What is Fairy Ring and How to Get Rid of It

circular formation of mushrooms in grass called a fairy ring

When a perfect circle of toadstools grows in the yard, it often looks like a supernatural phenomenon. European folklore tells us these rings mark where fairies danced in the night and that a human should never step inside and disturb the fun.

Whether or not fairies are involved, these rings in your yard are a natural occurrence caused by a lawn disease — fairy ring. But what is fairy ring, and how do you get rid of it? We’ll explore what conditions cause fairy ring in lawns and how you can prevent the disease.

What is fairy ring?

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Fairy ring is a fungal disease that typically manifests in a circle of mushrooms or appears as a dark green ring in your yard. The dancing fairies get a little help from different species of fungi in the fungal group basidiomycetes. These fungi feed on decaying plant tissue and live in the soil and thatch layer.

So, what can make your lawn susceptible to the disease? Fairy ring fungi prefer to attack lawns that have the following:

  • A thick layer of thatch
  • Soils with low fertility
  • Low irrigation
  • Light-textured soils high in sand relative to clay
  • Nitrogen-deficient turf
  • A lot of moisture

How to identify fairy ring

Fairy ring symptoms are not always the same. For example, the fairy ring in your yard might appear as a dark green circle or as a ring of mushrooms. Depending on the symptoms, fairy ring is classified into three categories:

  • Type I: This type of fairy ring appears as a ring of wilted, brown, dead grass and is the most damaging to lawns. The soil and thatch are extremely dry and nearly waterproof.
  • Type II: The ring is dark green and grows faster than the surrounding turf. The dark green grass is due to the release of nitrogen and other nutrients as the fungus breaks down organic matter.
  • Type III: The disease appears as a ring of mushrooms or puffballs. These symptoms typically occur after periods of frequent or heavy rainfall.

Fairy ring symptoms may appear between spring and fall. The rings typically grow in a circle, but they also can occur as a half arc or semicircle.

This lawn disease can reach several feet in diameter. The largest fairy ring ever found is estimated to be 700 years old and is located in France, measuring approximately 2,000 feet in diameter.

How fairy ring spreads in the yard

While it might not be as magical as fairy tales, how fairy ring disease spreads is a natural process that happens under the ground in your yard.

  1. First, the fairy ring mushrooms produce tiny spores that wind and water spread to new areas.
  2. Then, these spores grow into a web-like structure underground called mycelium, kind of like the roots of the fairy ring fungus.
  3. As the fungus eats up things in the soil, the mycelia forms a circle shape – that’s the fairy ring.
  4. Fairy ring symptoms appear at the circle’s edge and gradually expand year after year as the fungus grows and gets older.

The ring can mess with the grass it meets, making it harder for water to get to the root zone. This can stress the grass in the middle, making the outside greener. The disease spreads to new areas via the movement of infected plant material or soil.

How to get rid of fairy ring

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Fairy ring removal can be difficult and might even require the helping hands of a professional, depending on the disease’s severity. Or, if you’re suspicious about the folklore, you might not want to risk falling inside the ring. Hiring a trained professional can help ease those worries.

So, how do we kindly ask the fairies to dance and play on a different lawn? Here are the measures you can take:

Type I fairy rings

Type I symptoms manifest in a ring of wilted or dead grass. This is the most common type of fairy ring in golf courses. To get rid of Type I fairy ring, aerate the lawn and drench the soil with a wetting agent.

A wetting agent is a chemical solution that allows water to penetrate and spread in the soil. The wetting agent is important because the soil and thatch of Type I fairy ring are a nearly impervious (hydrophobic) layer that prevents water from permeating into the soil.

Type II fairy rings

The symptoms for Type 2 fairy rings are identifiable if there are dark green rings growing faster than the rest of the lawn.

Fertilize the grass with nitrogen if you discover Type II symptoms in your lawn. Doing so will mask the dark green overgrowth. This technique will not treat fairy ring, but it does remedy cosmetic problems.

Note: Use caution when fertilizing your lawn with nitrogen. Applying too much can attract other diseases. Test the surrounding, uninfested soil so that you can better determine what a balanced nitrogen application looks like.

Type III fairy rings

If your lawn is infected with a Type III fairy ring, you’ll see a circle of mushrooms as evidence. To relieve its symptoms, remove the fruiting bodies.

Removing the fungi won’t cure fairy ring disease, but it does improve the lawn’s appearance and protect curious children. Don’t touch the mushrooms with your bare hands, as many types of fungi are poisonous.

If you wish, you can remove the fungi by digging out the infected turf and discarding the infested soil. Replace the affected areas with fresh soil and grass. Perform these steps 2 feet beyond the ring and to a depth of 3 feet. Removing the turf may prove successful in small infected areas, but it will be too difficult for large fairy ring circles.

Pro tip: For a more effective treatment, you can use a fungicide that includes the active ingredient Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride.

How to prevent fairy ring in the yard

Fairy ring removal typically offers short-term control of the disease because it can still re-establish itself. The best way to keep the disease out of the lawn is to perform preventative treatments. Following good cultural practices can prevent other types of lawn diseases as well.

Here are some good lawn care treatments that help prevent fairy ring from developing in the yard:

  • Apply preventative fungicides: Fungicides are typically not useful as a curative treatment against established fairy rings, but they can be effective as a preventative solution. Always follow the product’s instructions when applying fungicide.
  • Perform a soil test and create a balanced fertilization regime: A soil test will reveal what nutrients your soil is missing and how you can make amendments. After testing your soil, implement a fertilizer regime that corrects the soil’s nutrient deficiencies.
  • Follow proper irrigation techniques: The best time of day to water the lawn is in the morning before 10 a.m. — this gives the water time to dry off before nightfall. Watering infrequently and for long periods encourages a strong grass root system.
  • Remove old tree stumps, dead roots, leaves, and other woody materials: Decaying organic matter can become a food source for fungi, so removing them from your yard reduces the chance of fairy ring appearing in your lawn.
  • Remove excessive thatch buildup: The layer of dead organic material between the soil and the grass is called thatch. The layer of thatch on your yard should never be over half an inch deep. To dethatch your lawn, use a dethatcher or dethatching rake.
  • Mow the lawn at its proper length: Avoid scalping your lawn — this weakens your turfgrass by preventing it from photosynthesizing. It also invites lawn pests and diseases. So, never cut off more than ⅓ of the grass blades in a single mow.
  • Aerate compacted soil: Compacted soil is stressful for your turf because it prevents water, nutrients, and oxygen from accessing the roots. Core aeration creates small holes in the ground that enable water, nutrients, and oxygen to penetrate the soil.

FAQ about fairy rings

What grasses are susceptible to fairy ring?

All turfgrasses are susceptible to fairy ring disease. It doesn’t matter what kind of grass you grow — fairies will always find a place to frolic.

Can I eat the fairy ring mushrooms?

No, it’s never a good thing to eat wild mushrooms that pop up in your yard. Several types of mushrooms are dangerous, and consuming them can be harmful or even lethal in some cases.

What if I can’t identify the disease in my lawn?

Successful identification of a lawn disease or grass fungus is essential for your removal methods to be effective. If you misidentify the disease or fungus growing in your lawn, you risk performing the wrong control methods and worsening the issue.

Identifying a turf disease with the naked eye isn’t always possible. If it proves difficult, contact a diagnostic lab or turfgrass pathology lab for help. These labs specialize in diagnosing infected turf and are typically located at state universities.

What other turf diseases can infect my grass?

Fairy ring isn’t the only disease you need to protect your lawn from. Other common turf diseases include:

  • Anthracnose
  • Brown patch
  • Dollar spot
  • Gray snow mold
  • Leaf spot and melting out
  • Pink snow mold
  • Powdery mildew
  • Red thread
  • Rust
  • Summer patch

Hire a lawn care pro to send the fairies packing

By putting a good lawn care routine in place, your healthy lawn will be less susceptible to lawn diseases like fairy ring.

If you don’t want to spend your valuable free time worrying about fairy ring, hire a local lawn care professional to remove the disease for you. From dethatching to regular mowing, a lawn care pro can handle the yard work for you.

Main Photo Credit: Olivier Bruchez | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is an artist, writer, and nature lover. She enjoys teaching readers about the importance of eco-friendly lawn care, integrated pest management, biodiversity, and sustainable landscaping.