How often to water Spanish Moss?

nmcnear(10a/16)May 4, 2011

I am trying to grow some Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) on a tree in my yard, and I'm clueless as to how often it needs to be watered during our hot, dry Bay Area summer. Most of the info I can find online says not to water it, but it's also written for people live in its natural habitat. In southern Louisiana, where my plant is from, they receive a lot of rain and humidity during the summer which provides the plant with enough moisture.

The plant in my yard gets dappled sunlight most of the day and is also located near a swimming pool, which I hope will raise the humidity a bit. I water the moss usually 2-3 times a week with the hose, but I'm unsure if this is too much or too little. So far I've succeeded in not killing it, since it's still green and supple looking, but I can't really tell if it's thriving or not since it's such a slow grower to begin with. I guess I'll know how happy it is later in the year when it either flowers or doesn't.

Is anyone else here growing Spanish Moss outdoors? There's a lot of conflicting and just plain incorrect information about this species on the internet (like that it's sensitive to freezing temperatures, when in fact much of its habitat drops into the mid 20s or even lower in the winter).

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Dan Staley

Let us know if by some miracle it makes it.


    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 12:34AM
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I think the fact that it's still alive is a bit of a miracle already! Here are some photos of it:

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 5:50PM
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Spanish moss grows on dead parts of the trees and bushes. You do not need to water them and after a while they can become invasive and end up killing a tree if not kept under control. They only grow on the dead limbs but will hang down and smother the lower branches as well then they will move down. They do look nice until they kill a bush or tree that you love.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 9:11AM
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I grow it,used to grow it on my australian tree fern,but we had a very cold(for a few years ago and my tree died.I took the moss and put some on the driftwood with my tillandsias,and some i just have growing on a pot hanger and both are doing quite well.I water it when i water the rest of the plants.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 5:55PM
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Thanks for the replies!

Wally - It's a common and persistent misconception in the South that Spanish Moss harms plants. It's an epiphytic bromeliad, an air plant, that does not harm trees any more than any other epiphyte. These plants grow from only nutrients they collect from the air or from water that runs off the tree, and they have no roots to penetrate, strangle, or otherwise harm the tree. When you have a tree that's already stressed, diseased, dying, or what have you, the plant can aggravate those problems when it grows faster than the tree and weighs down branches and shades what remaining leaves are last. Spanish Moss can and does grow on healthy trees, but it grows faster on dead/dying branches because they are rotting and leaching nutrients. It's not the moss that kills it though.

Since I have a lot of family in southern Louisiana, which has probably the densest Spanish Moss growth of anywhere, I've seen lots and lots and lots of the stuff throughout my life. The vast majority of trees down there have tons of Spanish Moss growing on them, and they are perfectly healthy.

Our climate out here is also vastly different from the South... It's not unusual for us to not see a single drop of rain during May, June, July, August, September, and well into October. Spanish Moss can tolerate drought, but it will go dormant. We get all of our water during winter when it's cold, and Spanish Moss also goes dormant at temperatures below about 50 degrees. So between the hot, dry summer and the cold, wet winter, there really isn't an appropriate time for Spanish Moss to grow naturally in California. It will only grow when it can receive moisture from people during the summer, and therefore the chance of it becoming invasive in California is basically nil.

Kathi - That's great to hear! Is your Spanish Moss flowering at all? How about your other Tillandsias? Do they spend the winter outdoors or do you bring them in? Spanish Moss can handle freezes no problem, but I always thought the other species were more sensitive to low temperatures.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 7:38PM
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It has flowered being where it is,and my tillandsias and broms stay outside year round.I don't have any plants at all that i have to bring inside in the winterI even left one of my anthieriums outside this past winter.It turned ugly brown,but i trimmed it back and it's sending up new shoots now.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 10:55PM
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Here are a few pictures from this year.Sorry you'll have to copy and paste.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 11:01PM
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Quick question everyone

Can spanish moss take full direct sun?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2013 at 2:37AM
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I have gobs of bay area standards. I water every other day in summer..everyday when hot. And the more sun,the better it does. They like a breeze..they wont do as well in those calm stagnant areas of the yard. Your biggest villains are birds..who will take every last strand to make nests. Find a spot in sun where there is much people traffic to shoosh the birds away. Or,cats.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2013 at 12:55PM
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You won't kill Spanish moss by overwatering it. I had lots of it on a live oak tree when I lived in Houston, and it was extremely humid there - almost as bad as Louisiana. I have air plants now that I water every other day or so, and one of them bloomed this year - see attached photo. This plant is in a hanging plastic pot with no soil.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2013 at 5:49PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It will easily take full sun or bright shade in zone 16 conditions, and wetting it down with a hose daily in warmer weather suits it fine. My only problems with it also were due to birds absconding with it for nests. There are quite a few other Tillandsia species that are easy to grow outdoors year round here in the SF Bay Area. Check out the info on the local SF Bromeliad Society website, and you may want to join the tour of some SF gardens next July 14th, you'll need to sign up on the web site to get directions. Tillandsia species which I grow outdoors in Berkeley include bergeri, stricta, tenuifolia, somnians, ampla to name just a few.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 11:41PM
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Lars,your tilly looks like the same one I have,mine has grown almost to a full ball.It grows in one of those wire baskets with some spaghnum moss.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 5:26PM
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