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Ball moss won't harm those azaleas

Question: I have azaleas that I've had to replant. I noticed this mossy, tufted growth on the ones that are losing leaves and dying. Do you have any idea what this stuff is and how I can get rid of it? _ Mrs. S., Clearwater.

Answer: The plant you deem responsible for the death of your azaleas is actually an innocent bystander. Ball moss, a relative of the pineapple, is a common epiphyte on shrubs, trees and telephone wires. Ball moss wraps its roots around plant stems to secure a hold, but it doesn't choke or take nutrients from plants.

Azaleas are sensitive to many diseases and also high salt levels in the soil, so I suspect that either is the actual problem. Take a plant that is dying (but not dead and dry) to your local extension office. Someone there can examine the plant and possibly send it to a pathologist in Gainesville for a disease diagnosis. Based on their recommendations, you'll know what to do or which fungicide to use to help your plants.

If you choose to use a copper-based fungicide, the ball moss (which is sensitive to copper) will slowly die.

Growing Arizona cypress

Question: We have a "Blue Diamond" Arizona cypress in a pot and would appreciate knowing the best place to plant it, and information on its care, feeding and trimming. Thanks. _ J.D., Tarpon Springs.

Answer: This question is tricky because, although the Arizona cypress can be grown in Florida, it often succumbs to fungal die-back as it ages. Fungicides such as copper fungicide, Dithane or chlorothalonil (Daconil) will help keep diseases in check, but the tree's life span may be shortened from the damage.

The Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) is native to central Arizona, where it quickly grows to 40 feet, with a 20-foot spread. It grows best in hot, dry climates and is often used as a fast-growing windbreak.

In Florida, plant the Arizona cypress in a sandy, well-drained soil and full sun. This tree doesn't require heavy fertilization. Any product blended for evergreens or a balanced fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10) applied two or three times a year will suffice. One advantage of the Arizona cypress is that it shouldn't need trimming. Place it where its height and spread won't be a problem, and enjoy its fine textured bluish to silvery foliage.

Dangerous beauty

Question: I have a beautiful gloriosa lily in a pot indoors. I have been told the plant is quite poisonous. Is this true and, if so, what parts are dangerous? _ D.S., St. Louis, Mo.

Answer: The gloriosa lily is an unusual plant and its flowers are, indeed, glorious. But the plant, like many other members of the lily family, is very poisonous. All parts of the plant _ flower, leaves, roots, etc. _ contain colchicine, a strong toxin. Although it's not likely anyone would consider eating the plant, place it where it won't be bothered by pets or small children.

Joe Freeman is chief horticulturist at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. He was Polk County's agricultural extension agent for 15 years and has a master's degree in horticulture science. You can send questions to him at P.O. Box 1, Cypress Gardens, FL 33884. His column appears monthly.