Many gardeners associate mushroom growth with dead and decaying organic matter and may even try to eradicate them from the garden thinking they are bad for the soil. But this notion isn’t based on science. While it is true mushrooms do sprout in areas rich with dead organic matter, they aren’t doing damage to your garden. Mushrooms actually enrich the soil freeing valuable nutrients your plants need to thrive. Are mushrooms producers or decomposers?
What is meant by producers and decomposers?
Producers are any living thing that makes its own food from inorganic matter, like carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. Plants, algae, and lichens are all producers. Plants convert energy from the sun to carbohydrates via a process called photosynthesis.
The energy produced during photosynthesis is what plants use to grow, bloom, and reproduce. While plants absorb nutrients and water from the soil, too, they use these inorganic substances to build the energy to grow, too.
Producers are at the bottom of the food change that supplies energy for all living things. Producers can survive on their own and do not need other life forms for food or to sustain their growth. These seemingly magical entities transform light and air into life-giving substances needed to support life on earth.
Producers do not rely on other life forms to give them energy or to grow.
Decomposers are living organisms that consume dead organic matter, like dead plant material, animal carcasses, and animal scat, to gain energy. In the process, decomposers break down organic matter and release vital nutrients into the soil.
Decomposers enrich the soil and keep the earth clean of dead plant and animal matter. Without decomposers, dead organic matter would not break down and be returned to the earth. The earth would be littered with old trees, leaves, animal carcasses, and other organic matter that would have nowhere to go.
While producers use inorganic compounds as building blocks to begin life, decomposers have the important job of cleaning up what is left over after that life is done. Both producers and decomposers are necessary to keep the circle of life in balance and promote healthy life on earth.
Are mushrooms producers or decomposers?
Mushrooms are decomposers. Mushrooms grow and feed on dead organic matter and break it down into minute particles that enrich the soil. During the process of breaking down organic matter, calcium, phosphorus, and nitrogen is released into the soil supplying vital nutrients for growing plants. Decomposers also release carbon dioxide and water into the air and soil providing the building blocks of new life.
Mushrooms play a vital role in maintaining and supporting new life, including the plants in your garden.
Are mushrooms beneficial to have in your garden?
Mushrooms may seem like an annoyance in the garden, but they are actually beneficial. Mushrooms help organic matter in the soil decompose thereby releasing vital nutrients plants need to grow. Mushrooms break down all that organic matter you have added to the soil rendering it into usable elements and nutrients to support plant life and growth.
While you may find the sudden appearance of mushrooms in your garden annoying, they signal that humus-rich soil lies below the surface just waiting to be transformed into nutrient-rich soil. Mushrooms growing in your garden is a sign that your garden soil is rich in organic matter.
I don’t have any mushrooms in my garden can I introduce them?
Yes. You can introduce mushrooms to your garden with a mushroom kit sold at home improvement and garden centers. You can also buy them from many online seed catalogs. These kits come with everything you need to grow mushrooms in your garden.
Mushrooms produce an underground network of root-like structures, called mycelium, that does all the important work of breaking down organic matter and releasing nutrients back into the soil. The mushroom is the fruit of the plant and appears when the mycelium has colonized the area.
When this happens, you may see a flush of new mushrooms on top of the soil ready for harvesting, assuming you are growing edible mushrooms. At this time, you can move soil or mulch containing mycelium to new areas of your garden to encourage the mushrooms to grow there, too.
How do I add mushrooms to my garden?
Adding mushrooms via a kit is simple and doesn’t require expert gardening skills. Here’s what you need to do
- Decide what kind of mushrooms you want to grow. The most common mushrooms grown in the home garden are either Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus sp.) or Wine Cap Mushrooms (Stropharia rugoso-annulata). Both are edible and bring life-giving nutrients to the soil.
- Prepare an area for your mushrooms in a location that is partially shaded during the day. Spread a thick layer of straw or sawdust mulch over the area, if the soil is bare.
- Mix the mushroom spawn from the kit into the mulch. The typical mushroom kit will seed approximately 50 square feet, but that depends on the size of the kit. Always check the directions on the kit for proper seeding.
- Keep the mulch moist to encourage the mushroom spores to take root and grow.
Mushroom spawn can also be added to areas under trees or shrubs in the perennial bed or grown in a bale of hay or straw that is kept moist. Once established you can harvest fresh mushrooms for several years before you need to add new mushroom spawn to the garden.
The sight of new mushrooms popping up in your garden shouldn’t be a cause for concern. These active decomposers are actually doing you a valuable service as they break down organic matter into usable nutrients for your plants. Instead of working to banish mushrooms from your garden, you should be encouraging their growth instead. Growing edible mushrooms in your garden give you a delicious treat while improving the soil for your fruits and veggies, too.