“Alien” slime mold invades mulch!

QUESTION: “A couple of mornings ago, I noticed a strange yellow clump of something had appeared, apparently overnight, in one of our flower beds. It was a bright, almost neon, yellow and very moist and slimy. It looked almost like some kind of alien being! “By the next day, it had formed a skin or crust on top and was turning brown. It now looked like a very large, stale egg foo yong! The following day, a second patch appeared, about six feet away in the same bed. Is this some kind of fungus? I am planning to remove the two clumps with a shovel and replace the mulch. But I'd also like to know if there's a way I can treat the soil to discourage it from happening again.” – Mike H

ANSWER: We’ve had these things show up too and they do look weird, don’t they? The good news is that they might be unsightly but they are not plant parasites.

Slime mold is indeed a type of fungus that produces large, single-celled bodies called plasmodia. Plasmodia are the feeding stages of the fungus and can be seen on mulch, lawns and dead wood, according to the folks at the Plant Disease Clinic at Cornell University. You can read their complete article at http://plantclinic.cornell.edu/FactSheets/slimemold/slimemold.htm or click on a direct link when you find this column at my Web site, www.landsteward.org

Although slime mold is not a plant parasite, small or vulnerable plants can suffer if the mold covers or shades them. Slime molds will eventually disappear if left alone, but they are unsightly and you might want to remove them.

The folks at Cornell say that on mulch, they can be raked or turned under and on turf they can be mowed. In my case, I wait until the slime turns to a dry, flaky crust and remove it with a shovel. It will probably return when the conditions are right, but it’s good to know that slime mold isn’t really harmful to plants.

QUESTION: “Thank you so much for your helpful tips each week! I have a question about pruning in general. We have two azalea bushes and a very large bush (8-10 feet in diameter, 12 feet high) in our back yard (I'm afraid I don't know what kind it is, but its leaves turn bright red in the fall and it has small leaves about the size of a large thumb nail).

“We need to prune these back, as they are starting to creep into walkways and phone lines. What is the best time to prune? I don't want to kill the azaleas and the bush, but I want to keep them under control. The azaleas are currently blooming, and the bush has produced leaves. I appreciate any advice you may have.” – Sonja R.

ANSWER: From your description of the large bush, it sounds as if it is a non-blooming variety so you should be able to trim it now or most any time. As for the azaleas, the best time to trim these is after the blooms are spent or finished.

I received the following note from a reader in response to a question here about spiders:

“My brother has a good solution for spiders but it must be used with care.

”Old fashioned mothballs will kill spiders and insects. When my brother is going to be gone for a few days he throws a few under his trailer. He never has problems with the black widows, etc., that frequent his area. They die because the mothballs close off their lungs. (They will also damage human lungs if we are inhaling those fumes for any length of time.) Besides putting them under porches or other areas spiders love, you can sprinkle them around the outside of your arbor, house, etc. Note that they should not be allowed to vaporize close to food.

”I prefer to use more natural methods but this is a solution that works with some very unwelcome ‘critters’.”