You may have noticed a bunch of little white ball-shaped things in your yard recently and wondered what they were. Most likely, they're puffball mushrooms. Luckily, these little fungi aren’t really anything to panic over, as they aren’t much of an issue in terms of your lawn's health. Puffballs are members of the Basidiomycota sub-kingdom, and some varieties are even safe enough to eat. The good news is that you don’t typically need to douse your yard in chemicals to get rid of them.
Puffball Mushroom Identification
The fruiting bodies of puffball mushrooms look a little like pears or spheres in shape. They're typically about an inch or smaller in diameter, but some varieties can grow very large. Don't worry, the ones in your yard are almost always the ones that stay on the smaller side. Before puffballs mature, they are usually a creamy white color both inside and out. After maturing, they turn yellow on the inside. Fully developed puffballs will also have dark green or purple spores inside of them. These spores are released through a hole in the top of the fruiting body, which can sometimes damage the mushroom itself. Afterward, the spores are carried by the wind to other areas of your yard, or even further to someone else's yard.
Understanding The Puffball's Life Cycle
When it comes to controlling their numbers in your yard, one of the most important things you can learn about puffballs is their life cycle. The spores that are produced by the fully matured mushrooms drift into the surrounding areas and land on people's lawns. They then germinate, which causes them to send out long, practically-invisible strands called hyphae. A mass of hyphae eventually accrues and forms a mycelium. At this point, you may be able to see the threads. When conditions are optimal, several mycelia will grow the fruiting body, which they nourish by decomposing the dead organic material on your lawn. Healthy fruiting bodies mature and go on to produce spores, continuing the cycle.
You may think you’re in the clear when the fruiting bodies stop appearing, but these fungi can actually survive in your yard for several years, just waiting for the right time to regrow and create more spores. They tend to thrive in moist conditions, and prolonged periods of rain can entice them to produce fruiting bodies. This usually occurs toward the end of the summer (now).
Edible vs. Poisonous Puffballs
While some puffball mushrooms are edible, there are also some poisonous varieties. Mushroom identification isn’t always easy and can be a tricky business for someone who isn't familiar with them. Having an expert identify edible varieties for you is always a good idea before consuming any. Anyone that owns pets or has children should be more vigilant in removing puffballs from their yard, just in case anyone decides to make them a snack later on. Mowing or pulling the fruiting bodies is the best thing to do in these cases.
Since puffball mushrooms aren’t considered pests, you technically don’t have to do anything if you encounter them on your lawn, but if you worry about poisonous species or don’t like how they look or smell, there a couple different ways to deal with them. It’s hard to get rid of the fungus altogether because of the way that it grows, but a little bit of vigilance can go a long way. Start by digging up any fruiting bodies and visible bundles of mycelia.
Since the fungi feed on decaying organic matter, you’ll want to avoid putting too much of it on your lawn. Removing any dead leaves, stumps, and roots in the fall is another good way to starve the fungi. All these things make excellent mulch, and you don’t want to give those puffballs any help when you're trying to get rid of them.
You’ll also want to rethink your watering habits. Overwatering your lawn can provide the fungus with enough moisture to start sprouting fruiting bodies and potentially more spores if you don’t catch it in time.
There are also some fungicides you can use to control the puffballs in your yard. These are especially good for anyone who's trying to eliminate them all at once. There are even fungicidal sprayers you can hook up to your garden hose to easily apply the spray across your entire lawn. Alternatively, you can buy a fungicidal powder, which usually needs to be mixed with water or sprinkled on your lawn and then watered to take effect. Be sure to follow the directions carefully when it comes to amounts and mixing ratios so that you don’t cause any additional damage to your yard.
Puffball mushrooms aren’t necessarily a bad thing to have in your yard, but they can be poisonous or just downright smelly. They're often unwanted, and being able to identify them and take the necessary steps to remove them is the best way to keep them off your lawn. Who knows, maybe you’ll luck out and find out (from an expert, of course) that you’re dealing with an edible variety.