungus and Bird’s Nest Fungus, also hideous byproducts of poor-quality mulches.
PHOTOS: Randy Lemmon