Fairy Rings of Turfgrass – A Folktale?

If ever there was a name of a malady of turf that inspires a bit of folly and a lot of frustration, it’s fairy ring.  Pertinent to property owners due to this being National Folktale Week, the name was inspired by the “tale” that fairies used to dance in circles above the turf and soon thereafter, there were dead patches of grass, in circular form, much like another “tale” of crop circles….even if some of them are attributable to the work of artists in southern England using rope and plank contraptions.

fairy rings jw

The life cycle of fairy ring forming mushrooms is similar to common mushrooms except for the circular turf damage.  They survive as dormant spores or mycelium in the thatch and soil, which becomes active during moderate, wet weather.  The rings generally continue to grow outward each year.  Following rains, mushrooms appear within the dark green ring at the edge of the dead area.  Fairy rings are usually the most severe in light-textured, lower fertility soils.  The mushrooms grow on decaying organic matter such as tree stumps, roots, dead sod and construction debris and are most likely to form where trees have been removed or in turfs with a thick thatch.


Sigh, just like crop circles, there’s not much that a property owner can do to prevent or control fairy rings.  Sure, they can be physically removed, but that’s a lot of work and may not completely remove the spores from the soil, leaving a few to reinfect and start the cycle over again.  Commercial sites such as sports fields and golf courses have expensive fungicide options available to them, but they are really not practical for residential homeowners.  The good news is that after the rings have enlarged enough to move beyond the borders of the property, they usually do not return…at least not for a few years.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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