Spanish moss — neither moss nor Spanish

·2 min read
This sweetheart Hoya leaf may live for years.
This sweetheart Hoya leaf may live for years.

Whether dangling from limbs of oaks, bald cypress or other trees, Spanish moss is a familiar sight to Floridians. Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), totally unrelated to true mosses, is actually a bromeliad and thus kin to pineapple plants. This species — native from the Carolinas deep into South America — is made up of innumerable wispy individuals capable of forming chains several feet long.

Wrongly declared parasitic by misinformed folks, Spanish moss colonizes tree branches strictly for support. Dying trees, sometimes heavily draped with these bromeliads, are pointed to as proof that Spanish moss is harmful. The truth, however, is that as trees die due to age or disease, their limbs become progressively bare of leaves, allowing Spanish moss to spread. The only plants that commonly become what I consider overloaded with Spanish moss are crape myrtles. Now — when these beautiful flowering plants are leafless — is an ideal time to pull off excessive Spanish moss.


Every year, readers ask if Milorganite is a good fertilizer for Florida. The short answer is no — at least if gardeners want a complete general-purpose fertilizer. Milorganite — a product of Milwaukee’s Metropolitan Sewer District — is composed of microbes that feed on the city’s wastewater and are then heat-dried and bagged. The product’s analysis is 6-4-0, with the numbers representing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. And that’s where the problem lies: For gardening purposes, our soil can benefit from nitrogen and potassium. We don’t need the phosphorus in Milorganite, but we do need the potassium it doesn’t provide. Thus, Milorganite is a good source of slow-release nitrogen but lacks a vital nutrient, as well as numerous micro-nutrients at levels that plants require.


Known as Encore azaleas because they reliably repeat-bloom in autumn, these 33 dwarf and semi-dwarf hybrids are available in a range of flower colors. In addition to spring and autumn flowers, a scattering of blossoms often appears during summer. These naturally rounded azaleas, which demand little pruning, reach their southern limit here in Central Florida. Encore azaleas should be installed in dappled light on sites enriched with organic matter and kept mulched. Dozens of varieties are available from online dealers.


The mint family — Lamiaceae — includes lavender, thyme, rosemary and sage. These — and thousands of related species — are mostly native to the Mediterranean region. Also members of this family are peppermint and spearmint — plants that perform well year-round in Central Florida as groundcovers. Up to 2 feet tall, these mints are vigorous plants that flourish in poor soil in filtered light, producing runners that generate new growth along their length. Mints, which are pest repellent, drought tolerant and cold hardy, are aggressive plants that often grow out of bounds. Many additional mints can be cultivated here, including chocolate, orange and apple mints. Propagate with cuttings and divisions.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Spanish moss does not kill trees