For The Answer
Weekly Express-News Article
Saturday, January 21, 2006
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD,
SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
“Leaves and Ball Moss”
The leaves from your red oaks, cedar elms, pecans and other deciduous trees have been off the trees for a few weeks and soon the live oak leaves will drop. Do not waste the leaves by bagging them for the garbage collection. Recycle leaves by using them as mulch or in the compost pile. Leaves used as mulch conserve water and reduce weed growth. Use about two inches of live oak leaves as mulch for the winter flowers and vegetables. Three to four inches of mulch over the roots of newly planted trees or shrubs speeds up the growth rate considerably. One of the best ways to utilize leaves is to let them decompose undisturbed on the lawn. Within a few weeks they will disappear. If your lifelong training will not let you leave the leaves to decompose naturally like they do in the forest, run the lawn mower over them. The smaller pieces decompose more quickly and your conscience will be relieved!
The absence of leaves from the trees means you can see the ball moss. If you can not stand to let the leaves decompose naturally you probably also will also find the ball moss growing on the lower branches of live oaks too untidy to let it alone. Ball moss is not a parasite. It is not hurting your trees.
Ball moss is an epiphyte, which means it makes its living from the air. In some areas it even grows on utility lines or fence wires. It likes the lower branches of live oaks because the crown forms an ideal environment with high humidity and limited air movement. The branches on which it grows are not dead or dying because of the ball moss. They are dying because they are shaded by the branches above. Tree branches need a certain amount of light in order to stay alive. The light is necessary for photosynthesis in the leaves. Without light, leaves cannot produce sugars through photosynthesis and they starve. The tree cannot afford to have leaves that are not making their own living.
If you think ball moss is ugly and want to kill it, even if it is not hurting the tree, there are several ways. It can just be physically removed. Ball moss is not attached to the branch very tightly. A cane pole or a pole and hook will remove all that you can reach. The usual way to control ball moss, however, is to spray it. The most legal and recommended spray is to use copper hydroxide, in the form of Kocide. Spray it on in February or early March and it will kill most ball moss on the tree. The clumps may not fall off, however, until the next few rain storms. Spray next year again to kill the clumps that survive the spray this year and the tree will be ball moss free for three or four years.
To reach very high in the tree you will need to rent a relatively powerful spray rig. Area rental stores have the rigs and will help you determine how powerful the sprayer needs to be based on the height of the ball moss. Follow the Kocide instructions carefully. The label is the law and tells you exactly how to safely use the material. It is relatively safe but can defoliate plants if it is misused.
In addition to Kocide many feed stores also sell baking soda as a ball moss control. Technically it may not be legal, but is often used at the rate of 60 lbs. Per 100 gallons of water.