Moss on my Rhododendrons

thane(z8 Bellevue, WA)July 27, 2005

I just inherited a yard full of rhododendrons. I've noticed that my Yaku Rhodies are covered with moss on the trunk and larger branches. Is this something to worry about?

There's also a carpet of lovely moss around the rhodies. I would like to give them some fertilizer, and the instructions say to work the fertilizer gently into the soil. Does this mean the moss carpet has to go?

Thanks for any advice!

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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Thane, do they look healthy? If so, the moss carpet cannot be diverting water away from the rhodies.

Is there some specific reason you feel you need to fertilize, a symptom you are addressing? Rhododendrons have a fine network of surface roots, and normally cultivating soil under them is not recommended. These are low nutrient requirement plants, much more so than most shrubs. Grown in soil with an acidic ph fertilizer is rarely needed.

Mine have never been fertilized, but I do top dress with compost in Spring.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 6:18PM
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Moss growing around/on rhododendronds is an indication that your soil is somewhat on a wet side. While Rh. do love moisture they resent to live in boggy conditions.
If they are overall healthy then you have a perfect case of symbiosis when moss consumes excessive moisture that otherwise might be fatal to rhododendrons.
I have a similar situation where fairly old Pieris happily grow in a middle of the moss patch.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 7:15PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

EGO, this is Washington State. Our deck furniture grows moss :)

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 11:03PM
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MorZ, sorry, didn't pay attention to where poster was from. :-)

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 11:33PM
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thane(z8 Bellevue, WA)

> Is there some specific reason you feel you need to
> fertilize, a symptom you are addressing?

The lady at the nursery said that I should feed them a couple of times a year, so I was planning to. It does look healthy and happy, but when it was blooming (before we bought the house) my mother-in-law remarked that it looked like it could use a bit of food, and that would make it bloom a lot more. (It wasn't blooming as vigorously as the neighbor's.)

I haven't had the soil tested yet, but my neighbor says we have very acidic soil.

Thank you for the comments, EGO and MorZ8.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 11:59PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Thane, it seems to me in the PNW, lack of late summer water when plants are setting buds for the next years bloom is more commonly reason for low bloom, along with failure to deadhead spent blossoms, then of course too much shade. Interestingly, overfertilization is another reason plants can fail to bloom. You'll enjoy your yaks, they are among my favorites.

EGO, your input is always appreciated, I hope you read the tone in my post. Our moss does have a life of its own...I heard someone from here ask Martha Stewart how to deter it once, and MS replied...but it's so charming and quaint, why would you want to eliminate moss? Ummmm, because its persistent and slippery underfoot in winter, and tiny slugs hide in it...

I have a large hidcote lavender, SE exposure on a sharp slope that is many years old and still going strong. It grows moss in winter.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2005 at 12:52AM
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thane(z8 Bellevue, WA)

MorZ8, thanks for the advice. Do you have any tips on watering frequency as we enter the late summer months? These rhodies have been largely ignored for about 2 months as the house changed hands.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2005 at 2:55AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

We have a stronger ocean influence here, so cooler, but I have drip irrigation installed in my beds. Shrub and perennial beds, including rhododendrons, are given one slow deep soak per week when we haven't had rain.

If the beds were containing only established rhododendrons and other shrubs and not packed tightly with perennials like mine are, a deep watering every 10 days could be enough. I do approx 7 days here, 10 for the shrub beds I tend next door...there is nothing newly planted there (and summer water isn't free even here).

    Bookmark   July 28, 2005 at 1:09PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Mor, would you mind addressing a little bit of an aside? I don't think thane will mind.

When I first read this post, my very first (and second and third) reaction was that this person was seeing lichen. Spoken from a person in the Southeast! Lichen might be one of the most common occurances on azaleas and rhododendrons in the east.

My question is this: does lichen appear frequently in the PNW? If so, what kinds of plants does it seem to set up housekeeping? I've never been to that part of the country and am truly fascinated by it.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2005 at 9:08AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Hi rhizo - I think you'd enjoy our landscape; I know I'd like to see the south but haven't been there. A great niece/nephew will be making his/her debut in Durham NC in January, possibly we'll come that way then :)

Lichens are commonly found on azaleas and rhododendrons here too, but then azaleas and rhododendrons are common. I have a little on a daphne, an older viburnum plicatum, a vine maple. Next door, a crabapple is wearing lichen, and a deciduous azalea that blooms reliably every year (and responds well to pruning) is heavily covered.

Lichen would always be in old orchards (apple, cherry)and lichens of all kinds are commonplace in our woods/forests. Along with many types of moss -

I have organic clay, amended with compost, drainage adequate for many types plants including lavender, but can still count on pulling moss from beds as a regular spring chore. (a putty knife works well on stepping stones, I can lift it off in sheets).

The next garden expense I'm budgeting for is a good camera; I'll post a picture of my cedar picket fence with its cloak of lichen (it's pretty, and has two clematis thriving on it most years, however for some reason this year the deer are nibbling at the clematis).

This is from our rain forest, just 45 minutes from here...imagine cool, quiet, listening to the birds and watching deer or often herds of elk - The tree is a hemlock, alive:

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 1, 2005 at 11:04PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Breathtaking. When is the best time of year to visit this part of the country?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2005 at 11:41AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Rhizo, I suppose that would depend on what you enjoy doing. In Spring, crocuses and daffodils begin to bloom as early as late February, and the trees begin to bud and flower. The rivers flow fast from winter runoff, problematic if you are a hiker. But keep in mind that the weather can be maddeningly cool and damp this time of year, with the same gray, 50-degree days in February continuing right up to the first of July. particularly here on the coast.

From the 5th of July (notice I didn't include the holiday, the 4th) to the end of September, the weather is typically gorgeous , averaging 75ish. Thanks to daylight savings time and northern latitudes, summer sunlight can extend well past 8:30 p.m.

June is typically the most disappointing month, weather-wise  you keep expecting summer, and the gray lingers; July and August are the best if you can schedule then.
The leaves begin to turn color in October, with beautiful, almost New England-like landscapes to explore. But keep in mind that the end of daylight savings time means that darkness drops on us before 6 p.m., and gray, cloudy weather begins to move in for days at a time by mid-October.

(Winter isn't necessarily cold, you can walk on the beach (raingear)...better yet, curl up in front of a fire with a good book in a cabin somewhere...not a lot of gardening to view during this period.)

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 1:23AM
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My older mature Rhododendrons have thick moss/lichens on the larger/older mature trunks/branches. I've pruned them and want to encourage new branch growth in these areas but am comcerned that the initial budding process may be hampered by this covering. Should I remove it by hand, or take a soft brush to gently remove it?

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 2:14PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Usually growth on trunks and branches is lichens. It is more scaly and will grow in full sun with occasional moisture. Moss is fuzzy and requires shade and moist conditions.

Here is what the NC Extension says:

"Gardeners sometimes get excited when they notice lichens on the stems of dying rhododendrons. Lichens are a gray or green fungal/algae combination that grows on anything including plants, fences and rocks. Lichens won't kill the plants. It doesn't kill fences or rocks either. Lichens often thrive as the rhododendron canopy thins from another problem."

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 7:08PM
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