Honey Fungus. Armillaria mellea.

This is the story of my orchard. When we came here  we were delighted to have a very old orchard with many ancient fruit trees. There was a little gate at the end of the garden with a pretty rural view.

IMG_1789In the orchard there were a lot of old dead trees and we presumed that they had died of old age. We had them cut down and there were a lot of empty spaces and stumps.

IMG_1792It was only when the tell-tale honey-coloured  mushrooms appeared round each stump that we realised the problem. We  peeled the bark away from the dead wood and saw the white mycelial mats between the wood and bark. We had the dreaded honey fungus. I told one non-horticultural friend that I had honey fungus in the garden and she rather endearingly said: ‘How lovely!’ Perhaps she imagined that it was a delicious sort of edible mushroom, which apparently it is. You can eat it. But most people shrink away from me in horror when I tell them. They seem to imagine that I carry the horrid spores about my person. Apparently the spores are not  so much the problem. Honey fungus spreads mostly by horrible black bootlace -type rhizomorphs which spread under ground until they find fresh wood to consume. Every source I read recommended getting rid of the stumps and digging down to put barriers in the soil to protect the trees. The cost of hiring somebody to do the job with a stump grinder was prohibitive. And digging down to put barriers in place is quite impractical: I have seen the mushrooms coming up at a distance from many of the trees. I suspect after many, many years it is everywhere. For a while I turned my attention to the rest of the garden which needed a lot of care. I made a vegetable garden in the orchard but that was all I did. At first I was frightened to plant any new trees. I read that apple trees which belong to the Rosaceae family are particularly susceptible. Who would have thought that an apple tree is a rose? After nearly four years, I have not lost any more fruit trees, although one of the birch trees in the little group at the end of the garden keeled over. I hope the other eight will be all right.                                                           IMG_7772If you think about it, there must be honey fungus in every wood in the country. It is nature’s way of getting rid of dead wood.  Without it we wouldn’t be able to move for dead trees. I decided to stop worrying about it and to concentrate on keeping my existing trees as healthy and strong as possible. I even planted a couple of new trees. I missed the lovely quince: Cydonia oblonga ‘Vranja’  I had in my previous garden so I planted one. The blossom is beautiful and I love the aromatic fruit.

IMG_7763I also planted a Polstead Black Cherry tree. This a variety from a nearby village which is famous for its lovely black cherries.IMG_7770                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I had a birthday recently and with a certain amount of guidance and hinting the Pianist bought me a beautiful Malus hupehensis ‘Princeton Cardinal’ I love the whole genus  of crab apple trees for their blossom and fruit but the blossom on this one is particularly pretty. IMG_7516

All the trees in the orchard are looking healthy and lovely this spring. This pear tree is particularly full of blossom. Oh dear, I hope this isn’t a bad sign.IMG_7723                                                The two mature horse chestnut trees get canker every autumn but most of the trees in the country seem to do so in the last few years. But in spring they look wonderful.                       IMG_7721There are trees which are supposed to be less likely to succumb to honey fungus but none of them particularly appeal to me. This has been an orchard for several hundred years I don’t want to change it. So there we are, I have learnt to live with honey fungus. More of my trees may succumb in the future and suffer from sudden death. But then this  distressing phenomenon is not confined to trees. In the meantime I will enjoy them.

I do keep reading about honey fungus to see if there is some magic elixir which I don’t know about. I read on one internet site that Early Purple Orchids: Orchis mascula help because they thrive on the fungus. I did buy one but then it occurred to me that to buy enough to make a difference would be more expensive than hiring a stump grinder. Prettier though.

Someone told me that fresh manure helps protect trees so every tree has a cushion of manure round it. Apart from this I am relying on spells and incantations:

‘Eye of newt and toe of frog 

Wool of bat and tongue of dog.‘    Watch out Pip.

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40 Responses to Honey Fungus. Armillaria mellea.

  1. AnnetteM says:

    I have heard of honey fungus, but never knew of anyone that had had it, or rather whose trees had had it! What a shock it must have been when you found out. Your blossom looks amazing though – I am sure like most plants, if your trees are healthy they will be less susceptible to problems.

    • Chloris says:

      You are right I feel that keeping things growing well is the best I can do. I am sure that every wood in the country has honey fungus but somehow healthy trees cope.

  2. Cathy says:

    That’s an interesting comment about honey fungus being nature’s way of getting rid of dead wood and we don’t know what would happen if it didn’t exist. I had a long conversation with a man at the skip some time ago about stump grinding – he was getting rid of bags and bags of grindings! I think he priced up hiring a grinder but it in the end it made sense to hire Mr Stump instead and it worked out relatively reasonable for the amount of time involved. The blossom on your new crab apple is gorgeous – what will the fruits be like? There are some brilliant cherry trees on the golf course and the Golfer picked pounds and pounds for me last year – definitely worth buying a cherry stoner for!

    • Chloris says:

      We had a quote from a man with a stump grinder but it was £400. There are a lot of stumps. It would probably be sensible to get rid of the stumps but I think the honey fungus is everywhere anyway, it wouldn’t get rid of it. Once you know how to recognise it you see it everywhere. Lots of people have it without realising, especially in an old garden.
      The crab apple has dark red fruit. I love them all and next year I think I must buy Donald Wyman which Jason from Gardeninacity tells me he has. It has white blossom and bright red fruit which hangs on into February,

      • Cathy says:

        Oh Chloris, all these crab apples sound lovely and I just have the seemingly second rate Royalty and Golden Hornet… 😦

  3. pbmgarden says:

    Interesting to read about your orchard. Had never heard of honey fungus.

  4. Anna says:

    I hope that you manage to keep your existing trees strong and healthy Chloris for many years to come. Have read much about how devastating honey fungus can be 😦 Your new additions are both beauties and how clever you were to give the Pianist a ‘certain amount of guidance and hinting’. Belated birthday greetings to you. I hope that your special day was filled with fun and flowers! xxx

  5. Cathy says:

    The blossom really is beautiful, and I do hope those trees stay healthy. It’s sometimes better not to fight nature and just take each day as it comes! Good luck, and belated birthday wishes. 🙂

  6. rusty duck says:

    Love that crab apple… what a colour!

    • Chloris says:

      It really is stunning I am thrilled with it. It has dark red fruit in Autumn so I have something to look forward to. I just love crab apples. They are such beautiful trees.

  7. Julie says:

    I am sorry to read about the Honey Fungus, that must have been quite a shock to discover, especially as you had just moved there. A neighbour on the opposite side of the road has recently lost two very mature alder trees to Honey Fungus and I have read the rhizomorphs can travel up to 30 metres, not quite to my front garden but close. I also think its a lot more prevalent than most gardeners admit.

    • Chloris says:

      That’s right I have read that they can travel 30 metres. I have seen it in lots of gardens round here, specially old ones. Often I think people don’t even know they have it.

  8. Kris P says:

    I’ve never heard of honey fungus but then I’d never heard of sudden oak death either until I lost a 15 year old Arbutus unedo tree to it virtually overnight. You can’t protect your garden from everything (something I remind myself after every midnight raid by the local raccoons). Sometimes, you simply need to move on, as it appears you’ve done. A belated happy birthday and may the new crab apple have a long and healthy life!

  9. I think you have handled your orchard very well. As a wise old friend of mine always said to me, never panic. You have lots of lovely spring blossoms in your orchard. I also am a lover of crabapples, I have one called ‘Donald Wyman’ and I look forward to its blossoms every spring.

  10. Pauline says:

    Your trees are all so beautiful, but yes, where there are trees , there is honey fungus. We noticed it first on a huge oak that we have, it eventually died, but then it was about 300 yrs old. I noticed some in the border by the front drive about a month ago. When we altered it, we took out a few old shrubs and a couple of conifers and must have left some roots behind. Like you I have given all the shrubs and trees left a dose of fertiliser and am now just crossing my fingers.

    • Chloris says:

      I do think the key is to keep everything growing well. Most diseases attack stressed plants. It must be heart breaking to lose a 300 year old oak. I am sorry.

  11. As gardeners, we all cope with something, don’t we? I wish I had more sunlight and less slope, but if you love a garden, you just get on with it.

    • Chloris says:

      You are right, gardening is one long struggle. There is always something out to get your plants. But they give us so much joy when they are doing well.

  12. It is a battle sometimes isn’t it? We have some problems here at the moment and it is not always easy to stay positive. But we must! Keeping plants healthy allows them to fight invaders more easily so manure sounds like a good idea. Good luck and I love the crab Apple!

    • Chloris says:

      Well, I think gardening is one long battle against the extremes of weather, pests and diseases. But we do it because we love it and when it works and things thrive it is all worth the effort. All we can do is look after our plants as best as we can and keep them fed and watered and then hope for the best.

  13. bittster says:

    I know this wasn’t meant as a funny story, but I did chuckle at the image of you being shunned in the village due to your fungus admission!
    The orchard looks like it’s rebounding under your care. You have quite the legacy to maintain and I feel like you’re doing a great job. I often hear of the struggles people face to control a problem… I’m more the leave it type, most times things will work out with a little thoughtful guidance. I can’t imagine putting in barriers!

    • Chloris says:

      It’s not people in the village, it’s the gardening friends who I’ve told who worry that I carry honey fungus around with me. I think I had better stop telling anybody and keep my shameful secret to myself. OK, I have told the entire world on this blog but let’s hope nobody knows who I am. I don’t want to be known as The Honey Fungus Woman.
      You are right putting barriers round everything sounds a bit extreme. I really don’t have the energy.

  14. Flighty says:

    An interesting, and informative post. The pear tree looks terrific, I hope that you get plenty of good fruit. xx

  15. Chloris says:

    I got a bumper crop of pears last year on all my pear trees, I have 3, but that one always does the best.
    Honey fungus is a menace, keep your eye on that woodpile!

  16. Honey fungus is not a good discovery for your beautiful garden, however I think that those new trees you have planted are a delight. As they are young and healthy they should fare well and avoid infection. I especially like the Quince tree and hope to plant one when we move. Any tips for suitable site or variety would be useful. Thanks D.

  17. Poor you! I agree that sometimes the ultimate solution to a problem is totally unattainable – too restrictive either physically or financially. You have to come to a compromise and take the chance. And that is what gardening is about, after all. I hope it works for you! And pleasant dreams!

  18. Alison says:

    I never heard of honey fungus, but I hope your trees stay strong and don’t succumb. I think your approach of just trying to keep everything healthy and growing is a good one. That crabapple is very pretty!

    • Chloris says:

      It is a gorgeous tree. I love crab apples, I wish that I had the room for masses of them. Lovely blossom and lovely fruit. Not many trees provide so much interest.

  19. Julie says:

    I have unfortunately had to deal wit honey fungus twice. In our last garden we lost two ancient and enormous beech trees to honey fungus. The cost of removing them still makes me wince. We stayed in the garden for another four years and nothing else succumbed despite the grim warnings I received that we would lose everything. Six months after we arrived here in our new garden a tree surgeon identified honey fungus whilst doing a general tree survey and another few trees had to go. So far – keeping my fingers very crossed – there has been no recurrence. I have planted a small orchard and have also included quince Vranja as I miss it from my previous garden.

  20. Chloris says:

    If you research honey fungus on the internet the warnings are always dire. I think the reality is not nearly as grim as they make out. Now I know what it looks like I often see it in other peoples’ gardens. It is everywhere.

  21. Pingback: GOOD LUCK

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