Growing mistletoe

Question ...

I'd like to grow my own mistletoe for Christmas. Is this possible? How would I go about it?

Answer ...

Mistletoe, Viscum album, is an ancient, well-known plant, often associated with Christmas. Mistletoe is unusual in that it is does not grow in the soil. It is a parasitic plant, growing on trees such as domestic apple, crab apple, lime, black poplar, hawthorn, crack willow, ash, sycamore, pear, whitebeam. Although it takes some minerals and water from its host, it will not harm an established healthy tree.

The large sticky white berries are very popular with birds especially the blackcap and mistlethrush, who aid in the dispersal of this plant. If you would like to try and grow mistletoe, collect the berries from live plants as soon as they are ripe. Only collect berries from somewhere that has given you permission to do so. Do not collect from the wild as this special plant is in decline.

Those berries remaining from the seasonal decorations can also be used, but there is no guarantee they will germinate. However it is well worth a try. The decoration cuttings can be kept fresh in a vase of water or the berries can be stored in moist sand in a cool room or shed.

It is important to know where the berries originated as it is believed that the mistletoe will grow best on the same type of tree that the mistletoe parent chose. So if it was growing on an apple, plant the seeds on an apple or crab apple.

February or March is the best time to 'plant' mistletoe berries. The host tree should be well established, preferably at least 20 years old. There are various possible planting techniques. You could try simply smearing the berry onto a crevice or fissure in the bark for example. Better results may be achieved by making a small incision on the bark first, so that the berry can be firmly attached. Do this at approx 1.5m above ground level on the side or underside of a strong, young, branch. Tie the berry in with some string or length of sacking or cotton bandage. This will also protect it from some hungry insects and snails as well as reminding you where it is planted. Mistletoe is dioecious having separate male and female plants, so ideally you should try to grow several plants.

Have patience. The seeds may take a couple of years to germinate. Once it has begun to grow, cut back each year to stop it growing too big and harming the tree. They should be able to survive in unison for decades.

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