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Soil and Composting: soil fungus - HELP PLEASE!!!

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tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

July 22, 2011
8:02 PM

Post #8709817

i seriously need everyone's help on this! i was told that this would be a good place to post my problem. thanks in advance for reading this.

i started using earthgro potting soil this year. i like it because it is airy and drains but holds enough moisture for desert growing and the fabric pots that i have the plants in. i was finally enjoying all of the plants when this nasty soil fungus appeared. it spreads throughout the soil. it seems to be beneficial for breaking down the soil. however, the problem is that it repels water. i have posted a wide pic and close-ups of the soil w/ fungus. also, there is a pic of uncontaminated soil showing its structure and what it looks like when wet. this soil sample comes from a pot that i watered for about 5 minutes. bird's nest fungus is also growing on top of the soil.

does anyone know of a way to kill this fungus? i thought a fungicide might work but they all seem to be geared toward the plant and not the soil. btw, the plants are healthy and happy.

i am just wasting too much water trying to rehydrate the soil and keep moist. right now i am watering just about every day. you can see that there are still dry spots. surfactants do not appear to help much. the fungus soil does eventually rehydrate w/ repeated watering. it is just a huge waist of water!

please let me know if you have any suggestions or know of anyone that might be able to help. at this point i would be looking at transplanting every plant that i have. this would mean a loss of root mass and plant shock since i'd have to spray off all of the soil to avoid transporting any spores to the new soil. it just seems to late in the season to do this even here in arizona. i am hoping that there is a way to kill the fungus and restore the soil's ability to soak up water.

thanks for your time. sorry about all of the images. =)

Thumbnail by tucsonplumeriaz
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tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

July 22, 2011
8:02 PM

Post #8709819

close-up

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tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

July 22, 2011
8:03 PM

Post #8709822

structure of good soil when moist.

Thumbnail by tucsonplumeriaz
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bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

July 23, 2011
2:51 AM

Post #8710163

I do not use earhtgro but use the potting soil that walmart carries. The quality is like miracle grow but $5.00 cheaper.

I had never had fungus in my bed nor planters so i can not help.Someone here on DG will help since there are a lot of them who are very knowledgeable.

If the soil repels water then there is too much peat. Peat is supposed to be soaked in water first before using.

I will be following this thread.

Belle

This message was edited Jul 23, 2011 11:41 AM
PuddlePirate
North Ridgeville, OH
(Zone 5b)

July 23, 2011
8:51 AM

Post #8710618

I wonder if drenching the soil with hydrogen peroxide would kill the fungi w/o harming the plants?
tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

July 23, 2011
11:01 AM

Post #8710795

thanks for your comments. i found out that mycelia is causing the hydrophobic condition. actually, keeping the soil moist and using a surfactant is one way to combat the fungus.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

July 25, 2011
3:22 AM

Post #8713528

I couldn't tell for sure from the photos, But I also had nasty fungus that stopped water from sinking into a bed, after I used too much "Soil Pep", a soil amendment that was mostly wood chips and wood shavings.

>> i am hoping that there is a way to kill the fungus and restore the soil's ability to soak up water.

Killing fungus so that it doesn't come back might not be easy if there is some condition that enourages it to grow excessively. Remedying that condition may be necessary. I'm guessing there is something 'excessive' in the soil or the "EarthGro" that enocuarged fungus in a bed even thgouh (I guess) it did not happen in pots.

One approach is to just live with it for a year or two while adding different soil amendments. , After the fungus finishes digesting whatever encouraged it, or some other imbalance is balanced, it will probably go away or be replaced by other soil biota.

I don't know if it's relevant, but my bed started as pure clay with a high water table, in a cool wet climate. Almost no OM or nitrogen, terrible drainage: just clay, and then I added lots of woody chips and a variety of other soil amnements including "potting soil".

And yet, rotting wood is supposed to hold water like a sponge! And fungus is supposed to thrive in damp soil, which doesn't SOUND like being hydrophobic. Yet anything more than 3" deep seemed dry, dusty, and loaded with white mycelia.

It took 1-2 years for that fungus to disapear. I stopped adding woody stuff and instead added composted steer manure and sand, with a few shovelfulls of soil from healthier beds as "innoculum".

My theory is that the fungus liked the wood and grew excessively. It just wasn't anything like real soil until the wood was fully digested. Why was it so hydrophobic? I don't know. Wood has lignin as well as cellulose. Maybe lignin is hydrophobic.

Another theory is that the wood-and-fungus gunk was TOO water-retentive, and the top inches held on to any water I added so tightly that none could drain down into the lower layers. All I know is that I could water the top inch or two very heavily, then dig in and find powdery white dusty woody junk from 3" to 12" down. Nasty!

Probably adding active compost would have speeded up the decomposition process by adding a greater variety of soil organisms.

Now, I just never buy "Soil Pep" or woody soil amendements any more. If you gave them to me, I would put them into a pre-compost heap to break down as much as possible before I would pollute a REAL compost heap with woody chunks. Call it a hugelculture pre-composting step.

Later, to repair that bed, I also add shredded pine bark mulch which did NOT seem to encourage fungus. By that year, the soil was plenty water-retentive at all depths, but drained well enough that the deeper layers did get some water. I kept adding better soil amendments and turned them under for a few years, also deepening the layer of half-decent soil before it reverted to pure clay 8-14" down.

The experience also turned me off to sheet composting or throwing uncomposted stuff into my beds - especially wood! Maybe that works better when there is good aeration and well-established populations of soil organisms - certainly many people have had good luck with sheet composting, spot composting, lasagna beds and even hugelculture.

Corey
Soferdig
Kalispell, MT
(Zone 4b)

July 26, 2011
1:12 PM

Post #8716607

Iron is the best way to kill fungus and it is very helpful to your soil down there. Ironite is the best because it is a combination of other minerals. But I do wonder if some crystalization is what they are feeding on. What does your water contain for metals? I wonder if the paticular fungus/mycelia is feeding on something you are spraying. Are there any crystals or adhesion of the soil when you pick it up?
tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

July 27, 2011
8:21 AM

Post #8718356

RickCorey_WA wrote:

Killing fungus so that it doesn't come back might not be easy if there is some condition that enourages it to grow excessively. Remedying that condition may be necessary. I'm guessing there is something 'excessive' in the soil or the "EarthGro" that enocuarged fungus in a bed even thgouh (I guess) it did not happen in pots.

lots of wood chips. see the pic that i posted of the good soil.

One approach is to just live with it for a year or two while adding different soil amendments. , After the fungus finishes digesting whatever encouraged it, or some other imbalance is balanced, it will probably go away or be replaced by other soil biota.

i entertained this thought for a nanosecond. the problem is that this soil is in pot. i have plants in those pots. i would give it time to break down if the soil were not in use.

And yet, rotting wood is supposed to hold water like a sponge! And fungus is supposed to thrive in damp soil, which doesn't SOUND like being hydrophobic. Yet anything more than 3" deep seemed dry, dusty, and loaded with white mycelia.

i have a mat on top and below i see the same dry, dusty soil loaded with white mycelia. i think that the crust on top is from bird's nest fungus.

My theory is that the fungus liked the wood and grew excessively. It just wasn't anything like real soil until the wood was fully digested. Why was it so hydrophobic? I don't know. Wood has lignin as well as cellulose. Maybe lignin is hydrophobic.

compounds in the mycelia make the soil hydroscopic.

Now, I just never buy "Soil Pep" or woody soil amendements any more. If you gave them to me, I would put them into a pre-compost heap to break down as much as possible before I would pollute a REAL compost heap with woody chunks. Call it a hugelculture pre-composting step.

i am moving to cactus mix and i will add more organics depending on the type of plant.

Later, to repair that bed, I also add shredded pine bark mulch which did NOT seem to encourage fungus. By that year, the soil was plenty water-retentive at all depths, but drained well enough that the deeper layers did get some water. I kept adding better soil amendments and turned them under for a few years, also deepening the layer of half-decent soil before it reverted to pure clay 8-14" down.

now why did the pink bark mulch not cause a problem. it has to be broken down, right?

Corey


thanks for taking the time corey to comment!

tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

July 27, 2011
8:25 AM

Post #8718369

hi soferdig. the fungus is breaking down the soil which was not heavily composted. the soil is matted because of the mycelia that spreads throughout it make the soil particles cohesive. you can see that in this pic. http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/fp.php?pid=8709819

thanks for taking the time to comment!

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

November 14, 2011
4:38 PM

Post #8890376

I recently read that there is some funguses (or maybe most) that break down lignin faster than they break down cellulose, leaving behind a white powdery residue of cellulose when they digest wood underground.

Cellulose is hydrophilic, and would even dissolve if it weren't such a long chain. So residual cellulose can't be why I couldn't get that bed to hold or wick water, despite poor drainage.

I suspect that, in my case, I had so much left-over "powdery" cellulose that it created the appearance of "dry fungus".

I agree that any fungal mycelium (hyphae) should attract and hold water. Many will then share that water with root hairs, acting like an extensuion of the root hairs.

However, digging in that bed a year or two later, after adding better amendments and innoculating it from helathier beds, the soil looks pretty good by my standards. Any organic matter, drainage, tilth and aeration looks good to me!

tapla

tapla
Bay City, MI
(Zone 6a)

November 15, 2011
6:25 AM

Post #8891038

I'm reading this as a discussion about container soils, and if to grow bags are on the ground, we're actually talking about small raised beds, from the perspective of hydrology.

I would urge you to resist adding iron (Fe) in any form, hoping it acts as a fungicide. The most effective way to rid a soil of a fungus is, of course, a fungicide. Adding Fe supplements w/o an understanding of the likely results rarely ends in the action being a benefit when the dust settles. Adding Fe can only benefit the soil if there is an Fe deficiency. This is especially true in container soils because Fe is rarely deficient and when it is it's generally a pH issue, not an actual Fe deficiency due to a scarcity of the element.

Anyway, back to the soil. You might want to reconsider your choice of the material that makes up the primary fraction of the soil. Heartwood and sapwood, which it appears your material is, generally has some issues associated with it that are undesirable. Those are, a high pH spike, considerable exothermic (heat) generation associated with the composting process, and N(itrogen) immobilization that is difficult to deal with w/o over-fertilizing ... plus, you have the issue currently under discussion.

I'm sure I could offer some suggestions that will work in your grow bags if you'll let me know if they are on the ground ... or just how you're employing them.

Al
tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

November 15, 2011
1:54 PM

Post #8891564

hi al,

the fabric containers sit on the ground just like the plastic containers. i have been looking into a heavier mixture for my dry arizona summer. unfortunately, i am finding that their needs to be some large particles to help with drainage. i have tried different mixtures of composted horse manure, riverbed soil and pumice (even w/ dust removed) and none of them drain well.

i think the best thing might be for me to bake those bags of soil in our arizona sun before using them.

tapla

tapla
Bay City, MI
(Zone 6a)

November 16, 2011
10:53 AM

Post #8892845

When you're using grow bags that rest on the ground, or conventional containers that rest on the ground and have a soil 'bridge' between the soil in the container and the earth, the water in your soil acts as it would in raised beds, which is quite differently than it does in conventional container culture. With the earth acting as a giant wick, water is quickly 'pulled' from the soil in the bags, creating the necessity to water much more frequently than if you were growing in conventional containers. This would be true even if you weren't dealing with the hydrophobic soil. Since there is little to fear from the ill effects of perched water in the method you're using, you can afford to use soils that would normally be too heavy/water retentive for conventional containers.

The idea that there needs to be 'some' large particles in your soil to help with drainage doesn't hold water (no pun ...). You can't start with a soil comprised of primarily fine particles (peat, compost, coir, manure, sand, topsoil) in any combination and expect to make it drain well or to reduce the ht of the PWT by adding some larger particulates. To illustrate - imagine a quart of pudding, then ask yourself how much perlite you'd have to add to increase the aeration and get the pudding to drain well?? As you picture this in your mind's eye, you can easily see that you'd need to add at least 3 parts of perlite for every part of pudding before it would have an impact on drainage/aeration. From this, you can see WHY I mention that you really can't amend soils comprised of fine particles to take advantage of better drainage and aeration by adding large particles (bark/perlite). You have to START with large particles to realize the benefits of better aeration and drainage. About the best you can hope for by adding large particles to a soil that drains poorly is to reduce water retention, which isn't the same as increasing drainage or aeration. Adding a pint of marbles to a pint of pudding yields a quart of soil that is 50% less water retentive than a quart of pudding, but the marbles do nothing for drainage or aeration. The same holds true when you try to amend (peat, compost, coir, manure, sand, topsoil) with perlite or bark - it just doesn't work.

I'll wait to hear what you have to say before I go any further - to see if we're on the same page.

Al





tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

November 16, 2011
2:17 PM

Post #8893139

hi al,

what you state is one of the reasons that i started using the the fabric containers. i wanted to eliminate the PWT from the equation. also, soil temps are much cooler during the summer compared to plastic containers. another big plus is i do not get roots wrapped around the inside of the container and the root zone reaches throughout all layers of the soil.

this is the current structure of one of the bagged soils that i use. http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/fp.php?pid=8709822 it drains very well but dries out too fast and is very hard to re-wet even w/o the soil fungus invading it.

i was not trying to amend an existing soil. what i am trying to do is add different components to come up with a soil mix that is heavier but still drains well. perhaps, this is not possible. one very important thing that i have to take in consideration are tall plants falling over because the soil mix can not initially support them when they are transplanted into the mix. also, the mix needs to be able to re-wet easily should it dry out. and it needs to offer enough weight so that they pots do now tip over in strong winds. i have bananas growing in a 30-gal fabric pot. it does not budge.

thank you for taking the time to help me with this. i hope that i am making sense. i look forward to what you have to say.

tapla

tapla
Bay City, MI
(Zone 6a)

November 16, 2011
3:43 PM

Post #8893275

I did understand your objective. I think that by going on so long with my explanation about how you can't amend a heavy soil with large particles was straying a little from the OT, even though it was prompted by one of your comments.

I think I would be looking at something like a mix of one of the (finer) Turface products or calcined DE (both rewet easily) and peat or compost for the grow bags. Perched water/drainage isn't going to be an issue, and these products hold a LOT of water inside of the particles. You could probably use a mix of equal parts of pine/fir/redwood fines, builder's/mason's sand, and peat or compost, too. The thing to remember is, water behaves differently in containers in contact with the ground than in conventional containers.

I'd skip the manure & anything that breaks down quickly, and go with a soluble synthetic fertilizer in a 3:1:2 ratio ('Ratio' is different than the NPK %s. 24-8-16, 12-4-8, 9-3-6 are all 3:1:2 RATIO fertilizers).

Al
tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

November 16, 2011
4:49 PM

Post #8893334

i will look at the old container soil threads. i am sure that i can come up with a soil mix for my plumeria, cactus, succulents and citrus (all in containers) by reading them. thanks for your recommendations. i have some weekend reading ahead. : )
bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

November 17, 2011
4:02 AM

Post #8893827

Tucson,
I too have lots of potted plants most especially plumerias. I have over 40 of them which mostly are under 3 foot. i have 3 that are about 7-8 foot and I had problems toppling so i added aged oyster shells at the bottom and this allowed it to drain and solved the problem of toppling.

As far as mix I do not have a special mix for any of my potted plants. I have over 500 hostas on pots and over 150 0f the other tropical. The hostas are left outside while the rests are over wintered in the garage and all over the house arranged by my husband who is fanatic on how the house looks all year round.

Going back to the potting soil mix, i use Walmart potting mix and it is equivalent to miracle grow but it is $5.00 cheaper per bag. i add bagged hardwood mulch from home depot and this mix had worked well for me.

Nothing too complicated for me, there are several mixes that are available but they are very pricey and I already spend a fortune during the potting period.

Belle

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

November 17, 2011
7:09 AM

Post #8894005

Bellieg,
How big a bag of potting mix from Wally World, and how much $$ do you pay for it?
tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

November 17, 2011
8:24 AM

Post #8894089

Hi Belle. Thanks for your input, too. I do have lots of plumeria and other plants to transplant. Originally, that is why I was looking into coming up with a mix that a landscaping yard could mix together for me in bulk. I was using the earthgro from home depot. i do not like it now. i recently started using supersoil palm and cactus mix. it drains well and re-wets easily enough. like i was saying earlier, i probably should back the bags of soil in our arizona sun to kill any nastiness inside the bag if i go that route. i tried the nature's way cactus and patio mix from walmart. i could not get it drain well. but for a heavier blend i mixed it with the supersoil and that works. i think it was 3:1 supersoil to nature's way.
bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

November 17, 2011
11:30 AM

Post #8894299

Gymgirl,
I use walmart potting soil which is called expert potting soil and mix it with hardwood mulch. i do a bag of the potting soil and a bag of the mulch. /nothing complicated and i find it very inexpensive. Miracle grow is $14,.99 while expert is only 8.99.

I think i use 10 bag each every summer.

Belle


Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

November 17, 2011
2:06 PM

Post #8894519

Thanks, Bellieg!

tapla

tapla
Bay City, MI
(Zone 6a)

November 17, 2011
4:43 PM

Post #8894714

As I noted above, heartwood/sapwood (hardwood mulch) has some issues associated with it that are undesirable. Those are, a high pH spike, considerable exothermic (heat) generation associated with the composting process, and N(itrogen) immobilization that is difficult to deal with w/o over-fertilizing. For containers, it's going to be very difficult to find something more economical than a mix of pine bark fines + a little perlite and peat, these in something near a 5:1:1 ratio.

I would also note that crushed oyster shells, which are pretty near 100% CaCO3 (calcium carbonate), isn't going to increase drainage when used on the bottom of a container; and, it can easily create an antagonistic deficiency of Mg - especially when included as a significant fraction of the soil volume. For those reasons, I would avoid its use.

I'm not trying to convince Bellieg to change anything she's doing, just cautioning others that there are ways of approaching the issues of drainage and economics that don't have the potential to be as limiting.

Al

bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

November 18, 2011
6:49 AM

Post #8895369

Al,
i thank you for your input.The oyster shells are used whole and are aged and I had even used aged clam shells and so so far it had worked for me for weight at the bottom of a huge planter.
I do not worry about mineral deficiency, as long as they look healthy then it is alright for me. My gardening practices were experimental at first and after I see results then it becomes routine.

Belle
margocstn
Savannah, GA

December 1, 2011
5:24 PM

Post #8913039

If I leave bags of pine and cypress mulch on the ground too long it looks like your picture. I'm thinking there is too much woody stuff.
tucsonplumeriaz
Tucson, AZ

December 4, 2011
5:44 PM

Post #8916404

unfortunately, that is the way the soil comes.

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