Garden Q&A: What's growing under our maple tree? A fungus called Dead Man's Fingers

For The Baltimore Sun

It looks like these strange-looking things are reaching up from the mulch under our maple. What are these?

Dead Man's Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) can look like knobby arthritic fingers or a whole hand of blackened fingers, sometimes with white “fingernails.” They are a fungus, coming not from the mulch, but the maple roots. They grow on dead and decaying wood, but also injured or stressed wood. Have your maple investigated by a certified arborist to check for structural soundness. You can find one near you at treesaregood.org.

I would like to overseed. What is the recommended process? Should I overseed a perfectly good lawn?

It’s too late to seed. Optimal time is from mid-August to mid-October. But since overseeding is normally done to thicken up thin turf and your lawn is growing well, all you need is yearly fall maintenance. It’s a fine time to test your soil, if you have not done so in the last few years. The results will give you liming and fertilization recommendations. Fall is the best time to fertilize. But please only use UM Extension nitrogen fertilizer recommendations for turf, as they are consistent with Maryland law. Make haste. Fertilization must be completed by Nov. 15. Lime, on the other hand, can be applied any time, provided the ground is not frozen. Applying now gives lime the time it needs to change pH by spring. Search all these activities and topics on the HGIC website.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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