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Moldy mulch I purchased some bulk hardwood mulch and when they delivered it, it was wet, decomposing and smelled awful. However, I used it anyway, intending to purchase the next load elsewhere. It's been 6 to 8 weeks and now large patches of some sort of fungus have appeared on top of the mulch. It is mostly brown in color and, when touched, sends off a cloud of spores. What is it and how can I get rid of it? Will it damage the plant material?-Via the internet

Though it's not possible to precisely identify the fungus from just your description, it could be what is often called dog-vomit fungus, according to Dr. Larry Kuhns of The Pennsylvania State University. Kuhns states that such fungi are common and to be expected in organic mulches. Fortunately, they are harmless to ornamentals.

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Even if it's not dog-vomit fungus, Kuhns suggests there's little reason to worry. Fungal (and other) decomposers are ubiquitous but, with few exceptions, do not attack living plants.

Kuhns notes that problems with decaying mulch usually result from one of two things. First, "sour" mulch can result when the pile is too large, depriving the innermost portions of the pile of oxygen. The result is anaerobic respiration, causing ammonia and alcohol to build up. This creates an unpleasant, powerful smell. Spreading mulch among ornamentals when it's in this condition can burn foliage because of the volatility of the ammonia and alcohol. However, this effect lasts only a day or two.

Second, "shotgun," or "artillery," fungus is a problem because it emits its spores in sticky droplets. These stain surfaces so severely that they are almost impossible to remove, leaving a flyspecked appearance on house siding or other nearby surfaces. Severe cases have even resulted in insurance claims and lawsuits.

However, it sounds like the worst you can expect is that your mulch may not last quite as long as "fresher" wood. In any case, reject future deliveries that do not meet your standards.

Jersey tropical Will Bougainvillea survive in New Jersey during the winter?-New Jersey

No. Bougainvillea is quite tender to frost and New Jersey gets plenty of freezing winter weather. However, Bougainvillea enthusiasts often install new plants from containers each year and reliably get plenty of color.

Gasoline contributes greatly to air, soil and water pollution. Most of the contamination it causes stems from improper handling and storage. This prompted the formation of a consortium of public and private entities-the Alliance for Proper Gasoline Handling (Boston, Mass.)-to help educate users about proper handling of gasoline. The group includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board (CARB), American Methanol Foundation, Oxygenated Fuels Association, Sunoco, BP Amoco, Lyondell Chemical, Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, and Husqvarna Forest and Garden Co. The alliance is pushing an educational initiative, the Gas Care program, which aims to increase awareness of proper methods of handling gasoline.

The loss of small quantities of gasoline is easy to dismiss, but collectively it amounts to huge volumes. American consumers and small businesses spill more than 9 million gallons of gasoline each year. That's the equivalent of an oil supertanker. The roughly 78 million gas cans in the United States emit more than 300,000 tons of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, largely because 50 percent of us leave the cap off. According to Mike Kenny, executive officer of CARB, "A typical gas can emits twice the amount of hydrocarbons as a new car each year. Clearly, simple measures can have tremendous environmental benefits." Hydrocarbons, including gasoline vapors, contribute to smog formation. Plus, gasoline contamination in groundwater is widespread. Thus, reducing the amount of gasoline released into the environment has clear advantages.

Among the measures promoted through the Gas Care program: * Use only approved containers for gasoline storage and transport.

* When filling equipment, always use spouts (or funnels, if you don't have a spout) to avoid spilling.

* Avoid overfilling of tanks. (Some newer gas containers have spouts that practically eliminate the risk of spilling and overflow.)

* Always store gas containers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and with the cap secured.

* Clean spills with an appropriate absorbent, and then dispose of it properly.

* Use gas in the same season you purchase it (this reduces the chance you'll have unusable gasoline to dispose of).

* Refuel equipment on paved surfaces rather than bare ground.

* Do not dispose of gasoline by pouring it down the drain, on the ground or putting it in the garbage for trash pickup. Many states and counties have hazardous-waste cleanup days on which you can take gasoline to a hazardous-waste disposal facility.

Most grounds-care professionals understand they should follow such common-sense guidelines, but they're easy to neglect. However, this is a perfect example of how small, simple steps that each of us can take can collectively result in significant environmental benefits.

For more information, visit the alliance's website at www.gas-care.org.

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