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How to encourage morels to keep growing?

 
Posts: 110
Location: suburbs of Chicago USDA zone 5b
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A few days ago I found a couple of morels in my lawn under some old apple trees. I'm guessing that the mycelium has been there for years but this is the first time we've noticed any mushrooms because we're behind on mowing. Now that we know they're there, I'm thinking it might be best if that area were not lawn. I could smother the lawn with wood chips, but I want to make sure I don't damage the mycelium. I have a bunch of chips right now (mostly cherry), but they're old and already full of other mycelium that I'm afraid would compete with the morels. Should I get some fresh chips? A different type of wood? Forget about mulching altogether?
 
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It can be done.  A couple of key points:

1.  Location:  Morels don't like any location that gets more than 3 hours of sunlight a day.  It's got to be cool and shady.  They grow best in the spring when temperatures are from 55 to 59 degrees and nights don't drop below 40 --- yeah, that's a pretty narrow band.

2.  Location B:  They love growing under an old dead tree.  Oak is preferable, but any old dying or dead tree is their preferred habitat.  Ash, elm and aspen forests also tend to produce a lot of morels.  I've heard that old dead apple orchards are a morel paradise (although I've never had the chance to look there myself).  Some folks swear by dead elms, but my best luck finding them in the wild has always been around dead oaks.  It stands to reason that under any dead tree would be a great place to start them.

3.  Soil:  Well-drained sandy soil is best.  Mix in a bit of peat moss and ashes -- they like it slightly alkaline.

4.  Moderate moisture:  Morels don't like it too dry, nor too wet.  This is part of the reason why they don't do well in sunny locations.  If you are watering, don't use chlorinated water.  Fill a bucket and let it stand for 2 days so that all the chlorine gasses off.

5.  Food source (in the wild -- not your spawn source):  A light mulch is preferable for morels, but not a heavy layer of wood chips or something like that.  A thin layer of leaf mold or even peat moss is good.  In nature, you'll find them poking their way up through last-years leaf-litter.  A couple of handfuls of peat moss and a generous handful of wood ashes should be lightly raked into your soil.

6.  Growing morel spawn:  a good food source is sterilized grain like rye or wheat, or sawdust or fine wood-chips.  I had a friend who mixed all of that together (after boiling it a bit to make sure it was sterile).  You can start them in a mason jar.  Follow standard mushroom spawn production methods and once you've got a jar filled with fungi, transfer it to your prepared soil on a cool overcast day.  

7.  Or a mushroom slurry:  Take two mature morels and blend them in a blender with a couple of cups of non-chlorinated water with a pinch of salt and a spoonful of sugar.  Swirl it around and dump this on your prepared soil.

8.  Patience.  YEARS of patience.  Seriously -- morels can take a long long time before they fruit.  So if you're watering them, you'll be making a long term commitment to something that may or may not pay off in the years to come.


I used to be able to grow them when I lived in Washington, but haven't had any luck in Southern California.  Too hot, too dry, and the soil's too heavy.  Best of luck.
 
Thea Olsen
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I'm not sure you understand my question. I'm not trying to propagate them, they're already there. I just want to keep them around, and preferably get rid of the grass in that area so they don't get chopped off by the mower.
 
Marco Banks
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Both and.  Propagate and encourage existing.  Same advise is relevant in either situation.  

Wood ashes.  Light mulch.  Moderate moisture.  Patience.  

AND -- if you find an old morel that's too old to eat, you might as well use it in a spore slurry and try to grow more.
 
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I found my first one today,  and it was indeed growing under a dead apple tree.

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Thea Olsen
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So no smothering the grass then. I'll just leave that area unmowed during morel season and add a bit of leaf mold. I'm not sure about using wood ashes around here, since our soil tends to be on the alkaline side. Thanks for the help.

 
Thea Olsen
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It's starting to look like we should just quit mowing altogether until morel season is over. This evening my daughter found one in the front lawn under some gooseberries.
 
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Interesting the mention of wood ash, given how commercial picks are often in burns the year following a forest fire. (BTW, when will they learn morels popping the spring after a burn is nature's way of commencing reforestation. I've never heard anybody say there's anything wrong with, or such a thing as overpicking of morels. Sad the lack of sense of stewardship in this so called society.) Anyway, I wonder if the ash itself feeds morel growth or is the burning heat what instigates morel growth? I know this is sorta chicken/egg question. But not really, I believe the wood ash with a little biochar itself is effective...but maybe not as effective as ash made from a an actual burn in that place over the summer before, but will still work somewhat, at least. Thea, if you're having a periodically wet spring you could have a controlled burn of that hopefully small area. I suggest that reluctantly cuz i've seen larger fires started from controlled burns got outa control.   Thanks, Ogre Nick
 
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