Matsutake mushrooms are an important part of rural livelihoods and forest ecosystems across large parts of China, as well as elsewhere in East Asia, Northern Europe and North America. Mushroom harvesters have developed sophisticated understandings of matsutake ecology and production, and are applying this knowledge in various innovative management strategies. At the same time, Chinese government agencies and scientists are promoting matsutake-based livelihoods to support development and conservation goals. We collanorated with matsutake harvesters in one Yunnan community to carry out a systematic experiment on a popular shiro-level management technique: covering matsutake shiros with either plastic or leaf litter. Our experimental results suggest that although leaf litter coverings are superior to plastic coverings, shiros that are left uncovered may produce the highest yields. Complementing our experimental work is a multi-sited household survey of existing matsutake management practices across Yunnan, which shows that a high proportion of harvesters are already engaged in a broad range of potentially beneficial management strategies. Though both findings highlight limitations of previous initiatives led by government and research actors in China, this existing body of work is an important foundation and opportunity for developing applied mycology in the region. In and beyond China, working with communities to develop site-specific management strategies through rigorous and participanory scientific inquiry can provide salient benefits for both scientists and resource users.