If you’re from the South, you probably have an interesting relationship with moss.

When it’s hanging from your trees, Spanish moss might give your northern U.S. visitors a sense they are in the South as they see it clumped and dangling from live oaks or crape myrtles. It goes with a Southern garden like sipping mint juleps and snacking on cornbread.

But those long tendrils can make southern homeowners worry about whether an abundance of either Spanish moss or ball moss could negatively impact their trees.

Let’s talk about what Spanish moss and ball moss are, what trees they grow on, and how to get rid of Spanish moss and ball moss if necessary.

What Is The Difference Between Ball Moss and Spanish Moss?

Both Spanish moss and ball moss are not actually mosses, but they are actually bromeliad species. They are technically epiphytes, otherwise known as air plants.

What this means is that these plants will attach their root structures to host plants, but they just use it for support; they don’t feed on them like parasitic plants do. They catch water and nutrients from the moisture in the air.

But the two mosses do have some differences.

What is Spanish moss? This air plant has slender, curly stems and leaves that hang from live oaks and cypresses. You might see that it’s gray when dry but will be light green when wet. You can see it hanging from tree branches in lengths up to 20 feet long.

What is ball moss? This moss is more gray-green in color, and you may see it on tree branches or telephone wires. It grows in clumps that can be 6 to 10 inches in diameter on a variety of tree species.

So Spanish moss can be identified as more pendant strands, while ball moss appears as more tufted balls.

How Does Ball Moss and Spanish Grow?

You might be wondering, “How does Spanish moss grow?”

The wind or birds will carry its seed and it’ll stick to tree limbs or be placed in nests and transfer to tree bark. You will mostly find Spanish moss on trees that are older because they are shedding dead cells, which is a source of nutrients for the moss. As far as tree species, you will find Spanish moss on live oaks, sweet gum, pecan, and bald cypress trees because they have more fissured bark and wider spreading horizontal limbs.

And how does ball moss grow? The wind blows its small seeds and they stick to tree branches and develop root-like attachments to the outer bark. This moss also seeks out trees with rough, textured bark to stick to, such as live oak and cedar elm, but you can also find this hanging from fence posts and power lines.

Can Ball Moss or Spanish Moss Cause Tree Damage?

Does Spanish moss kill trees? Is ball moss bad for trees? Here, we have some good news for you.

Both mosses, as epiphytic plants that grow on tree surfaces and not in trees, don’t directly harm trees like parasitic plants can. And even though you may find both mosses on older or dying trees, they are not the cause of decline.

But aesthetically, people may remove ball moss if they don’t like the way it looks. A lot of ball moss can also start to weigh down tree branches, and this can cause damage in a storm if the branch becomes weak. Too much moss can also block sunlight the tree’s lower branches need for photosynthesis.

How to Get Rid of Ball Moss or Spanish Moss

If you have a tree with an excessive amount of moss, and you’d like to remove it, there are some methods you can use, including picking it off, pruning it away, or spraying it. Usually, it takes a combination of all three methods for decent control versus using just one.

These Spanish and ball moss removal methods are fairly self-explanatory. Picking it off means physically and gently pulling it off the tree. Pruning means using tools to cut and remove the moss, as well as any dead interior limbs, along with the moss attached to them. In fact, since ball moss prefers low sunlight, you’ll likely find it more on those inner branches. And when it comes to foliar sprays, use caution. This doesn’t help remove those dead limbs and will leave shriveled moss until it blows out of the tree via wind or rain.

Asking a certified arborist for help in identifying your moss and removing it properly, as well as checking for dead or dying tree limbs, can help you take care of any excessive moss you may want to eliminate without risking tree health.



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