Bag the Ball Moss

Bag the Ball Moss

Let’s BAG the BALL MOSS, Baton Rouge!

What is “Ball Moss?”

Ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata) is a flowering plant in the scientific genus of Tillandsia that is commonly found in the upper crown of the tree, especially in shade and relative higher humidity.

Ball moss and its cousin Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) are native to our area. These plants are classified as epiphytes because of the benign nature of their interaction on their host.

Ball moss photosynthesizes its own food and does not deprive its host of a significant amount of additional water. You might also notice it growing on non-living hosts like power lines and fence posts. Ball moss will take about 3 years to mature and flower and will bloom for the about the next 7 years. The seeds are spread by wind, rain and even animals.

Check out this video from our friends at the LSU Ag Center:

Ball Moss (Tillandsia recurvata), like the beloved Spanish Moss, is considered an “air plant” that is commonly found in the upper crown of the tree. Although it is native to parts of Louisiana, heavy populations in a tree can compete with that tree’s ability to photosynthesize, and our urban trees are often already under environmental stress.

Is Ball Moss bad for my trees?

In small amounts, no. It is not parasitic. However, it can colonize (i.e. cover) a tree or trees to the point that the tree will struggle to develop new branch or lead buds, or to get proper sunlight for photosynthesis. Heavy infestation of ball moss may break small twigs or limbs of the trees.

Frankly, there is a bit of “the chicken or the egg” issue here. A highly stressed or sickly tree may be more susceptible to infestation…thus causing further decline in the tree. In some cases this leads the property owner to decide that removal of the entire tree is the best course of action, either because it is simply unsightly, or to prevent further spreading to other nearby trees.

Spanish Moss vs. Ball Moss. Spanish Moss - Drooping, pendant form. New flowers are green. Ball Moss - Spherical, mounding form. New flowers are purple, turn brown.

Why should I care?

Because ball moss is spread through the air. If your property becomes infested, nearby properties will likely experience the issue as well! Help all of Baton Rouge recover by addressing your own property first!

My trees have ball moss, how can I get rid of it?

There are 4 methods for treatment and/or removal of ball moss.

1. Physical removal by hand.

In minor infestations, hand removal (a.k.a. mechanical removal) is best. A focused stream spray, from a standard garden hose, may also assist with this. (Caution: The use of a pressure washer will damage the bark and cause significant injury if used incorrectly).

There are two crucial things to remember in the case of attempting hand removal.

One: SAFETY FIRST. Using ladders near trees is VERY DANGEROUS. We recommend using a tree service pro, rather than attempting this. But if you must, have a partner with you. Do not climb a ladder without a partner nearby to assist.

Two: BAG THE BALL MOSS before discarding it. Because it is spread through the air, removing it without bagging it and tying up the bag carefully can lead to further spreading, either from your property on en route to trash facilities.

Removal of dead tree limbs after the ball moss has been discarded is also recommended.

2. Baking Soda Solution treatment.

A solution of baking soda and water can be applied that can desiccate the ball moss and ultimately kill it.

A homeowner can make their own baking soda solution in a smaller spray bottle, but the tank must be constantly shaken to maintain the solution. Also keep in mind that the baking soda solution when sprayed can leave behind a white residue on cars and nearby surfaces.

The suggested mixture for the solution is one half pound of baking soda per one gallon of water, or for larger treatments, five pounds of baking soda to 10 gallons of water. The best time to treat ball moss with baking soda is late winter to early spring (before spring rains start), when the trees are mostly bare.

When treating more than one or two small trees, the difficulty with this method is the volume of solution needed, and that the liquid requires a mechanical agitator to keep the baking soda dissolved into the water solution. This cannot be done by a typical spray rig or pesticide applicator and can cause damaged equipment when the baking soda settles and clogs or damages sprayers. We recommend calling a professional, licensed and certified arborist if you would like to treat several/large trees.

It can take some time for weather and wind to knock dead epiphytes off the tree. Homeowners may help this process along by spraying off the dead remnants with a garden hose spray nozzle.

The baking soda is non-toxic and typically not harmful to plants, animals or the environment. Spraying this solution can also be used in conjunction with manual removal.

3. Tree removal by a licensed, certified and insured arborist (see below to search for arborists).

In some extreme cases, an arborist may recommend removal of a very infested tree. This is a worst-case scenario for very sickly, declining trees.

4. Copper Fungicide applied by a licensed, certified and insured arborist or professional chemical applicator.

Baton Rouge Green is not familiar with this practice and product, and cannot speak to its effectiveness or safety. However, we do know that excessive use of a copper-containing product can damage the host plant (tree). Consult your arborist.

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