Have you ever driven down a lane of magnificent, majestic, looking oak trees? They seem ancient, like they have been around for centuries. You feel calm and peaceful just by being near them. However, a few of the trees might look like a disease of some sort is attacking them as they have balls of grey-green moss growing all over them.
There are three effective ways to treat ball moss on oak trees. These are the picking method, the pruning method, and the spraying method. Each method is effective in removing an infestation of ball moss from your oak trees. There are many natural methods available to the organic gardener.
Diseases can affect living trees and, in some circumstances, can cause them to rot or die. Oak trees, in particular, attract a non-parasitic plant called ball moss, which attaches itself to the bark of the tree. Although the ball moss does not feed directly off the oak tree, it can heavily infest branches on the tree, causing them to fall off the tree trunk due to the additional heavyweight.
What Is Ball Moss?
Ball moss is commonly known as an epiphyte, which is a non-parasitic plant living on other plants. It is not actually a fungus, or even moss, but rather a plant that flowers and seeds, much like orchids, ferns, and even lichen.
The ball moss plant looks like a clump of gray or green stringy leaves. They have tiny seeds, resembling seeds of the dandelion plant. The seeds are spread by wind, and during the springtime, the plant will produce a violet flower.
Ball moss absorbs nutrients and water from the atmosphere. The roots that hold the plant to the tree are not real roots and don’t absorb any nutrients or water from the tree, causing no harm to the tree. These pseudo-roots called “hold-fasts” are there to anchor the plant onto its host to prevent it from falling off!
The roots penetrate the bark of the chosen oak tree and will remain there for as long as they receive the nutrients and water that they need to survive from the air. The ball moss grows in small clumps about 6 to 10 inches (15 – 25cm) wide.
Ball moss is a very slow-growing plant that enjoys shady habitats with high moisture and very little sunlight. The ball moss plant can survive in temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius). It will attach itself to the interior, lower branches of oak trees, and grow on utility lines, fences, and rocks, proving that this plant is not a parasite!
Why Is Ball Moss Living On My Oak Trees?
The tiny seeds are blown in on the wind from the mature ball moss or are deposited by birds. Finally, the seeds attach themselves to branches of large, well-established oak trees or other suitable structures in the area for support.
Although the oak tree is a typical host for the ball moss, the plant can regularly be found in magnolia and pecan trees. If the conditions are right, the ball moss will live in any area.
Is Ball Moss On Oak Trees Good Or Bad?
Many people consider ball moss to be a nuisance as it can grow in large quantities over the oak tree and lead to various issues like branch breakages. In addition, it can become unattractive, causing many people with infested oak trees to get rid of the ball moss as soon as it appears. In contrast, others will control the number of plants living on their trees by destroying or getting rid of the excess.
Why Is Ball Moss Bad For Oak Trees?
The perception is that ball moss is bad for oak trees and is a parasite, draining the strength of the tree that it is growing on or that a heavy infestation of clumps of ball moss will cause the tree to die because the leaves cannot get enough light.
The plant attaches itself to the lower and interior branches of the host tree. These branches are likely to die from lack of sunlight anyway, with or without the ball moss living on them.
While some branches may fall off under the added weight of a massive infestation of ball moss during heavy rains or wind storms, these are the branches that would have probably been dead or dying anyway before the ball moss attached itself to the branch.
We know that the ball moss is not a parasite, so it will not drain any nutrients from its host tree, but are there actually any benefits to leaving the plants to live on the tree?
Ball Moss Does Have A Few Benefits.
Although many oak tree owners do not often welcome ball moss, it does have a few practical benefits which could make you reconsider eradicating it.
- It fixes the nitrogen that it absorbs from the atmosphere, which eventually adds it to the soil once the plant dies and drops to the ground, providing fertilizer to the soil for the plants surrounding the tree.
- Clumps of ball moss are often home to tiny bugs, which then provide food for small birds.
- Bigger clumps of ball moss provide shelter to small birds and the materials to build nests.
Although ball moss might look edible, it is not! So don’t be tempted to add it to your favorite meal or to use it as a garnish on your food.
If your pet does happen to eat a clump of ball moss that has fallen onto the ground, don’t panic! The ball moss is non-toxic, so it will not harm your pets. It should not be given to them as part of their staple diet, though.
Can Ball Moss Kill Oak Trees?
Some studies state that the ball moss can indeed cause harm to oak trees by wrapping its root tendrils around the stems and branches on which it grows. In addition, over time, these root tendrils can tighten their hold on the tree, reducing circulation in the tree. Eventually causing the tree could die.
Some studies show that the heavy clumps of ball moss prevent photosynthesis by blocking out the sun. This can lead to retarded healthy bud development on the host tree. Ball moss cannot directly kill your healthy, growing oak trees, but if the tree is already compromised by diseased and in distress, the added weight and sunlight restriction due to the ball moss could be a factor leading to the tree dying.
If you are concerned about healthy branches dying due to the ball moss infestation, then have the ball moss removed by pest removal professionals, or refer to our removal methods further on in this article.
How To Treat Ball Moss On Oak Trees
Correct identification is key to removing ball moss. Ball moss is often mistaken for Spanish moss, which is a close relative. Spanish moss is an epiphyte-like ball moss and survives from the moisture and nutrients in the air.
Spanish moss is different from its ball moss cousin in that it does not have root tendrils to anchor onto the tree. Instead, it is a more elegant and graceful plant that drapes over tree branches in masses as long as 20 feet (6 meters.) It has tiny blue-green flowers that are difficult to see, but have a wonderful fragrance that wafts through the evening air.
Spanish moss cannot be treated using chemicals, so chances are, if the treatments that you are using on your tree to remove ball moss are not working, you are treating the wrong plant!
There are three ways to successfully control and limit the amount of ball moss growing on your oak trees – Picking, spraying, and pruning. Using a combination of all three ways together with preventative measures will ensure the best results.
Before beginning any of the suggested methods, make sure that you have the proper personal protective equipment available. You will need strong gloves, masks, long clothing, and eyewear.
1. The Picking Method To Remove Ball Moss
This method is effective on smaller clumps of ball moss which is not too established. However, it can be tedious work as each clump needs to be removed individually by hand. If you can use a cherry picker, the job will be completed in half the time.
There are ways that you can make your own DIY tools to assist in picking the ball moss from your trees, especially if they are hard to reach. Watch the below video for a great DIY idea!
Once you have picked off as many of the ball moss clumps as you can reach, seal them inside a plastic bag, and throw them away.
What Are The Benefits Of Using The Picking Method?
There are benefits to using the picking or manual method to get rid of ball moss from your oak trees:
- More practical, even if more expensive. Physically picking each clump will ensure that none are missed or left behind.
- No harsh chemicals. For organic gardeners, this is a bonus as commercial chemicals do have many side effects.
- Less damage to the tree as only the damaged or dead branches will be removed after the ball moss has been removed.
2. The Spraying Method to Remove Ball Moss
This method involves applying a chemical spray to the tree. Organic chemical sprays should only be used as a last resort as they can stain brick walls and driveways and damage other fruit trees’ foliage if the chemical sprays on them.
Prune out the dead branches first before spraying the chemical. By pruning, you will remove most of the branches which will be infested with the ball moss, and you will need to use less of the chemical.
Kocide 101, an organic copper fungicide, is generally used in conjunction with Allligare 90 to remove ball moss from oak trees. Kocide 101 is for use on live oak trees, and Alligare 90 will make sure that the product stays in the treated area. The best time to spray the oak trees is in spring. Re-treat with the chemical spray after 12 months.
Spraying is an effective treatment for removing ball moss, but it could take up to 18 months for the root tendrils to decay enough for the clumps to drop from the tree. After spraying, the ball moss will turn dark grey, and the leaf structures will point downwards rather than remain upright.
Follow these steps for a successful application:
- Measure the correct application for your size tree as per the instructions on the packaging. Generally, 3 pounds per 100 gallons of water is measured per foot of tree height.
- Half fill a spray tank with water and then mix in the Kocide.
- Fill the rest of the tank with water, fasten the lid and shake well.
- Add the Alligare to the mixture, fasten the lid and shake well.
- Spray the entire tree with the mixture, not only the affected areas. Wet the ball moss clumps thoroughly.
- After the chemical has been applied, the ball moss will shrivel up and die in five to seven days.
- The dead plant will remain in the tree until the next strong rain or wind knocks it out.
3. The Pruning Method To Remove Ball moss
With this method, you would prune or cut down and remove the dead interior branches from the tree and thin out the canopy. After pruning, make sure to cover the pruned branches with pruning paint to prevent oak wilt. You don’t want to replace one unwelcome guest with another disease! These pruning loppers are great for chopping small branches.
What Are The Benefits Of Using The Pruning Method?
Your trees should be pruned at least once a year to ensure better growth for your trees. Added benefits to pruning while removing ball moss are:
- Skilled tree trimming will remove the affected branches and the ball moss.
- By thinning out the canopy, you would allow more sunlight to reach the interior of the tree, thereby discouraging any future infestation.
Natural Remedies To Remove Ball Moss From Oak Trees
Other than the methods described in this article, there are natural remedies that can be used to remove problem ball moss from your oak trees. We have compiled a list of natural, organic solutions to your ball moss infestation problem.
Remember to use prevention methods together with removal tactics to get the best results.
- Baking soda. Mix ½ pound of baking soda to 1 gallon of water. Pour into a spray bottle and spray over the ball moss. If you can, avoid spraying onto leaves as they will burn. The ball moss will die within a few weeks after spraying. It will turn dark grey and stay attached to the tree until the rain or wind removes it.
- Use a high-pressure nozzle attached to a garden hose. Spray the water at the ball moss and knock off as many as you can.
- Scrape off the ball moss using a long pole.
How To Prevent Ball Moss From Coming Back
Now that you have removed the ball moss from your oak trees, how do you prevent it from returning?
There are ways that you can prevent the ball moss from reappearing:
- Reduce the ideal conditions for the bull moss by reducing shade and allowing sunlight into the branches on each tree.
- Prune your trees regularly and cut down overgrown branches to allow sunlight in.
- Don’t overwater and create high moisture areas.
To some, ball moss is ugly and unsightly, but it generally does not do too much harm to healthy, established trees. To others, ball moss gives oak trees character and has its own place in the ecosystem.
Sometimes a large infestation of ball moss can make an avenue of large oak trees look mysterious and magical! The decision to keep or remove ball moss lies with each individual homeowner.
If you are going to remove the ball moss from your oak trees, try and follow the natural organic methods first before you go the chemical route, as chemicals are always harsh on any environment.
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