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Is Lawn Fungus the Same as Toenail Fungus?

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Yes and no. In terms of Yes, according to Oxford, a “fungus” is “any of a large group of spore-producing organisms which feed on organic matter and include moulds, yeast, mushrooms, and toadstools,” the “u” in “mould” in that quotation is because I used the Oxford English Dictionary, not the Oxford American Dictionary, of which there may or may not be one, I’d have to check.

In terms of No, although you might get athlete’s foot even if you’re a couch potato, you can’t get toenail fungus walking barefoot through your lawn. Nonetheless, toenail fungus has a much nicer name, which I suggest you use if you are ever afflicted: onychomycosis. It sounds severe, but it also makes it sound like it’s not your fault. “No, it’s not toenail fungus at all,” you can say to the people staring at your feet, making you feel overly self-conscious for wearing sandals with no socks in broad daylight. “The doctor told me I have onychomycosis. It can happen to anyone, I have a prescription, it’s not because I don’t wash my feet, I swear to God.”

And with that, you’ve convinced me!

Brittle yellow toenails are caused by a fungus called a dermatophyte. Dermatophytes do not affect your lawn, which you should have been able to guess without my help given that “derma” – as in “dermatitis” – means “skin.” Dermatophytes are asexual funguses – or “fungi,” as people who pretend to be smart say – which is good, because who would want a fungus having sex on their skin? Not me, that’s for sure!

In the US of A, the four most common types of lawn funguses are the Fairy Ring (a lot more on that later!), Rust, Pink Snow Mold (no “u” this time), and Slime Mould (I added the “u” as a sort of literary head-fake). Not all affect South Florida, but many do, such as the insidious Fairy Ring.

Ah, the Fairy Ring! Be not mistaken: a Fairy Ring is not the same as a ring of fairies, at least if you’re not online, though you may have questioned your sexuality if you ever dreamed about one. A Fairy Ring is a ring of mushrooms that can grow up to 30 yards in diameter or more, and is caused by about 60 different species of fungus. Here in South Florida the most common culprits causing Fairy Rings are Chlorophyllum spp., Marasmius spp., Lepiota spp., and Lycoperdon spp. I don’t know what the “spp.” stands for and I certainly can’t pronounce it, but I found it interesting anyway!

Fairy Rings affect turfgrass. I had no idea what “turfgrass” was, as, say, opposed to any other type of grass, so I had to look it up. A turfgrass is a grass that forms turf. That, naturally, leads to the question, “What is turf?” Turf, in turn, is the grass and the dirt it holds together. All sod is turf, for instance, but not all turf is sod. In South Florida, the most common type of turfgrass is St. Augustine grass, and St. Augustine grass is susceptible to Fairy Rings. I know – I have them!

Next up is Rust Fungus, which is a yellowish-orange powder that turns your lawn yucky colors other than green, such as, well, yellowish-orange, and even brown or red. Nobody wants a red lawn unless you live on Mars where red’s the default color, so Rust Fungus – caused by funguses in the genus Puccinia – is to be avoided at all costs. Fortunately, the perennial South Florida Favorite – and it is a perennial – St. Augustine grass is pretty resistant to Rust Fungus, as is the second most favorite type of turfgrass in South Florida, Bermuda grass.

Pink Snow Mold may sound like it’s related to Fairy Rings, but it’s not. Pink Snow Mold is a huge problem in places where there’s pink snow, and it’s caused by the fungus Microdochium nivale, “nivale” being the key word here – it’s Latin for “snow.” Or else it’s Latin for “pink,” I’m not really sure, but I am sure that since there is no pink snow in South Florida, Pink Snow Mold is not much of a problem, and is to be ignored.

We then move on to the Slime Molds, which sound like the worst molds of all, but they’re actually not very harmful – they appear as black or white streaks in your turfgrass and are caused by fungi – just call me snooty for saying “fungi”! – called Myxomycetes, which are common in the soil. You may get a Slime Mold or two on your lawn after a long rainy spell, but fret not – a couple of days of sunshine are usually the cure.

Finally, as far as toadstools go, I’ve never seen a toad sitting on a stool, so I refuse to believe they exist.

Since we’ve now determined that Fairy Rings are the biggest fungus problem we’re likely to have in South Florida – what to do about them? First you have to identify what type of Fairy Ring you’re afflicted with: like diabetes, Fairy Rings are classified in types. Unlike diabetes, there are 3 types, cleverly called Type I, Type II, and Type III. As with Uranus – or is that Saturn? – the key is in the rings:

1. Type I rings have a zone of dead grass just inside a zone of dark green grass. Weeds often invade the dead zone.
2. Type II rings have only a band of dark green turf, with or without mushrooms present in the band.
3. Type III rings do not exhibit a dead zone or a dark green zone, but a ring of mushrooms is present.

The featured photo for this blog is a Type II Fairy Ring. Like mildew in your bathroom, also caused by funguses, Fairy Rings just keep on coming back. Treatment with a fungicide – such as azoxystrobin, flutolanil, metconazole, pyraclostrobin, or triticonazole – and a surfactant is recommended.

What is a surfactant, you ask? Soap. Soap and detergents are surfactants, meaning they operate on the surface of something. In the case of soap and detergents, they help water grab grease and wash it away. Similarly with Fairy Rings, surfactants grab hold of the fairies and help you wash them away. Don’t use any old soap, use a horticultural soap, lest the soap kill your lawn faster than the fungi.

But fungi run deep, people, and control may not be easy. It can take up to five years of ongoing treatment to completely rid a lawn of fungus. The mushrooms that sprout are the flowers of the fungus, and they are often poisonous to people and pets, so get rid of them fast. And like its distant cousin toenail fungus, the best treatment for lawn fungus is not to get it in the first place. Don’t overwater, don’t use too much fertilizer, aerate the soil, rake up dead strings of grass, and wear cotton socks. Water early in the morning to allow your lawn to dry, and if you do see evidence of a fungal infection, take action fast: it could kill your entire lawn in just a few days.

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