Spanish Moss: Grow and Care for Tillandsia Usneoides

Ed Wike
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Spanish Moss Overview

You may have seen Spanish moss in Florida or the Great Smoky Mountains. However, if you live in a dry region, it is unlikely you will come across Spanish moss. The plant is called Spanish moss because of how it was harvested from the New World. Spanish explorers used to cut Spanish moss to form bedding for their horses.

Spanish moss is a plant that comes from the Tillandsia usneoides group. This unique group is typically found in the southeastern parts of the United States, the Caribbean Islands, and South America. The plants can be found scattered on the ground but in the United States they are typically found on trees. Spanish moss is used to soak up the water from trees and is more common in the southern reaches of the country. Spanish moss may look delicate, but it is actually quite durable. The plant can tolerate colder temperatures and is even used by some people as a roof covering.

Spanish moss is known to have a tangy flavor. Some people like to eat it boiled while others use it in tea. Campers have been known to use Spanish moss for bedding because it is light and if you soak the moss in water you can even use it as a sponge. When Spanish moss is added to your garden, it is a great way to increase humidity.

Types of Spanish Moss

There are several types of Spanish moss, but the species Tillandsia usneoides is the most popular and common moss. Spanish moss comes in different forms. It can be found as full clumps, that have some nodes and stems, lanky clumps of trailing stems, and small clusters of cells. Most of the time, the moss stems are a brownish-green color, but it can also be orange. Spanish moss is usually found growing as a groundcover in the southeastern portion of the United States, but it can also be found growing on trees in Mexico and in South America.

Spanish moss is an interesting plant, it belongs to the pineapple family, which means that it has special antifungal properties. Many companies have tried to use these properties in other plants, but the chemicals that it contains have been unsuccessful. Spanish moss is well known for its ability to cleanse the air, but it is also commonly used in healing ceremonies. Many also believe that it has a calming effect on the spaces it is placed in.

Whether you believe Spanish moss has healing properties or not, it is a great plant to bring to your home or keep as part of your garden. It is low maintenance and a wonderful addition to any outdoor space.

Caring For Spanish Moss

Spanish Moss, also called Golden Moss, has been used for many years for decorative crafts and as a humidity absorber to help some tropical plants thrive. Tillandsia Usneoides is the scientific name for Spanish Moss. You can grow and care for it in many ways. Let’s take a look at the growing guidelines for Spanish Moss.

It has become somewhat of a popular natural product in the 21st century. There are now many ways in which it can be used, including placement in a basket or terrarium, as a privacy screen, around air conditioning or heating vents or to add a decorative touch to your home or garden.

When taking care of Spanish moss, keep in mind that Spanish moss does not tolerate direct sunlight. It needs a lot of shade, and can be kept outside without any additional care, but it can be grown indoors as well.

It thrives in a humid environment: 50% or greater humidity, and temperatures of 65oF or above. If you live in an area that does not provide ideal conditions, you can try the following:

{1}. Prop open all doors and windows receiving direct sunlight.
{2}. Have a fan continuously blow air across the plants and the doorway where direct sunlight shines.
{3}. Do not water your Spanish Moss if the humidity is adequate.
{4}. Water only when needed or when the surface of the moss is drying out.

Light

If you reside in the Southern part of the United States, these plants are perfect, because they are well adapted to the humid conditions of the region. Throughout the year, these plants need partial shade. They can handle full sun in the winter and spring season, but it is beneficial to provide some protection from direct sun exposure. If the plant receives too much sunlight, it loses its grayish color, along with its typical low-lying look. If it has grown well and has several leaves, it will stand out upright.

These plants thrive in containers filled with well-draining potting soil. They need a pot size of 10 inches or more and a good drainage hole. The pot should be filled with a mixture of 1/3 sand and 2/3's soil. The water should be more on the acidic side. To encourage the plant to turn green and retain its gray color, it should be watered from the water saucer. It needs about two to three waterings a week. If you do not get enough natural rain, you have to consider watering the plant.

Water

For success with Spanish moss, water and light must be the keys to success. During the growing season, you must mist the Spanish moss daily. Without moisture, the plant will shrivel and die. Dead leaves should be plucked off gently. If you have an air conditioner in your home, make sure to turn it off during hot summer months to keep the plant from drying out.

During the winter months, the plant will require very low levels of water. In fact, it may not need any water at all. If you are the type of person who can not go without caring for something, then you should remove dead leaves and mist the plant once a week. Be mindful of the temperature and light levels. You do not want to leave the moss in direct sunlight, because it is not designed to be able to withstand this type of exposure.

Soil

A healthy, mature Spanish Moss plant needs to be in the right kind of soil and given the right amount of water. It's important to understand that your plant needs a regular water supply, but it also needs time to dry out between waterings. Excessively wet soil makes the Spanish Moss plant very susceptible to root rot, which will actually kill it in just a few days.

The soil your Spanish Moss is growing in needs to drain well. Don't be afraid of using a number of drainage rocks to help the soil to drain better…you can find them in your local nursery or landscape supplier.

It's also a good idea to add an extra layer of sand under your plant so that it can't sit in a pool of its own moisture.

Fertilizer

One of the biggest mistakes that beginners make when caring for Tillandsia is using fertilizer.

Fertilizers introduce a new and complete diet to the plant, and the Tillandsia will rely on this diet as its only source of nutrition.

This can lead to malnutrition for the plant, which will usually lead to rot, yellowing, and other problems.

Fertilizers will also kill the algae, fungi, and other microorganisms that grow on the leaves, and these organisms play a role in the Tillandsia's life cycle.

Propagation

Potting Tillandsia is no different than any other plant, though it can handle less light than most of them. Tillandsia is a succulent and needs to be potted in an airier mix, such as potting mix or a mixture made of 60% of potting mix and 40% of sand. Never use pure sand as a potting medium.

Pinch off the leaves on the ends of the plant to make the Tillandsia bushier or leave them on the plant, depending on the look you like. When re-potting, divide it in half, and put them in separate pots so that each half can have more room to grow.

To propagate Tillandsia, take a stem and press the cut end onto moist soil. This will cause the Tillandsia to take root and it will grow a complete plant. It can even be cut into pieces and they will grow into separate plants. They can be put under a tree outside and will root into the ground. Take them in during the winter to protect them.

Replanting

The success of re-potting is directly related to the health of your plant, whether it is re-potted dry or moist, and how it is handled during the re-potting process. Remember, it is nearly impossible to over water or over-fertilize a thriving plant.

Before transplanting into a new pot, the plant should have ample humidity for at least 1 to 3 hours. This will allow the plant to hydrate from the bottom, as I explain in my original post.

The best time to re-pot a Tillandsia is early in the morning. During this time, their reflexes have not been stimulated and they have full day light – and therefor – ample photosynthesis.

Pruning

Tillandsia should be pruned regularly to encourage bushy growth and prevent stretching. This is best done in the springtime.

Remove the older, browning parts of the plant, gently trimming them back to the most recent growth. If there are brown edges on the leaf ends, remove them as well. Do not cut the limpets so that fresh tissue will form.

Your plants may not require pruning at all. The plants prefer bright indirect light and if they are thriving and you aren’t experiencing problems, you can just leave them alone.

You should, however, consider pruning any time the plants are out of water for more than 1-2 days.

Pests and Diseases

One thing that makes it such a beautiful addition to your indoor or outdoor living space is the fact that it attracts a number of birds, which in turn helps to keep your environment pest-free.

Tillandsia has a high tolerance for moderate levels of humidity. If you don’t have room for a window installation, placing it on a tray or stand with rocks and water will suit it quite well.

It is important to keep it out of direct sunlight, drafts, or heat sources. Plant it away from sources of direct heating and sunlight. It is okay to expose it to indirect sunlight.

It can be moved indoors or outdoors each season, depending on your preference.

To water your Spanish moss, before every watering, gently remove the old water that is sitting in the cup. Watering your Spanish Moss once each week is sufficient.

Unlike most houseplants, which will benefit from free water, Tillandsia prefer being kept in a place with mild, constant humidity … perfect for both indoor and outdoor use.

Frequently Asked Questions

Wondering how to care for Spanish moss will require a little research because of all the different types that are available. So what happens if more of your Spanish moss dies off than you’ve expected? If it’s more than you’ve needed to prune, you may want to consider the following.

If it is winter, and the loss of Spanish moss is due to seasonal change, do not prune it. Spanish moss needs to dry out completely during the winter. Next spring, it will rehydrate. If the loss is due to more than just seasonal change, you will need to prune it. How much depends on the original amount you planted in relation to the amount that remains. For example, if you were planting one clump and you discovered you had a surplus of ten clumps, you could consider removing five.

It’s difficult to know what the best amount of Spanish moss to plant would be before you actually have it. If you make several different purchases from different sources, you may find that they do not all resemble each other. You will need to find the balance of the amount of bare stems you’ve given your plant so it looks natural, as well as the amount you have removed to allow your remaining Spanish moss to look full.