MFIXOctober 24, 2012

I have a couple of house plants, one Dracaena sanderiana (lucky bamboo) and one plumosa fern (Asparagus setaceus) both of which sprouted mushrooms in their pots. I normally wouldnt mind mushrooms, as I often find them around out outdoor garden and in our lawn, and to see them makes me think there is a healthy ecosytem. I'm just not sure that this should happen indoors. Is there anything to worry about, or any cultural changes to be made? Thanks.

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It just means the fungi present in all our soils just happened to find your pot(s) an environment favorable enough to allow them to fruit. While the appearance of the fruiting bodies is no cause for dismay in and of itself, we always need to assess what sort of conditions our soils provide for our plants. Plants like soils we can keep damp, soils that don't support a lot of sogginess at the bottom of the pot after we water. If your soil does that for your plants, you probably have very little to worry about.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 10:58AM
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The Ficus Wrangler

Mushrooms can pop up anywhere, because the spores are in our air, but they also like damp environments, so in potted plants they are usually a warning that the soil is staying too damp, i.e. not drying/aerating sufficiently between waterings.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 12:01PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Like plants, most fungi function best when there is plenty of air around them, so if the soil had too much moisture for plants it wouldn't promote the incidence of fungal reproduction, it would be inhibitory of fungi (that flourish in the presence of air). Anaerobic fungi, which grow in excessively wet, airless conditions have their own set of problems, and while I'm sure they produce some sort of fruiting bodies, I have never seen any evidence of their presence that even remotely resembles a mushroom. Fungi in container soils reproduce under the same conditions they reproduce in situ - on/in their food source/host and in damp conditions where there is plenty of air. Have we ever seen a mushroom popping up in a puddle or soggy bit of the yard? Where do we find them? Most often on a host in the top few inches of well-aerated damp soils or duff. They're a common occurrence in soils with bark fractions, especially in soils made of materials that were wind-rowed before being processed as soil components. I see them in the 5:1:1 mix with some regularity, and it's tough to over-water that. All things considered, I have to disagree they indicate over-watering or a too-wet soil.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 4:40PM
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Thanks alot. I wasnt necessarily worried, but interested as to why. Both plants are healthy, and certainly the Dracaena prefers low light and moist conditions, so a mushroom would seem to thrive there. I simply pulled them off, and will keep an eye on them. The plants certainly do not get overwatered, they probably get a couple ounces of water a week, right at the base of the plant--neither plant has very deep or extensive root systems yet.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 9:51AM
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very interesting.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 10:10AM
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The Ficus Wrangler

Of course, Al, you would observe mushrooms on your porous mixes because you keep them very damp - ok, just damp. Like I said, damp conditions. In potting soil, or soilless potting mixes, mushrooms grow is damp conditions on the surface. Damp is not the same as puddle. Damp soil on the surface indicates even more dampness further down in the pot, which is not good for the roots, which is why one should allow the soil to aerate, or dry, somewhat between waterings. This is not the case with porous mediums, I know, and forgive me if I have erred in assuming that MFIX is using conventional medium.

MFIX - Just to give you a heads up, dracaenas don't like moist soil. I can see how you might get that idea, with Lucky Bamboo growing in water and all. But many plants can grow in water, root in water at any rate, but in soil they grow a different kind of root. D. sanderiana will continue for awhile in damp soil, but if you want to keep it alive for the long time, you'll need to let the soil aerate between waterings. When you pull up some soil from well down into the pot - you can use a spoon - and pinch it between your fingers, it should barely stick together, and fall apart as soon as you let it go. Or you can experiment with the porous mediums that I'm sure Al would love to tell you about; I myself am experimenting with them myself.

One more thing, you never keep plants in low light with damp soil. My expertise in these things is that I've been a practicing interior horticulturist for 30 years.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 1:32PM
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Did any of you ever experience the bioluminescent fungus known as foxfire? When its warm and rainy, you can see it glow at night. It grows on decaying wood. We see it during the summer around our house.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 3:23PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I've seen it where it naturally occurs - pretty cool .....

When soils are damp, there will still be air between the particles of soil. That is a highly desirable condition, no matter at what level of the pot it occurs. In a perfect world, the soil of all the plants mentioned by MFIX would be continuously damp (but not soggy) from the top of the pot to the bottom. That's as good as it can get.

Dracaenas, along with 99% of all other plants discussed regularly here PREFER a damp (but not soggy) soil. Unfortunately, since evenly damp is virtually unachievable when using mixes based on fine particles, you have to accept the results of getting as close as possible. You either water in sips, and risk salt build-up and irregular water distribution throughout the medium as a result, or you water correctly and suffer the effects of a partially soggy soil that perseveres until the excess water is used or evaporates. During this drying down period, it is best to allow the soil to become dry to the touch deep in the pot before watering again.

SOMETIMES a moist surface of the soil indicates excessively wet soil below, true when using soils based on fine particulates that have been watered to the point of saturation. But, a moist surface after a sip of water isn't an indication of problems below; and when the surface of fast draining soils like the 5:1:1 mix/gritty mix is moist, it indicates only that they were recently watered - not that they are soggy deep in the pot.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 4:22PM
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The Ficus Wrangler

Al, I respect you experience, and I like many things about your attitude. But I will have to disagree. Common potted foliage plants do NOT like to be damp top to bottom all the time, not if they're in conventional potting medium. (As opposed to porous mediums that you advocate.) I've taken care of thousands of plants, I've taught scores of people to do so professionally, and I've supervised many dozens of techs. Anyone who keeps their plants damp consistently will have an unacceptable replacement rate. Meaning their plants will not stay beautiful for the long term that is required to be profitable in a business. Nor do they water in "sips"; that is a huge no-no. Watering is done to the point of 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch run off in the plant liner - much more in high light situations. The amount of water needed is described by the parameters of the length of time between service visits, and the amount of water the plant needs - large enough amount to prevent drought stress, and small enough amount that they aerated sufficiently when the tech arrives to water again.

I wonder if people, especially beginners, are clear that when we talk about porous medium vs conventional soilless mix or even common potting soil, we are trying to compare apples and oranges.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 8:33PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm always careful to qualify what I say and not speak broadly so there can be no mistaking the points I'm making - unless there are aspects of soil science someone is unclear on.

In a perfect world, a continually damp soil from top to bottom provides the OPTIMUM conditions for nutrient and water absorption, with no risk to root health (almost all houseplants). Period. ;-)

The problem is, it's not a perfect world, and users of water retentive soils (normally) CAN'T create a root environment evenly moist from top to bottom. If it was possible, it would be very close to ideal - unquestionably and without a shred of doubt. So the problem is not, is never, an evenly moist soil, it's the saturated sludge that lies at the bottom of the pot, so let's recognize where the problem lies. It's not with 'evenly moist or damp' - plants grow fine there, it's with 'saturated at the bottom'.

You need only to ask yourself where the inhibition of root function occurs in the pot to see that evenly moist/damp rules. Roots in dry soil can't take up water or nutrients, and roots in saturated soil are badly compromised due to anaerobic conditions (water/nutrient uptake is energy driven and requires O2 for root metabolism), that leaves only the damp soil as a place where roots work efficiently. Look at our gardens - when they're dry, we water to make soils evenly moist. We don't want them soggy, and we don't want them dry.

You contend that 'saturated at the bottom' comes firmly attached to 'evenly moist'. That's too broad. Even in water-retentive soils it's a temporal condition, and it's either not, or not a significant part, of highly aerated soils. Additionally, the grower can act to force water that would not otherwise drain from the soil to do so - wicks, inertia exercises, tipping the pot to force more water to drain, pot-in-pot ....... which can be used to create evenly moist from top to bottom.

So, it's not like I'm not fully qualifying the things I say and speaking in very specific terms. I'm not making assumptions because I'm qualifying everything I say as i move along, but in order to firmly attach 'soggy at the bottom' with 'evenly moist' assumptions ARE being made, and not by me. ;-)

I've taught myself how to grow in an uncompromising way, from the plant's perspective. Still, I'm careful to qualify those things that will require being a little more engaged in order to better provide for the plant reaching its potential. You, on the other hand, have always been forced to compromise. You've had to spread yourself thin enough to ensure a profit for the owner of the business, and have made decisions or had them made for you that were compromises between what is best for the plant or what is best for the bottom line. Such is the nature of business.

I'm not at all interested in helping people learn how to minimize their communion with plants or make compromises that affect their potential. Those are individual choices. I'm interested in helping them learn HOW to get the most out of their plants. From there, they can plot their own course. Even in your post immediately above, you're talking about teaching people to water based on replacement rates, broad statements about how much water should appear in the liner, intervals between service visits, and what happens when next the technician shows up. We're at odds because you're still growing to protect a profit, and I'm teaching growers how to eliminate the limiting factors you still accept as part of the job. Heck, the only plants I've lost in years are blow overs or accidental mishaps. I can't remember the last plant I lost due to negligence or my own ignorance (especially not root-related issues). I don't HAVE replacement rates to be concerned about.

The biggest problem commercial enterprises have is, they are forced to use soils that extend the intervals between waterings longer than what best serves the plant in order to protect the bottom line. Time is money; and like any business, they trim as much fat as possible to preserve a profit, and in doing so it's inevitable that sometimes the trimming doesn't cut in favor of the plant.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 9:50PM
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Not to jump into a big battle between titans, but I think a main issue is where the OP says "--neither plant has very deep or extensive root systems yet." Combining that with the mushrooms to me says the medium, whatever it is, is too wet and maybe has PWT and could be killing off the roots and providing the mushies with stuff to live off of. Mushrooms have a large mycelium that grows throughout the soil and is much larger than the fruiting bodies that you see, they aren't just on the surface, so the water has to be all throughout the mix. The soil mix itself is probably breaking down. Mushrooms like it cool, I think, so maybe the temperature in the house is lower than it was all summer, so if the OP is watering on a schedule or something, then maybe he is watering too much for the present conditions. My experience with mushrooms is that any plant in conventional mix that has them will start to decline in a couple of months or less. Granted this is two plants only, and not a statistical sample or anything like that, but mushrooms are a warning signal to me. The question might be whether there is any air in the soil mix rather than whether there is water. I've never had any dracaenas other than babysitting one of those infernal water grown things for a week, so I can't speak to their specific needs, but I have grown a lot of houseplants in conventional mix by watering not too often but copiously when I did water, which worked to a point until the soil collapsed or until they got too big for me to want to pot up any more. Recently I have been trying more barky mixes (which I haven't been doing long enough to see if it works any better for me) to try to get some experience to make all these arguments make more sense to me. Having been a newbie on this site, and lurking for a while, I can say that I always felt like sometimes the titans were more interested in being right than answering the question. It's hard, because you both want to give accurate information to the best of your ability and experience. I am being cheeky I know because I have so much less than you both do. You both spend a lot of time and effort at this, and I salute you. But I in my limited experience would ask more questions of the OP about mix and how long the plants have been in it, and what he means when he says the root systems aren't extensive "yet". Does this mean the plants were repotted or potted up recently? Or are the roots not colonizing the whole pot because of perched water table?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 9:52AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Whenever we offer an opinion or make a statement we expect to be taken as factual (or correct, if you prefer), we should be certain it will pass the logical 'sniff test', so let's apply a little logic to the discussion & see where that takes us.

We regularly have people bring up questions about the occurrence of mushrooms in their soils. Not all mushrooms are found growing in excessively wet soils. Further, my soils are never excessively wet, and I regularly have fungal fruiting bodies in my soil. Further still, the OP was adamantly clear ("The plants certainly [my emphasis] do not get over-watered, they probably get a couple ounces of water a week, right at the base of the plant.") her soils were not even close to soggy.

From this knowledge, what can we deduce? That the OP's shrooms are symptomatic of a soggy soil? No - we absolutely cannot logically make that conclusion. Can we deduce that they are not symptomatic of a soggy soil? Yes and no. We haven't eliminated the possibility that they might occur in soils too soggy, only that they can not be counted on as an indicator the soil is too moist.

If you further consider that in situ, mushrooms commonly occur in a damp (not a wet/soggy or dry) area where there is plenty of dead OM (like bark), you can easily see that logic also greatly favors the idea that excessively wet or dry soils discourage the fruiting of mushrooms, so mushrooms generally favor those conditions we would consider as ideal for containerized plants, not conditions that are too wet (or dry).

Of course I'm interested in being perceived as right - who isn't? First, it's hard to preserve your credibility by being wrong. Additionally, if no one is right (no debate) how is the OP to extract an answer from all the noise? I've always had an acute interest in making sure that when I participate in a thread, growers get reliable information that will hold up to scrutiny. So careful am I of not operating at beyond the limits of my knowledge, that I welcome scrutiny of my comments. ;-) When it comes, I'm always willing to work toward setting my advise apart as dependably reliable by using those tools at my disposal (science, ability to reason, practical experience ......) to illustrate why one line of reasoning holds water and another doesn't.

More often than not, it's more a matter of properly qualifying an offering. Some contributors make broad statements that can only be taken as wrong, the way they are written, but might be perfectly usable had they been adequately qualified. The way to really tell who knows their stuff is by looking at how well they tie up the loose ends in their offerings, that, so as to minimize any chance what they're saying can be misinterpreted by anyone whose level of understanding is such that they might benefit from the conversation.


    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 1:26PM
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Oh man, I think I opened pandora's box or something. Very interesting and informative, if not somewhat contentious thread has been opened. I had an extremely busy time at work recently, so pardon the delay in my response. Firstly, since the last post no more mushroom caps have formed, so perhaps the change in ambient temperature, regardless of any HVAC changes did do something to the plants, and perhaps a kind of balance has been restored since this temperature change is now looking pretty permanent. Also, the amount of filtered light has obviously changed as well (with daylight hours changing), so this is something to consider. The potting mix is not very impressive, it is simply a miracle-gro product, nothing great. The "lucky bamboo" was repotted, so this is how I was able to see the entire root system, it was not very deep at all, given that the plant is about 3 years old or so, I thought it would be more. I wanted to replenish the soil and clean the pot, so it wasnt altered too drastically. The plumosa fern was a new purchase, so it is interesting that both were exhibiting mushrooms simultaneously. The plants are definitely not overwatered. Also, I try to give them a few spritzes with an atomizer to keep humidity up (and both plants have river pebbles of various size on the surface of the soil) the plants themselves are exhibiting some growth (esp dracaena), very and a nice dark green color. Could these supplemental spritzes have led to this fungi perhaps? The dracaena has actually grown so tall since being given new soil that I may now have to repot it, and two new stalks have actually started growing at the bas of the plant, which has not happened since I bought it. Also, lets not disrespect the lucky bamboo too much, lol, if grown a certain way, it looks very nice and natural, and not like a fake attempt at a japanese style ambience. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 7:28PM
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The Ficus Wrangler

MFIX - don't worry about the "contentious" - we're having a ball, aren't we guys. It's just that I suspect that no commercial plant care professionals have ever appeared here (apologies to anyone if I'm wrong), and so I have things to say that don't fit with home-growers experience. To address a couple of your items: misting - if you like to mist your plants, if it advances your 'communication' with them, no problem, but you might want to be aware that the little bit of moisture you add to the air around the plants by misting is totally negligible, and disappears almost immediately; I'll bet Al could point you to the scientific data explaining this.

And as for 'Lucky Bamboo,' I for one would never dis such a jolly and brave little plant; they have incredible adaptability and pluck to endure the treatment they're subjected to. Hurray for you for putting it in some soil. And I do think that many times they're quite beautiful.

Now Al, I'm sorry I'm not a better debating partner, I just have so many projects going on that I can't be very Janie-On-The-Spot about answering points and tying up loose ends. Like for instance, right now I'm trying to watch the Buccaneer/Raiders game - Go Bucs, YAY - try to spend a little time with my hubby every day, plus I love football - but mostly I'm trying to learn the communication and technologies of the 21st century, write a book, take care of my granddaughter every day, shoot a series of plant-care videos, keep up with SciFi/Fantasy, study Buddhism, work in my yard,...since I retired, I have no time at all.

Anyway, perhaps I was not clear. When we,meaning professional plantscapers, see mushrooms on our plants, the first thing we look for is soil that is too wet. It won't necessarily be too wet, but that's the first thing we look for.

It's true that probably 90% of plants are in what you would call "moisture retentive soil"; it may not be the best way to do it, it may even change in the future, but right now that's the way it is. Nor can the moisture be wicked, or tipped, or otherwise emptied from the pots, so we're stuck with it. That moisture that stays in the bottom of the pot is what the plant uses for the week or 10 days or two weeks that it must wait for its caretaker to return. But - here's the amazing thing - it DOES use that water. If the soil in the bottom of the pot is "soggy", meaning 100% to, say, 70% saturated when the tech next visits, the soil in the rest of the pot will also be moist - probably not soggy, but moist - and the tech will not water again, at least if they know what they're doing they won't. Because if the soil stays constantly moist, the plant will fail. To put it another way, constantly moist soil is definitely not in the plant's best interest. I know this is true, in general, because I've seen it thousands of time. I say in general because there are certain variables of light, specie, etc. that can change any blanket statement.

Perhaps what I should explain here is the difference between soggy, wet, moist, damp, slightly damp, almost dry,and dry. Soggy soil is (app.) 100% - 80% saturated; wet would be around 70%; moist around 60%; damp 50%; slightly damp 40% - 30%; almost dry 20%; dry 10% - 0.

For most plants (excepting cactus, succulents, and very low light conditions) dry and almost dry would be injurious to the plant if it continued very long, and they should never be allowed to go that dry. Also, soggy, wet, and moist soil conditions would also be injurious if allowed to continue too long, too long being 2 - 3 weeks. The ideal point at which to water plants is when the soil has reached the damp and slightly damp area.

Al, I'm not trying to suggest that you or anyone else is wrong. The above is the way I would introduce watering to a class of newbies, given the conditions with which they would have to contend, i.e soil the plants come in from the growers (which btw, is almost always a mix of fir bark, peat, and perlite), watering on a schedule, necessity of efficiency, etc. I think the info has value for people who are looking for it, because most plants that people buy are in exactly the same potting medium. More porous mixes have many advantages, I'm sure, but many people are stuck with the more water-retentive mixes, for whatever reasons. I hope passing on practices of professional plant care may be helpful to some people.

And by the way, what's so wrong about coming from a position of profit and business? The plants have to stay beautiful and bring people happiness. Isn't that what your plants do? And as for what's best for the plant, and the plant's perspective, and all that, it seems to me that the plant's ultimate perspective and purpose is to spread its genetic material as far and wide as possible, to which ends the ones that can adapt to the widest variety of environments and appeal to the largest number of "pollinators" - that's us - are the happiest and most fulfilled in their purpose of existence.

With that, I think its time for this plant mama to go to bed, so

Bona Fortuna to you all

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 10:46PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Professional plant folks HAVE appeared here, perhaps you're too new here to have seen them. I believe Will Creed was one, tho' I haven't seen him 'round these parts in some time.

In more than 10 yrs. on here, I believe I've seen a couple at least, just Will's name is the only one coming to mind right now.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 3:36PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

"When we,meaning professional plantscapers, see mushrooms on our plants, the first thing we look for is soil that is too wet. It won't necessarily be too wet, but that's the first thing we look for." When soils are either too wet or not too wet, and mushrooms appear in either, we can say conclusively that mushrooms are not an indication of a too wet soil. This is just me, but if I knew that mushrooms can occur in soils that are too wet or just right, I wouldn't think anything of their appearance.

"Nor can the moisture be wicked, or tipped, or otherwise emptied from the pots, so we're stuck with it." You should give yourself the benefit of a couple of experiments: Fill a plastic cup with a drain hole with a soil like Miracle-Gro. Completely saturate it by letting it soak in a tub, then set it on a flat grid until it stops draining. Then, push a toothpick up into the soil an inch or so and SEE how much water drains from the container as a result of adding the toothpick, which serves as a wick. Repeat the experiment, but instead of a wick, tilt the container at a 45* angle. Again, note how much additional water drains from container. There are reasons based in science that force the additional water to drain from the pot - reasons you don't yet understand, and I can make that statement based on your observations. I you do the experiment, I promise you'll change the thinking in bold immediately above.

"But - here's the amazing thing - it DOES use that water. If the soil in the bottom of the pot is "soggy", meaning 100% to, say, 70% saturated when the tech next visits, soil in the rest of the pot will also be moist - probably not soggy, but moist - and the tech will not water again, at least if they know what they're doing they won't. Because if the soil stays constantly moist, the plant will fail." In one breath you say if there is a soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the pot, "the soil in the rest of the pot will also be moist - probably not soggy, but moist", and in the next you say, "Because if the soil stays constantly moist, the plant will fail. To put it another way, constantly moist soil is definitely not in the plant's best interest." This is a direct contradiction.

Virtually every book about houseplants you pick up instructs you to keep this plant evenly moist. EVERYTHING I write about soils, and every soil I make, is designed to help the grower keep their soil damp but not soggy - to help the grower minimize the effects of excessive water retention, so there is no reason to suppose that anything I say will lead any grower to a soil that is too wet. On the contrary, many have taken advantage of the fact that the soils I use and suggest, to suggest that they require too frequent watering, refusing to acknowledge that the heavier, more water retentive soils are actually the guilty party because they need watering too infrequently.

There is a price to pay for excess water retention - for that soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the container. From the plant's perspective - from the perspective of the well-being of the plant, ANY perched water is undesirable. No matter if it's only a little bit, or only around for a day or so, it's undesirable from the plant's perspective because it kills fine roots and impairs root function and hinders root/function metabolism. That cannot be denied.

So what is NOT in the best interest of the hobby grower, is accepting that they HAVE to grow in these heavy soils, or that they HAVE to accept the PWTs that come along with them (there are things you can do to reduce the negatives of PWTs w/o changing soils), or that these extended intervals between waterings that are a requirement for interiorscape businesses in order for them to profit, are in any way even close to the best path from the perspective of the plant's health; and I'm not talking about good enough to get by, I'm talking about best opportunity for your plant to grow to its potential.

Even if you're 'stuck' with a water-retentive mix, you don't have to be stuck with the full brunt of the deleterious effects. There ARE ways to mitigate fall-out.


    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 4:18PM
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