Fairy rings

Fairy rings are a fungal infection that sometimes cause circular rings of dead grass and/or toadstools in lawns.

Fairy rings. Image: STRI

Fairy rings. Image: STRI

Quick facts

Common name Fairy rings
Scientific name Marasmius oreades and other fungi
Plants affected Lawns and areas of rough grass
Main symptoms Circular rings of dead grass and/or toadstools
Caused by Fungi
Timing Varies but mainly late summer and autumn

What are fairy rings?

The most damaging fairy rings are slowly spreading colonies of the fungus Marasmius oreades, which live in the roots of turf, altering the appearance of the grass and producing toadstools at certain times of the year, mainly in late summer and autumn.

Other colonies of fungi cause fairy rings as well, but most have no effect on the turf, or even seem to enhance the growth.

All types of lawns and areas of rough grass can be affected by fairy rings.

Symptoms

Symptoms are variable, depending on the fungi responsible. Most have virtually no effect on the turf and are only noticed if toadstools appear.

You may see the following symptoms:

  • An irregular ring of dead grass gradually expanding across the turf, caused by Marasmius oreades
  • Immediately adjacent to the dead grass, the grass may be greener than usual
  • Crops of brown toadstools at certain times of the year

Control

Non-chemical control

Since the toadstools produce huge volumes of airborne spores which are carried long distances, there is little point in removing toadstools from the lawn to try and reduce the risk of infection.

In principle, excavating the active ‘front’ of the colony (ie the ring) and replacing with fresh soil would remove the ring. In practice this would mean removing turf and soil to at least 30cm (1ft) depth, replacing with fresh soil and returfing or reseeding, which would be very expensive and scarcely feasible.

Where dead patches of grass occur, spiking and watering to break up the water-repellent properties of the fungal colony is helpful, as is feeding.

Chemical control

No fungicides are available for fairy ring control, either to gardeners or professional contractors.

Biology

The fungi, which are spread by airborne spores liberated from the toadstools, form colonies below ground in the root zone of the turf. Most cause little damage and are only noticed when they produce fresh toadstools.

Marasmius oreades is the most important fungus which forms fairy rings. Its mycelium spreads gradually outwards, dying out in the centre, so that the colony is a roughly circular advancing ‘front’ of fungus growing through the soil.

The extent, if any, to which the fungal mycelium actually kills grass roots directly is unclear. However, the mycelium is water repellent and patches of water-stressed dead grass may appear in drier weather. As the dead grass decays it liberates nutrients, so that greener-than-usual patches occur next to the dead ones. Since the colony is an expanding front it is approximately ring-shaped and therefore when conditions are suitable for toadstool production, these appear in rings.

Colonies expand by about 30cm (1ft) per year, and in large areas of turf may exist for hundreds of years.


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