Fairy ring dances a circle and threatens the grass

BACKYARD Q&A

May 02, 1999

Q. A very strange dark-green circle has appeared on my front lawn. It's about 3 feet in diameter. We don't fertilize our lawn, so it's not from spilled fertilizer. What would cause something like this?

A. You have a fairy ring. A fungus has taken up residence in your soil. You may even see mushrooms pop up next to the ring.

This is what causes the fairy ring to appear: The fungus lives on organic matter in the soil. Nitrogen is released from the breakdown of the organic matter that the fungus lives on. The nitrogen causes the dark-green circle.

You may observe a narrow band of dead grass next to the green ring as summer progresses. In this case, the fungus is killing the grass.

Fairy rings often get started in areas containing roots or buried wood. Good lawn care -- fall fertilization, proper mowing height and core aeration where the soil is compacted -- will help alleviate the symptoms of fairy ring.

Q. I tried pre-sprouting my pea and bean seed between moist paper towels. I forgot about them on top of the refrigerator and they dried up and died. Is there an easier way? And how will I know when to plant the sprouts in my garden?

A. Try sprouting your seeds in a quart-size jar with a screw-on lid. Punch or drill eight to 12 small holes in the lid, or buy a plastic "sprouting lid" that screws on. Soak your seeds overnight. Drain off the water and set the jar on its side (to give each seed more room, and to allow for better air circulation). Rinse and drain the seeds each day. The idea is to keep the seeds moist and at room temperature. In three to five days, you'll see a small, white root emerge from each seed. Plant the sprouts in the garden when the roots are 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length.

Q. I love my plum trees and was horrified recently to see some very strange, black growths on the end of the branches. It looks like animal scat or a large gall. Does this spell doom for my trees?

A. Take a deep breath and relax. The black swellings are caused by the black knot fungus. This disease infects plum and cherry trees but is not a serious threat to the trees' health. Simply prune the infected branches 4 inches below the bottom of the knots. Discard the prunings; don't compost them. No sprays are necessary.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Protect early-planted tender annuals from frost. These include zinnias, basil and tomatoes. You can use paper bags, cardboard boxes, quilts or plastic as coverings.

2. Thin beet, carrot, radish, turnip, lettuce and spinach seedlings from beds where seeds were sown thickly. Follow the recommended spacing on the seed packet.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr. umd.edu/users/hgic.

Pub Date: 05/02/99

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