The sight of white fungus balls in soil can be alarming, especially when seen growing around your plants. In what seems like no time, it can multiply and grow to huge proportions. This is a natural cause of concern for any gardener!
Fungi are often regarded with suspicion when it comes to understanding their potential level of harm towards people and pets. So it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper. In this article, I’ll teach you the key characteristics of these white balls, the conditions that spark their growth, and how to get rid of them.
Identifying White Fungus Balls in Soil
White fungus in soil is easily visible to the naked eye, often sticking out like a sore thumb. Spotting these fungal growths is not a problem. But identifying them can be more complex since there are so many types of fungus. In fact, according to an article from The Conversation, scientists believe there are over 6 million species of fungus on the planet.
The details below will help you determine what type of fungus you have on your hands.
Fungus Vs Mold
It’s easy to confuse the terminology of fungus and mold. Both are members of the Fungi kingdom. Other organisms that fall under the classification of Fungi include yeast and mushrooms.
Fungi spores are practically everywhere and can live in the air. While people commonly see fungi when they’re in the form of mushrooms, the microscopic nature of mold makes it impossible to see with the naked eye until enough mold spores pile up on top of each other.
Golf Ball-Sized Fungi
If you encounter fungi that look like golf balls in your soil, the chances are high that they’re puffballs. Puffballs can vary in color from bright white to cream.
They often have a perfectly round shape like a golf ball but sometimes they take on more of a pear appearance. Puffballs can also grow very large, sometimes resembling a watermelon rather than a golf ball.
Puffballs get their name because they emit brown spores into the air when something punctures them in their adult stage. If nothing punctures them, they end up releasing their spores once they become so dry that their outer layer cracks.
Clusters of Insect Eggs
At first glance, you may think you have a fungus problem if you notice white balls in your soil. But grab a magnifying glass and take a closer look you may have found insect eggs on the soil surface, which would tend to suggest you might have a slug egg situation on your hands instead.
The aptly named fungus gnats are guilty of laying eggs in soil that resembles fungus. Their eggs range from a white to yellow color, and they usually occur in clumps of around 30.
It takes six days or less for fungus gnats to hatch, so if you notice “balls” appearing and disappearing in your soil quickly, that’s likely the cause.
Should your soil have a case of fungus gnats, you should treat it right away. Otherwise, the gnat larvae could damage your plants’ roots and crowns. They can also cause fungal infections to happen.
Why Is Fungus Growing in my Garden?
Fungi require specific conditions to grow. These optimal conditions include:
- Lots of moisture
- Humid environment
- Warm weather
- Little sunlight
That said, fungi are adaptive, so as long as an environment meets some of these conditions, you may encounter it in your soil.
In addition to the items listed above, the fungus will grow in your garden if there’s a lot of dead, decaying organic matter. You may also notice fungus arises after a period of windy weather since that’s how fungus disperses its spores.
How Long Does Fungus Live in Soil?
Fungi can have a massive lifespan in soil, with species like Verticillium living as long as ten years.
Many gardeners face the issue that physically removing white fungus from their soil doesn’t mean they’ve eliminated the problem. Instead, the fungus has mycelium, which is a thread structure that weaves itself beneath the ground. That’s the part that can remain dormant for long periods before creating visible balls when the right conditions arise.
Nevertheless, the fungus needs decaying organic matter to survive. While it’s unlikely that ball-forming fungi will encounter food shortages in nature, if you have indoor potted plants, keep the soil free of falling plant debris and don’t use fertilizer. That way, the fungi may die on their own from a lack of food.
Is White Fungus in Soil Harmful to Plants?
Here’s the good news — white fungus isn’t usually harmful to your plants. In fact, it can actually be helpful. That’s because fungus decomposes dead organic matter, turning it into a usable source of nutrients for your plants. The fungi themselves also contain nutrients that can be beneficial to soil and plant health.
How Do You Get Rid of White Fungus Balls in Soil?
Getting rid of fungus in your soil requires proactiveness from gardeners. You also need to accept that fungus is all around us, so there’s rarely a one-time, permanent fix for getting rid of your fungus problem. This is especially true if you’re dealing with fungus outdoors where you don’t have control over the environment.
Below are the best ways to get rid of fungus in soil include:
- Dry out the soil
- Eliminate organic material
- Place your plants in the sun
I understand that some of this is easier said than done, especially for outdoor plants. However, gardeners often have more control over their plants’ environment than it appears.
For example, it’s common for gardeners to overwater their plants. So, if you have a fungus problem, restrain from using a hose in your garden after a few days of no rain.
If you have indoor plants with these growths, I recommend taking it a step further by watering them via the bottom of the pot instead of the top. In that case, the water will soak up through the drainage holes. As a bonus, it’ll encourage deeper root growth.
Just make sure not to leave water sitting at the bottom of the pot. Once you give your plants a drink, dump out the excess liquid.
Fungus will die without food, and decaying organic matter is what feeds it. So, make it a routine to keep your garden raked and remove any dead parts of your potted plants that fall onto the soil as soon as possible.
Sun is also a crucial element for eliminating white fungus balls. Texas A&M University recommends a technique called sun solarization, which is a strategy you can use on fungus-prone soil before you plant. To do so, water the soil well and place clear plastic over your gardening area, burying the edges into the ground. Leave it for a month in the sun and remove it for a fresh soil start.
If you are experiencing an ongoing issue with an infestation of fungi on your lawn or in your garden, read How to Get Rid of Mushrooms in Lawns.
Of course, applying these techniques is only as effective as your plants are hardy. If your plants require lots of water or shade to thrive, you could end up killing them and the white fungus balls. So, that’s when natural anti-fungals are helpful.
What Is a Natural Anti-Fungal for Soil?
There’s no shortage of natural ingredients that serve as anti-fungal treatments for soil. Some of the popular choices include:
- Baking soda
- Cooking oil
- Dish soap
Applications for these homestyle, all-natural remedies can range from sprinkling directly onto the affected area to mixing them with water so that they penetrate deeper into your soil.
A few words of caution, however, if you choose to use dish soap: it should be a gentle formula without any anti-grease properties or other additives. The purpose of using soap or oil to combat white fungus balls in your soil is that it makes it more challenging for fungus spores to latch on and grow.
Is Vinegar an Anti-Fungal?
Vinegar has an excellent reputation for its anti-fungal properties but it’s not a safe product to use on most plants because of its high acid content. It is considered to be non-selective meaning it will damage or even kill anything it comes into contact with. For this reason, it is best to avoid using vinegar in areas where you have plants, trees, shrubs, and lawn growing that you wish to retain.
That said, acid-loving plants like hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and gardenias can handle small amounts of vinegar. So, if you’re trying to kill white fungus balls in the soil that these plants grow in, mix one gallon of water with one cup of vinegar and use it to water your plants. Even so, avoid leaves and stems as much as possible to avoid any potential damage to these ornamental shrubs.
Final Thoughts On White Balls In Soil
White fungus balls are harmless organisms in your soil but they’re an eyesore that many gardeners want to remove.
It’s easier to manage this fungus with indoor plants since you have more control over their environment. Nevertheless, by using the natural anti-fungal strategies that I talked about here and eliminating decaying organic matter, you can keep white fungus balls at bay in your outdoor garden.