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UGA Extension: Spanish Moss and dry weather
Richard Evans
Richard Evans is Extension agent for Bryan County. - photo by File photo

We all know its that time of the year: hot, hot, and more hot. Last week we stretched into triple digits more than once. I didn’t like it, you didn’t like it, and our yards didn’t like it. After an evening of yard work in temperatures like that a cold shower does wonders to cool off, turns out your trees and grass like that too. Lets talk about some best management practices for dry conditions and irrigation.

Then we’ll talk about Spanish moss.

I’ll start with irrigation of your lawn. This is something I routinely find myself explaining to clients and I’m always happy to do it. Too much water isn’t good and no water is worse. We shouldn’t be in the habit of irrigating every day in the same places. Frequent shallow irrigation encourages shallow root growth and makes lawns more susceptible to drought conditions. This means standing with your hose probably isn’t the best method.

Every irrigation system is different so I can’t say exactly how long and when you should irrigate but I’ll give a baseline.

The goal is 1 – 11/2 inches a week and an average sprinkler might put out ¼ of an inch per hour.

Doing some quick math that might look like a lot water, something like an hour every other day of the week. I think we can probably get by with 3 days a week and something like 45 min to an hour. Testing your irrigation output with a rain gauge or cup would be a great way to figure out exactly how much you need. The key is to water deeply, wetting the soil 6-8 inches deep.

Almost all of the above applies to trees and large shrubs as well. Water your trees deeply once a week, the goal is to get water 18 inches deep or so. Mulch goes a long way in helping retain moisture and keeps the soil healthy as well.

The rule of thumb there is that the best mulching would extend to the tree’s dripline (where the branches extend to) but any mulch is helpful to the tree.

Lets pivot over to what is in our trees: Spanish moss.

Spanish moss is something I get a lot of calls about. We live on the coast and its pervasive in our environment.

I do find that it is often misunderstood though.

Contrary to popular belief the moss causes little to no negative effects on the host trees. The plant is an epiphyte, meaning it grows on other plants without taking nutrients from them.

You might have heard these referred to as “air plants”. In truth the Spanish moss is actually in the Bromeliad family, kin to the pineapple and other common house plants.

Spanish moss is often times a signal that the tree is in decline for some other reason, say hot dry conditions perhaps?

Often times, a good regiment of irrigation and fertilization can help mitigate the underlying cause for a breakout of Spanish moss on your property.

That being said, very large amounts can weigh down branches and overshade existing foliage which can cause some issues.

As for treatments, I really don’t recommend any. It is possible to use copper-based fungicides to treat and kill the moss but you will be left with unsightly black molds and likely an ugly tree.

The only reliable and safe method of removal would be to use gloves and a tool to remove the moss if it is becoming a problem.

Take care if you go this route, Spanish moss is a favorite home for chigger and other small arachnids or insects, many of which leave itchy bites.

I hope you find a way to stay cool this summer and cool off your yard too. As a reminder, if you run into any interesting insects or spiders along the way give me a call or email, I’m an Entomologist and don’t get nearly enough chances to use what I was trained in.

You can reach me at the UGA Extension office in Bryan (912-653-2231 / or Liberty County (912-876-2133 / with any questions you might have.

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