Now the recent storms have stripped away the leaves, it’s easy to spot those trees sporting a crop of mistletoe. Their distinctive nest-like shape is an instant giveaway and I’ve even managed to find some in the unlikeliest of spots in the centre of Chippenham. To help swell what’s available locally, I’m attempting to grow some of my own.
This is a fun project, though bear in mind that success is not guaranteed. Here are some expert tips I gleaned from a talk I attended last year which should help to maximise your chances.
Don’t use the berries from your Christmas mistletoe as they’re not usually ripe until around February or March. This means harvesting your own from a local source (ask the landowner first) or buying a kit from The English Mistletoe Shop.
Choose your location wisely
Whilst mistletoe grows on trees, it still needs light to photosynthesise. Therefore a free standing tree or one at the edge of a wood is best. This is probably why mistletoe is commonly found in orchards as the more open aspect found there provides the ideal conditions for it to thrive. You’ll also stand a better chance in southern Britain or the midlands as research shows mistletoe is usually found south of a line where July’s average temperature is 16°C.
Select your tree carefully
The most common tree where mistletoe is found is apple, though it is also common on lime, hawthorn and poplar. Also bear in mind the tree’s branch will not grow beyond where mistletoe is established as its hemiparasitic nature means the tree is deprived of essential nutrients from that point (Mistletoe is not totally dependent on the tree for all its needs, obtaining just minerals and water in this instance).
Try to mimic nature
Mistletoe is usually established by birds wiping or depositing the sticky seeds onto branches. Germination is poor and it seems the best results are obtained by using 10 seeds per plant location selected. The seeds need around 12 hours of daylight to germinate and the best results are obtained from late February into March.
Keep your mistletoe in a cool, dark place until needed and only select those berries which are still plump and well rounded. Your chosen branch should be around finger thickness, with thin bark and as high as you can possibly manage so there’s more light. There is no need to cut the bark to form a flap to nestle the seeds under as some guidance suggests. Separate the seeds from the sticky berry and place them on the underside of the branch out of harm’s way.
It can take up to 5 years for mistletoe to reach a harvestable size. Also bear in mind it may not produce any berries without other mistletoe being found locally as both male and female plants are needed for berries to form.
Commit to harvesting once your mistletoe is established, so the health of the host tree isn’t compromised. Mistletoe won’t be destroyed unless the underlying host wood is cut away as well. This may make the tree look odd if you change your mind later and want to get rid of your mistletoe entirely!
NB mistletoe is toxic – it’s poison is related to ricin. Bear this in mind if you have any adventurous pets or children that are fond of climbing trees or foraging.
Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and blogger from Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst at her allotment.