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Fairy Ring Disease on Lawns: Not So Magical

by Kate McIntyre, All About Lawns Columnist

When you first notice a fairy ring on your lawn, you might find it enchanting. Folklore holds that these delicate circles of mushrooms were created by fairies, who danced in a ring on the grass after everyone else was asleep. Upon closer observation, however, you might be less impressed. Often, fairy rings are accompanied by areas of darker green grass growth and brown, dying grass. Either set of symptoms can mar the appearance of lawns.

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What Causes Fairy Rings on Lawns?

Mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of fungi that poke their heads up out of the soil after rainstorms, tell only part of the fungi's story. Hidden in the soil is a huge network of threadlike mycelia. Mushrooms are not individual organisms. Rather, they are just one part of the mycelia lurking beneath your lawn.

Fungi start out as single spores. As each spore grows, the strands of mycelia radiate out from it, forming a circle. Each year, the circle expands. Within the circle, there are usually several regions. As fungi feed, they break down organic matter, releasing nitrogen into the soil. This nitrogen dump creates the darker rings in lawns. Brown rings are caused by heavy mycelia growth. The mycelia hog all of the moisture in the soil, keeping your lawn from getting the water it needs. They can form a dense, impermeable layer in the soil that is very difficult to combat.

How Do You Rid Your Lawn of Them?

Fairy rings can be hard to control because the very things that help lawns to thrive (soil rich in organic matter and moisture) also encourage mycelia. You should fight the dark green rings and the brown rings in your lawn in different ways. For the dark rings, fertilizing your lawn with nitrogen several times a year can help. The nitrogen will help the rest of your lawn to green up so that it more closely matches the parts affected by the fungi.

To get rid of the brown rings, you have an easy option and a very difficult option. The easy option is to improve your soil's water absorption and moisture levels. To accomplish this, you can aerate your lawn or poke a deep-watering tool attached to a hose down into the soil. The more difficult option involves removing the sections of your lawn and soil that are affected by fairy rings. You should dig down one to three feet and at least one foot to each side of the ring. It is essential that you do not drop any soil as you remove it, because it can contain spores that start the disease cycle all over again. Because removing fairy rings from lawns is so labor-intensive, most homeowners choose to mask the symptoms instead, through fertilization and diligent watering.

About the Author
Kate McIntyre is a writer in Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Oregon State University.

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