Mistletoe thrives in orchards, parks, and gardens, which should be encouraging to all gardeners and gardening enthusiasts looking to begin growing their own. As a hemiparasitic plant, mistletoe will grow well on the branches of a select number of tree species. It will use its host to obtain water and nutrients but will produce its own food by utilising its green leaves during the process of photosynthesis.
The Cultivation and Growth Process
Mistletoe seeds are commonly spread by birds. After eating the fruit, the seeds will either be excreted or regurgitated, typically sticking to the bird’s beak before being wiped on to branches. In fact, the name mistletoe derives from Anglo-Saxon words that roughly translate as the ‘dung on a twig’ plant.
Mistletoe seeds are coated in a sticky residue called viscin, which ensures they remain firmly in place on their host branch throughout all weathers until they are ready for germination in February/March. After spending a year forming a connection with their host, mistletoe plants will only begin producing their first leaves during their second year of growth.
As each individual shoot will produce two new branches and one pair of leaves each year, some patience will be required before you can expect to start decorating your home with bunches of garden-grown mistletoe during the festive period each December.
It is important to note that mistletoe will not flourish on all species of tree. Apple, lime, hawthorn, and poplar trees are mistletoe’s main hosts; however you may also find that certain plum, willow, rowan, and maple trees are also suitable.
Six Steps to Growing your Own Mistletoe
Avoiding berries which have likely dried out should always be your first step. It is possible to revive berries by soaking them in water overnight, however freshly picked berries are much more likely to yield successful results. The best time to pick fresh berries is in late winter, and you should always look for those which are pure white in colour.
Selecting your tree will be your next step: look for a branch which is approximately 20cm or 8 inches in diameter. Its bark will be thin enough to allow for the penetration of germinating seeds, and the branch will also be substantial enough to allow and support the growth of a wholly new plant.
Utilising the natural viscin glue of the berries, you should stick them to the underside of your chosen branch before marking the site with a piece of twine.
It is likely that some of your berries will be eaten or fall off the branch naturally, so it is best to aim to apply a few dozen berries at any one time. Don’t be alarmed if nothing appears to be happening for several months, the first leaves won’t begin to appear until early Spring.
Some gardeners recommend making a small cut into the host branch. Although this will certainly ensure close contact between the seeds and the branch, you would be risking exposing your tree to disease and it is therefore advisable to allow your mistletoe plants to establish themselves naturally.
The final step is, simply, to wait. It will typically take approximately four years before you will see any berries produced, but you will undoubtedly take great pleasure from watching your plant flourish over time.